Catherine – Nighmarishly Sexy. Hellishly Challenging.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Vincent is your average, run-of-the-mill slacker who’s stuck in the day-to-day, with no motivations or aspirations. His beautiful and semi-successful girlfriend, Katherine, begins dropping hints that she wants to move on to the next stage of their relationship, marriage. Meanwhile, a string of mysterious deaths is plaguing his town, and the latest to fall victim is his buddy Paul. Vincent’s world is changing around him, and he feels helpless. As if things couldn’t get any more complicated, he meets a mysterious young woman named Catherine at a bar and winds up taking her home. But his enigmatic mistress is only the beginning of his problems, and the next eight days are going to be a true living hell.
Catherine is a fairly simple platform puzzle game in which you control Vincent in his recurring nightmares. His objective is to climb a tower of blocks, pushing, pulling, and collapsing them in order to work his way up to a doorway to continue on to the next segment. As you work your way up, the lower levels slowly collapse away, motivating you to continue higher or fall to your death.
There are eight levels that take place over the eight day period in the game. Beyond the initial tutorial, each level is typically broken into three segments. The first introduces you to a new obstacle (blocks of ice, traps of spikes that pop out of the block when stepped on, collapsing blocks, etc.), with the second being a higher, more difficult climb. The third segment is a boss level in which a horribly disfigured monster conjured up from Vincent’s fears chases him up the tower. If the boss catches up, you get to see Vincent killed in a horribly brutal manner. These climbing levels are well thought out and can be exceptionally challenging, even at the lower difficulty settings.
Between segments, Vincent arrives at a waiting area where he can interact with other “sheeple” (talking sheep), purchase items with Enigma coins (which are awarded to you at the end of each level based on your performance), or move on to the next segment after visiting the confessional where a patronizing disembodied voice (acting as somewhat of a guide) will ask Vincent a question. Depending on how you answer the question, a meter with a devil on one side and an angel on the other will show with the needle swinging in one direction or the other. This meter gauges how faithful or unfaithful you…err…Vincent is. After you have answered, it will show you how other online users have answered the question as well. While the global result doesn’t appear to have any effect on the outcome of the game, it is interesting to see how other people have answered compared to yourself.
Special items can be acquired throughout the levels to help your progress. However, they can also be purchased from a merchant between levels in case you need a little extra help getting through a level. Some power-ups include Bells which allow you to change trap or heavy blocks into normal blocks for you to use, Energy Drinks that allow you to leap up two blocks at once, and more. You should be warned though, as purchasing these items does affect your score at the end of a level and makes it more difficult to earn a gold trophy rating.
To keep the game from becoming monotonous, the wizards at Atlus have put in an enormous amount of effort into changing up the pace of the game with a robust story, a number of minigames, and tons of dialogue to help you along the way to not only completing the game, but unraveling the mysteries surrounding Catherine. In the bar, you can beef up your climbing skills in an arcade game titled Rapunzel, where the premise is the same as the main game, but you don’t get splattered if you miss a step. Also, talking to the patrons at the bar, as well as the sheep in the waiting areas, provides more background to the goings in the world of Catherine. But by far, the most entertaining components of Catherine are the story and the graphics.
The story of Catherine is deeply woven and done in a classic anime art form. The layers of mystery are slowly peeled away throughout the game in the dialogue with other characters, as well as cut scenes set either in-game or in full-motion video. As Vincent digs himself deeper into the love triangle with Catherine and Katherine, hilarity frequently ensues and you find yourself feeling bad for him even though he acts like a complete tool. While the gameplay would normally become boring after a short period, the story draws you in and you find yourself completely addicted.
Solid voice acting accompanies the superb writing, making Catherine not only one of the better story-driven games that I’ve played in a long time, but one of the better English-dubbed animes that I’ve seen in quite a while as well. It’s very apparent that Atlus has spared no expense when it comes to talent for Catherine. Add to it the beautifully toon-shaded models in-game and wonderfully drawn cut-scenes, and you have a game that tickles just about every fancy and fetish that a geek can possibly have.
The multiplayer aspect has two modes, Colosseum and Babel. Colosseum is a competitive mode where instead of playing as Vincent, you play as sheep racing to the top of the puzzle tower. You have the ability to knock your opponents down, and can win either by making them fall to their death, or making it to the top of the tower first. Babel is essentially a co-op version of the single player game à la Splosion Man where it is essentially the same levels, but with certain portions requiring both players to make it through different puzzles. While multiplayer doesn’t add too much to the gameplay, it is enjoyable to play for a bit. However, unlike most games, the single player story is really where the meat and potatoes are.
Though at first glance, Catherine appeared to be an attempt to introduce console gamers to the world of the Japanese dating sim, this game is a far cry from it. In actuality, it is a masterfully written story with gorgeous graphics and superior sound and voice acting. For the developer that has a simple game with solid but somewhat repetitive gameplay, who is looking for a good way to get the masses to flock to the stores for it: take notes, because Atlus just wrote your bible. It’s easy to say that it’s the sex that sells the game (and it is), but it’s the masterful blend of art and story behind the cover that keeps you up into the wee hours of the morning wanting for more.
For the rest of us, Catherine provides you with challenging (albeit monotonous) gameplay, a rich and compelling story, and some serious laughs. It is totally worth the sixty dollars, the funny looks you get from your spouse, and having to stay up through the middle of the night so the kids don’t see what you’re playing. Catherine is quite possibly one of the most enjoyable console games this year, and is most definitely the sexiest game to hit a console in a long time.
This game receives a 4.75/5.
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