‘Catherine’ is a puzzle-platformer / adventure hybrid game developed by Atlus’ ‘Persona Division’ and published by Deep Silver (ATLUS outside of European territories) released for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 platforms. Catherine has been described by its developers as an ‘adult-oriented’ title and consists primarily of a story mode in addition to ‘Babel mode’ which features four levels that are playable by up to two players in addition to a ‘Vs Colosseum mode’ as its base multiplayer mode involving two players competing against each other to complete a certain stage. The story mode is composed of ‘stages’ of platforming based puzzles involving creative stacking of blocks whilst avoiding traps and enemy AI to reach the ‘top’ of the stage, making use of additional pickups such as ‘extra blocks’ and extra continues. Half of the gameplay behind Catherine involves the story mode which is fairly complex to understand. You play the role of ‘Vincent’, a reserved man stuck in a realm of monotony; he goes to his tech-based job, goes to the bar with the same friends and occasionally talks to his long term partner ‘Katherine’, avoiding confrontation and motivation to change at every opportunity. Things take a sharp turn though when Katherine pushes marriage in his direction, forcing him to turn on his lifestyle drastically. Not long after, his life-choices get harder when he meets and ultimately beds ‘Catherine’, a blonde seductress that partakes more into Vincent’s more laid back lifestyle. Filled with regret about his sudden infidelity and faced with a tough decision, things get no better when he starts having horrible nightmares that ultimately threaten his real life, turning his ideal laid back lifestyle into quite the opposite. If that plot sounds unusual for a video game, that’s because it is. Video games rarely delve into subjects such as fidelity and relationship-based moral choice and Catherine manages to do it in a very compelling way. The story is delivered via the use of fully voiced cut scenes in addition to subtitles and text boxes based on character importance (more on that below).
The story mode is the main ‘bulk’ of Catherine and is composed of 7 ‘days’ split into ‘days’ and ‘nights’. Days are the story/moral choice segment of Catherine where the most character development occurs. The day is introduced at the beginning of the day followed by various cut scenes allowing Vincent’s tale to unfold. Following this, the game moves to the end of the ‘day’ at the “Stray Sheep”, the games local bar and main game hub. Whilst at the Stray Sheep, Vincent encounters most of the main and sub characters and performs most of the games actions including ‘texting’ the main characters using chosen responses, dancing to the jukebox which houses the games soundtrack in addition to other tracks and watching the news to see how Vincent’s tale is affecting the wider world. The cut scenes are visually pleasant and complement the game’s anime-shaded art style, this style accompanied by the well voiced performances by the main cast allow the story to be told with a fantastic level of detail. Cut scenes that show Vincent at his most anxious are projected well with anime-based beads of sweat being shown in high detail along with Vincent sounding visibly anxious. The scenes that show this most strongly (for example, the many close calls when Katherine and Catherine are in close proximity) really bring this level of quality into the spotlight, scoring Catherine huge points in its favour.
Once you’re done taking in the bar’s conversation and have sent your last text message, the game takes a very drastic turn. Once Vincent goes to bed the ‘night’ phase of the day and his sudden nightmare onset begins and so-to does Catherine’s core gameplay mechanics. At the start of each ‘dream’; Vincent is placed at the bottom of a most unusual tower donning a pair of sheep horns. This wouldn’t seem so bad except it’s soon made apparent that the tower is crumbling from the bottom up at an alarming rate. In order to escape this unfortunate turn of events, Vincent is left to manipulate the tower of blocks in order to climb it to safety. If those mechanics sound simple, it’s because they are. Make no mistake however, the difficulty curve of Catherine is akin to a cliff face and death is extraordinarily frequent. As the game continues, new strategies are introduced along with new block types and combinations. New block types such as trap blocks, heavier blocks and blocks that detonate in conjunction with an ever increasing speed of tower decomposition ultimately results in an experience that will test your patience as a player more than most of your Xbox/PS3 game library combined. If that wasn’t bad enough, the occasional boss appears that acts as a tower falling at an even faster rate. That increased need for speed coupled with the boss screaming for your blood surges only panic through your system whilst you attempt to carefully figure out the logistics of block placement, not a good combination if you’re planning to spend a few relaxing hours with your xbox or PS3. The panic and frustration is ultimately turned into great satisfaction upon a level’s completion however, rendering the experience as a test of patience with great rewards offered to those willing to put the time in.
