Videogame Review: Catherine

Catherine – 360/PS3

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There are two primary schools of thought used when determining a letter grade, number, or amount of stars to assign a game.  One way is to determine the score based on whether the audience will enjoy the game or not.  And the other way is to score it based mostly on personal taste and experience (ie how good are the graphics, the writing, etc or an average of).  Catherine is an exemplary example of why scoring systems are not always the best way to communicate information and opinion.  See Catherine is an extremely good, well written, and highly polished game that I imagine the vast majority of the populace will either dislike or outright hate.   Catherine redefines the term “niche”.

The majority of Catherine is composed of a fairly stressful puzzle platformer.  Vincent (the main character) enters the scene in his boxers with sheep horns on his head clutching his pillow.  The scene is a tower of boxes he can push, pull and climb but on a time limit.  All a box needs to support itself is an adjacent edge of another box.  Without that support a section of boxes will fall down into the abyss, which is actually a puzzle solving tactic at times.  Boxes come in a large variety from immovable to explosive to ice and on and on.  Every new night of climbing brings a new element into the puzzle solving.  The controls while climbing are really good in that they are fast and accurate.  When I climbed into a box with a vortex on top of it I knew it was my fault for twitching in the wrong direction.

The primary problem when climbing is the mostly fixed camera.  In later puzzles climbing around the back of the tower becomes necessary.  While the camera can be temporarily adjusted it never can quite see behind the blocks.  Most of the time, this doesn’t matter but occasionally I found myself wishing for a fully player controlled camera.

Whether you enjoy the puzzle solving or not is going to be a big determining factor on how much you can enjoy this game.  I personally expected to dislike the puzzle solving but after an hour wound up loving it.  I also highly, highly recommend playing the game on Easy starting out.  Even on Easy its challenging at times.  Several puzzles definitely took my brain for enough of a spin that I had to sleep on it and come back.  You’ve heard of getting “Portal Brain”?  Well Catherine has that too.

The other half of the game is spent either watching high quality anime sequences by Studio 4°C or hanging out with friends in the bar.  There are probably several hours of anime cutscenes in the game.  It should be mentioned Vincent runs into humanoid sheep in the box climbing sections which are almost all people Vincent can run into in the bar.  Vincent can talk to these individuals and the game will let the player make decisions that will determine whether these characters will have the confidence to survive.  There is also an arcade game named Rapunzel that is more of the box climbing puzzles.  I did not complete the arcade game as it has a ridiculous number of levels.

The characters are all fairly believable, or as much as a movie or TV show can be.  The characters are more direct with their feelings and trials than any real human would be but that’s just how it goes in games and Hollywood.  And the idea that games have reached this level of character development I think is significant.

But there is going to be a divide where the characters are concerned.  Vincent the main guy is a very specific personality type that the player can help direct in his decision making.  The nuance is Western gamers are used to being their character when they make decisions and this is NOT the case in Catherine.  Vincent does not always agree with your choices.  Its a bit jarring even for someone like me who loves to play these oddities.  You can pick the Chaos side of the choice bar all you want but that doesn’t mean Vincent will want to go that route.  He may eventually come around, but don’t expect your decisions to be the one he prefers.

The choice system is divided between order, represented by Katherine (Vincent’s fiance), and chaos, represented by Catherine (Vincent’s fling).  While this makes the game appear to have a two choice system there are at least 8 endings to this game which includes a neutral option.  Almost every decision the player makes will swing the bar one direction or the other.  The game tells you all the time, there are no wrong choices.  Having completed the game on Chaos, I can definitely say the ending was incredibly fun, which is not something that is typical in games.  Usually the stereotype “evil” ending has the man character punching a baby and slapping some nuns, or some heinous equivalent to that.  But at the same time note that the ending I received was absolutely crazy.

The overall story is incredibly Japanese because….  well it was written by Japanese people.  Duh.  There are crazy nonsensical things that happen that might make the player ask why.  Well player I ask you, why not?  American movies do odd things we find entertaining I imagine other cultures do not.  As for the game achieving a status as a thriller, not really.  The first half of the game has some decently creepy things in it.  The later half, not so much.

Catherine is a game I have a lot of room in my heart for that I simply don’t see a ton of other people enjoying.  I highly recommend playing the demo.  If the block puzzles enrage you but you like anime, find a friend you can watch play it for you.  If you don’t like anime and you don’t like the block puzzles, sit this one out.  Personally, I absolutely love this game.  Its not perfect.  The menu system, as flashy and good looking as it is, isn’t efficient in the slightest.  Making choices through cell phone text message is a lot of fun but could have been delivered a little better.  The graphics are absolutely fantastic though and considering how solid the gameplay is I’m surprised its on the Gamebryo engine.  But at the end of the day, I absolutely love this game and can’t wait to see what the team over at Atlus has in store for us next.

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About MusiM
Musician, writer, Gundam model hobbyist, video game lover, host of The Carousel Podcast, and all with a day job.

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