Review: Catherine (PS3; Xbox 360)

Review-Catherine

Men may be sheep, but this game certainly isn’t. 

Atlus Games are known for appealing to a particular niche market; releasing games that have a very Japanese feel to them. This particular game, however, caught the attention of more than just their usual audience. It got a lot of people talking… mainly because nobody knew what the heck type of game it was! When we finally found out, some were shocked, some became disinterested. But it sure got people talking. Let’s take a closer look at Catherine!

 

Catherine boxartCatherine

Genre: Puzzle/ Action-Adventure
Developer: Atlus Persona Team
Publisher: Atlus
Platform: PlayStation 3; Xbox 360
Original Release Date: July 28, 2011
ESRB Rating: M
Reason for Rating: Violence; Blood; Sexual Themes; Partial Nudity; Strong Language; Use of Alcohol

 

Our hero, Vincent Brooks, is your average dude. Making ends meet, dating a highly successful and ambitious designer named Katherine McBride, hanging out with buddies at the local bar. Pretty average stuff, yea? One day, Katherine starts to break out the “heavier talk”: meeting the parents, taking things to the next level, that sort of thing. To drown his anxiety, our boy Vincent gets wasted at the bar, meets a young girl named Catherine, and… you can probably guess what happens next.

Around that time, you start to have strange dreams about being a sheep, trying frantically to climb up a tower of falling blocks. And if that’s not enough, the news is reporting that young men around Vincent’s age are dying in their sleep.

So, Vincent needs to figure out what he wants to do with his life (stick with his longtime girlfriend, Katherine or start fresh with out-of-the-blue Catherine?), while figuring out why he’s having these strange dreams.

 

My, That’s A Fine-Looking Game

Visually-speaking, Catherine looks great (the game, I mean). The character designs are nice (nothing too out there, as this is supposed to take place in real life). There aren’t many places you get to see in the game (only five, and two of those places where you have actual control over Vincent), but they do have some nice details in them. The Nightmare stages look like bizarre fever dreams (perfect!).

The anime sequences are done by Studio 4°C (they’ve done some work on the Animatrix), and well done… if you’re into anime. Not everyone is into that particular style, so some might feel put off by it. The voice acting is also top notch. I didn’t find any one of the characters’ voices to be annoying.

The music is also very well done. Jazzy tunes in the bar suggest a relaxed atmosphere, tense music during the Nightmares encourages you to get a move on. There’s even some remixed versions of classical music that I swear are ripped straight from Dance Dance Revolution. It does a good job at capturing the mood the scene intended and is quite catchy to boot.

All in all, the Persona Team did a good job making this game look and sound great.

Catherine - Cutscene

The story unfolds with the aid of anime cutscenes. Darn good ones, too.

When I Say “Climb”, You Say, “How High Up Is This Thing!? WTF!”

Catherine is a strange mix of puzzle game and adventure, sort of date sim-y type of games, which takes place over the span of nine days.

When you have control of Vincent in the real world, you’ll be at the Stray Sheep bar with your buds. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of things you can do while you’re there. For example, you can shoot the breeze with other bar patrons and find out what’s been happening in their lives recently. You can drink to your heart’s content, fiddle with your cell phone, or play the arcade smash, “Rapunzel”. What I like is that these all serve a purpose and aren’t there for you to pass the time until you want to leave and get into the Nightmare stages.

catherine - bar2

Drink, chat, watch TV. There’s a lot of things you can do while at the Stray Sheep.

How you react to your fellow bar goers affects their mood. In fact, if they’re too depressed, they could wind up on the news. Also, time does pass by slowly while you’re there, so topics of conversation will change and people come and go. The old RPG advice to talk to everyone and talk to them often certainly applies here. “Rapunzel” plays a lot like the Nightmare stages, so you’ll be able to practice a bit without the stress. And getting smashed will make you move faster in the nightmares, as well as give you a bit of fun trivia about your drinks of choice, so salut!

As you continue to hang out, you’ll receive text messages that you can respond to if you like. You’ll also be able to replay nightmare levels you’ve completed and improve your score. If you get the Gold, you’ll be able to skip the puzzle levels whenever you start a new game, and you’ll be able to access the Babel stages (more later). In addition, you can change the Difficulty level of the nightmares (you can only change the Difficulty at the bar, so do it while you can) and save your game.

I really enjoy the bar scenes. Not only do they allow you to catch your breath and take it easy between those hellish Nightmares but it’s interesting to see how the characters develop over the course of the game. I wish I could spend more time there, but that would only be delaying the inevitable. Gotta go home sometime!

Once you head back to your place, you’ll fall asleep and enter the Nightmare stage. Your objective will be to make your way up a large tower of blocks and reach the goal. It’s not as easy as it sounds, as the ground is crumbling beneath you after a certain amount of time has passed. Also, as you progress through the game, the climbs get longer, finding the best path to take will get trickier, and more obstacles will be thrown your way in the shape of trick blocks: blocks that crumble after standing on them, blocks that explode… Oh yea, they won’t make it easy. If that’s not enough, you’ll run into fellow sheep also trying to make their way to the top and try to prevent you from getting up there. Or straight up kill you with an Axe of Death. Bastards.

Fortunately, you won’t be completely powerless. As you climb, you’ll find items that will be of great help. For example, a Power Drink that will allow you to climb a stack of two blocks at a time, a Magic Bell that will turn all the blocks around you into regular, movable blocks, etc. You can only carry one item at a time, which makes me want to cry. You’ll also find coins that’ll raise your score, and pillows that will give you extra continues (grabs those whenever you find ’em)!

Once you’ve reached the top, you’ll be in the Landing, where you can talk to fellow sheep to discuss climbing techniques and encourage them (if you want) as well as purchase items to help you with your climb. The Confessional at the edge of the Landing will lead you to the next section, but you must answer a thought-provoking question first.  Depending on how the stage is structured, you may have another Standard climbing section. Or you may be facing “The Big One”.

Catherine - Boss

Here, you’ll be facing… er… umm… did I mention this was an M-rated game? Yea…

“The Big One” is the boss of the level and is based on Vincent’s fears and insecurities. They tend to have a long-ranged attack meant to knock you off a few steps or destroy blocks, and a close range attack that will insta-kill you. These guys are no joke.

When I started playing Catherine, I set the Difficulty on Normal. I figured I was of average skill and was fairly good enough at puzzles that I would be able to make my way through okay. And I managed to get through the initial stages okay; a few heart-attack inducing close calls but nothing too bad.

Then I got to Day 4’s Boss. And I got my ass handed to me. Over and over again. I ate my piece of humble pie, which went well with the “I Now Know Better” brand of ice cream I consumed to the point of brain freeze. So I did what anyone would do after spending 2 hours retrying the same section over and over again: loaded up the previous Stray Sheep section and changed the Difficulty to Easy, and stuck with that until I finished the game. No shame in admitting it, either. In fact, I’m glad I did, as I can say that while there is a bump in difficulty between Easy and Normal (as I imagine Normal and Hard), by no means does that make the game a cakewalk on Easy mode. There will still be plenty of curve balls thrown at you, heart-racing moments and why-did-I-do-that head smacking. In other words, you will still get a challenge, regardless of the Difficulty setting.

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