Outside of the physical challenges presented in Catherine, the game offers a careful and interesting outlook into emotional challenges and issues. Throughout the game, the player (and by extension, Vincent) will have to undergo several moral choices to decide Vincent’s fate. This comes in several ways, for example, texting a worried Katherine that she should be quiet and go to sleep won’t bode well for her treatment of you in the future in comparison to a heartfelt apology with reassurance. On the other hand, the dismissive approach will score you points with the carefree Catherine. These choices are calculated and stored within a handy ‘bar’ shown occasionally on the HUD, the current position on this bar will affect the actions Vincent takes in the various cut scenes shown during the day. This bar is also affected via the “Confessional Room” shown at the end of each “night” level. The “Confessional Room” is a middle-ground between levels where a mysterious being asks Vincent (and by extension, the player) intimate questions about their personal/love life. These range from those that are interesting to think about (“Would you have sex with a ghost if it were attractive enough?”) to those that speak about them as a person (“Whose fault is it when you cheat on your partner? You or the person you cheated with?”). These questions are randomised for each play-through and the results are stored and compared with other XBL/PSN users after each question is answered in the form of gender-split pie charts. Catherine is one of the first games to go in-depth into these issues and it does so fantastically, putting the morality system forward as a tool for honesty rather than “playing the system” for a certain outcome since the questions have no “right” or “wrong” answer, a superb touch in a game where morality and choice make a large difference in the game’s outcome.
As a game designed to look and feel like an anime, Catherine (graphically) performs admirably. The game switches seamlessly from full 3D environments with profound animations and toon shading to fully-fledged anime-style 2D cutscenes. In terms of the 3D graphical capabilities, it isn’t the prettiest game on the 7th generation of consoles. It can be argued however that Catherine is by no means a game that should be played for its visuals. There is a minor issue with lip syncing whereby the Japanese voiceovers crossed with the dubbed English voice-acting doesn’t match up in many places, the voice acting delivery makes up for this in some regards but watching an emotional scene involving Vincent delivering a powerful speech with his mouth closed somewhat only helps in dulling the experience. The use of colours in Catherine (specifically, reds and pinks) is a welcome change in comparison to the current offerings of 2012 and is portrayed well within the world, complementing the art style and character models well. Outside of visuals, the audio of Catherine is also absolutely sublime offering an interesting orchestral score throughout. The soundtrack appears to be carefully selected to blend the feeling of falling and climbing together during gameplay segments whilst keeping a tense and calculated tone during the more anxious moments of Vincent’s tale. The voice acting is very well delivered in delivery but is let down sometimes by the script which sometimes moves from deadly serious to playful and joke-like at a moment’s notice. The sound effects vary from fitting and believable during the ‘day’ segments to surreal and interesting during the night. The nightmare world is very much believable as a realm of infinite crushing possibility in its audio delivery, a nice touch to set the mood of tension and panic.
Whilst Catherine has a good amount of additional content outside of Story Mode, the means in which to unlock them are extremely challenging. Specifically, to unlock the ‘trial’ levels, the player has to obtain gold medals in story mode, a very challenging feat. However, the main multiplayer mode only requires the player to complete the story mode with any medal quality. The multiplayer mode has its place in the game’s enjoyment and offers a reasonable extra challenge if both players are of equal skill levels. Any amount of multiplayer content is somewhat rendered obsolete in the face of story mode though. Catherine is a story driven experience in two parts so no matter what benefits the multiplayer mode seems to add, it’s overshadowed by the solid truth that it’s like playing the story mode with half of the game (day segments) missing, a wasted effort overall for some players.
Catherine is presented beautifully with the game’s menu, cutscenes and in-game visuals being colourful, defined and unique. The story is one of the most compelling in a game touching subjects that are daring and thought-provoking. The game tends to move from deadly serious to jokey in an odd way at points but it never gets boring to see how Vincent will deal with the next big confrontation.
The 3D graphics have a very set art style and are very vibrant with colour; the models and animations fit well into an anime style and show the old clichés (large sweat drips, large eyes) very well. The 2D cutscenes could be taken straight out of an actual anime and are drawn well also. There are prettier games out there to be sure, but it shouldn’t be of any importance given the game’s focus on story and delivery.
The soundtrack fits with the anime style and setting well with various orchestrated instrumentals moving from tense and slow strings to fast and lively brass. The voice acting is well delivered but isn’t well complemented by the script, there is never a moment where anything is ‘out of place’ though, a rare commodity in story-driven games.
The puzzle gameplay of Catherine is pretty simple at first glance but quickly becomes a behemoth of difficulty. This could easily be described as the ‘Dark Souls’ of puzzle games. Being able to control your panic and carefully calculate block positions using a variety of tactics will quickly become an afterthought but the process is a long one. Those not prepared to put in the time should stay away.
Catherine is a story driven game at heart but the ability to adapt to the game mechanics is the primary motivation for how long you play. The game has multiple endings and paths based on the moral choices made and the additional modes are nice for those that have been through it once but this is a game of testing your mental strength, those that thrive the challenge will appreciate the time this game can give much more than those that don’t want to think too much.
Catherine is an odd game that will definitely not be for some. The anime visuals and the difficulty curve will drive away a large amount of users to be sure. Those that fit this niche however will be heavily rewarded for their efforts. If you’re looking for something quirky but seriously thought provoking at the same time, this game is highly recommended. The story touches on subjects that may not be touched again in the near future so if you want something to really engage your brain both logically and emotionally, pick this up; you may not get another chance in a very long while.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.