Catherine tells the story of Vincent Brooks, a man in his early thirties coming to grips with growing up. When his long-term girlfriend Katherine starts planning their future, Vincent begins drinking his troubles away, unsure of whether he is ready to give up his freedom and settle down. On one booze-soaked evening, the attractive young Catherine walks through the doors of the Stray Sheep Pub and into Vincent’s life, turning his world upside down and sending him into a guilt-ridden, downward spiral as his life becomes a web of lies.
While those looking for a salacious affair with Catherine are sure to be disappointed, anyone with an open mind will discover one of the most truly mature stories ever told in a video game. That, and one hell of an addicting puzzler.
Edge! Edge! Edge! Edge! Edge! Edge! Edge!
The penitent Vincent begins to have a reoccurring nightmare of climbing a tower under threat of death. Meanwhile, large numbers of young men are inexplicably being found in their beds dead. As the deaths hit closer and closer to home, and the patrons of the Stray Sheep Pub begin to experience strange dreams, a rumor begins circulating about how dying in dreams means death in real life.
Catherine’s narrative is a phenomenal roller-coaster ride of mature themes such as love, betrayal, and adulthood. As the plot takes unexpected twists and turns, Catherine sinks its claws into the player in ways that few games do. Even after spending the ten to twenty hours it takes to complete, players will find themselves reflecting on their own lives and drawing parallels with Catherine’s diverse cast.
While the game’s central mystery and Vincent’s love triangle are what will keep you coming back for more, the excellent voice acting and surprisingly deep characters are equally as endearing; and all have romantic struggles of their own. If Vincent fails to help them with their problems his friends and acquaintances may never awaken from their nightmares, joining the ranks of unfortunate young men on the evening news.
Throughout Catherine a number of moral choices will be posed to the player. How players answer these questions will have an effect on the game’s characters, Vincent’s inner monologue, and, ultimately, the story. Though many of the choices are fairly black and white, others are incredibly vague. Players going into Catherine with a certain ending in mind will inevitably make decisions that affect Vincent’s karma meter in an undesirable fashion.
Catherine features two incredibly different types of gameplay, reality and dreams. As far as the gameplay goes, reality takes place in the Stray Sheep Pub which serves as a staging area for that evening’s coming nightmare. Here Vincent can talk to his friends and the pub’s other patrons, exchange texts with his girlfriends, play the “Rapunzel” arcade game, and drink a variety of alcohol.
“Rapunzel” offers a slightly different take on the gameplay seen in the nightmare stages. While it draws parallels to both gameplay and narrative, players looking to break up the monotony will need to find other outlets. Other Japanese developers are adding shmup minigames into the mix — Catherine’s ultimately selfsame “Rapunzel” thus feels like a wasted opportunity.
Vincent will receive texts and calls from both Catherine and Katherine. How you choose to respond will have a bearing on the plot. To wash away his memories of his strained relationships and gain extra speed in the game’s nightmare sections, Vincent can drink alcohol. Depending on the poison you pick, the narrator will provide you with interesting factoids about your favorite liquor.
Once you leave the bar each night Vincent heads to bed and the nightmare begins. Each nightmare consists of three or more stages wherein Vincent must climb a tower that is slowly falling away at his feet. Towers consist of piles of blocks that are stacked atop of one another, which Vincent must rearrange to reach the pinnacle and escape his impending doom.
Reaching the summit requires players to push or pull blocks in such a way that Vincent can climb them or hang from their edges to move around them. Throughout the game new types of blocks are introduced, from heavy blocks that take longer to move to weak blocks that will eventually crumble. In the game’s later stages some blocks will become slicked with ice or even booby trapped in ways that can send Vincent to a quick death if he’s not careful. Other blocks are spring-loaded and help Vincent soar up high walls that would otherwise be insurmountable. These additions keep the gameplay fresh and interesting, and are steadily introduced as to not become overwhelming.
Along the way to the top players will come across coins, items, and the occasional enemy. Picking up coins will allow players to run up the leaderboards by earning higher ranks. You’ll also find items that aide you in a jam. Coins can also be used to purchase items from a rather portly gentleman between stages but will hurt your chances of earning a high score.
Vincent isn’t always alone when climbing the tower, either. Other sheep-men will get in his way from time to time. These enemies start off as mild annoyances that can either get in your way or help you out. While they will occasionally (hilariously) set off traps that may have caught you by surprise, more often than not they will impede your progress and force you to find alternative routes. Towards the game’s end these enemies become much more aggressive and murderous.
Catherine’s bosses are manifestations of Vincent’s greatest fears. Found in the final stage of each nightmare, these battles test the skills learned in earlier stages. Not only will Vincent need to overcome the obstacles before him when he encounters these beasts, but he will need to do so under the added duress of incoming attacks and less forgiving time limits. These stages make reaching the top of a tower particularly satisfying and are some of the most enjoyable sequences in the game.
On the easiest difficulty setting, Catherine is appropriately challenging. Throughout the game Atlus introduces new challenges and techniques to keep you on your toes. While there is usually a steady increase in difficulty, there is a spike near Catherine’s climax in a section that is much more mentally taxing than the rest. While other areas of the game require quick thinking and provide relatively easy puzzles, these are much more complex and require intense thought and geometrical consideration.
Players will surely want to play through again to see at least one of the game’s alternate endings. Additionally, once the main campaign is finished, Catherine’s other modes will become available, allowing you to test your block-climbing skills in competitive and co-operative multiplayer.
Catherine is a truly rare experience that combines arcade-style gameplay with one of the most engaging, emotional narratives seen in a videogame. While Atlus has done little to reconcile the game’s disparate styles of play, it doesn’t damage the overall experience. The tower climbing sequences may not be for everyone, but those that enjoy a good puzzle should seriously consider picking Catherine up.