Catherine first caught gamers' eyes last year largely due to sexy half-naked images of its title character. Months later the game is on store shelves, and we've all gained a deeply profound appreciation for sexy half-naked images of its title character. Hopefully the assembled game critics got beyond that bit.
Catherine is a sexy horror soap opera wrapped around a block climbing puzzle game. It's an exploration of adult relationships masquerading as an anime adventure game. It features a great deal of sheep. These are the positive points I can come up with that don't involve hot anime women, though in all honesty I've yet to actually play the game. The Fedex man is currently driving my copy around Atlanta. Eventually he may drop it off, but I'm not holding my breath.
The assembled video game critics, however, have played the living hell out of Catherine, and they've got a lot to say about it. We've torn their words apart and reassembled them here for your reading pleasure.
Let me tell you about this girl I met at the bar the other night. Just stunning, totally gorgeous, you know? And unique. She does things I've never seen another girl do. She's deep, too. She makes me think about relationships and commitment and all these topics I don't normally tackle in my line of work. Sounds like a girl worth falling in love with, right? But despite all of these assets, Catherine is a killer. She'll wreck you if you let her.
Narrative takes center stage in Catherine, which tells the twisted tale of a man caught up in a deadly love triangle. Faced with looming life decisions like marriage and parenthood, protagonist Vincent wants nothing more than to escape the growing pains of his relationship. That's when the woman of his dreams falls into his lap, and before he knows it, he's caught up in a violent whirlwind of events. The writing hooks you in, and what would otherwise be a simple plot is turned on its head with the addition of the supernatural and demonic elements that are a staple of Atlus games.
Character interaction segments and anime-style cutscenes propel the narrative and provide incentive to complete each series of puzzles. Outside of Vincent's nightmares, the game's setting exists primarily within the Stray Sheep bar, which acts as a hub for communicating with Vincent's friends. Most character interaction is done via text messaging. When Katherine texts that she's annoyed by your frequent bar visits, you can choose from a list of available responses and apologize or tell her to mind her own business. Your decisions ultimately decide which of the many endings you receive, and your responses are tracked through an unexplained meter, which, at first glance, resembles a morality system. Yet it's important to note Catherine is not about good or bad choices in terms of morality, and we found the experience most enjoyable when we approached each situation as if we were in Vincent's shoes.
Vincent's fears come to a head once he staggers home from The Stray Sheep and falls asleep. Thus begins the second portion of your day: Vincent's nightmares. In his nightmares, Vincent carries a pillow, is clad only in his boxer shorts, and has sheep horns fastened to the side of his head. At the start of each dream, half-sheep Vincent appears at the bottom of a tall tower of blocks. Your goal is to climb to the exit at the top by pushing and pulling these blocks into arrangements that allow passage. Sound simple? After the introductory levels, it's terrifying. Levels are separated into such telling themes as "Inquisition" and "Prison of Despair." Torture devices and the symbols of Mars and Venus hang above ledges splattered with dark-red blood. Bleating sheep cling to icy blocks as they swirl about the gigantic chamber, lit by the sunlight seeping through stained-glass windows. All the while, remixes of dramatic and popular classical music sound forth, urging you upward. The works chosen—Dvorak's New World Symphony, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, and others—are common in symphonic halls the world over. Much of the music is discordant or rhythmically unusual, which elicits the right degree of tension. And each piece is absolutely apt; Borodin's Polovtsian Dances, for example, features a climbing-and-falling theme that perfectly mirrors the gameplay.
Catherine has more to offer than just its core, cyclical gameplay. Scoring gold medals by completing puzzles quickly will unlock new, more difficult stages to play through, and local multiplayer will be unleashed once you beat the game in its entirety. But these are all asides to what is a main game that itself is well worth the price of admission. Those are simply little extras that serve as unnecessary — but welcome — icing on the cake of one hell of a story-driven experience.
It's always nice to see a game developer breaking from the mold and Catherine does that in a huge way. Unfortunately the difficulty is going to alienate a very large amount of people. Tacked on with those who were alienated already when they found out this wasn't an RPG and it's not looking good. We only hope that this game will find the crowd that enjoys both the aggravation of the challenge and the developing storyline that forms the core of Catherine. There is a hell of an experience here if you only have the patience for it.
Just goes to show you that just because a game has hot half-naked anime girls in it doesn't mean...what was I talking about?