The lights are on
Review can also be found at silverbooster.blogspot.com/2012/07/review-catherine.html
Developed by Atlus Persona Team
Published by Atlus
for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Released July 26, 2011
Finding a solid puzzle game interspersed with an intriguing tale of lost love is about as likely as finding an FPS with a decent story. But alas, here we have Catherine, a game that blends puzzle-solving with a story about redemption of the heart. Oh, and there are also giant zombie metal babies with chainsaws that spit machine-gun fire.
The main story of Catherine is separated by the night and day activities of Vincent Brooks, a 32-year-old man who just can't seem to commit to his long time girlfriend, Katherine. After news hits about a bunch of males in the city who are mysteriously dying in their sleep, he meets a young blonde seductress named Catherine and begins having terrible nightmares involving sheep and a constant struggle for freedom. During the days and evenings, you control Vincent as he socializes with his friends at the Stray Sheep, a bar frequented by the locals. The bar scene is where you'll be able to take in a lot of the story by talking to the bar attendees and helping them out with their problems. You will also be able to play an arcade game, listen to music, learn about alcoholic trivia, and get drunk. It's an ironic and much needed moment of solace and relief after experiencing the horrific terrors of the night.
At the core of Catherine is a well-tuned puzzle game. At night, Vincent suffers from nightmares that consist of him escaping sets of hellish traps without falling to his doom. The goal of each stage is to reach the top of a mountain of blocks by pulling, pushing, or removing certain blocks in order to make a pathway to get yourself closer to the end. You don't have all the time in the world, however, you must analyze your situation quickly before the series of blocks below you fall away with you on them. There are many different types of blocks and traps that can hinder your progress such as ice blocks, that will make Vincent slide to his death, and Spike traps, which will obliterate Vincent if he stands on them for too long. The ability to reverse the moves that you made makes it easier to get yourself out of impossible situations that you may have accidentally created. Each puzzle is unique and makes you think critically and hastily about the path you take to reach the goal.
As addicting as the puzzle-solving is, it is indeed challenging, mostly for the right reasons. At the end of each nightmare awaits a boss puzzle where a frightening gargantuan abomination from Vincent's psyche will do everything in its power to hinder your climb (and brown your underwear). These include but are not limited to, removing vital blocks, severely altering the puzzle, or just outright killing you. I did find that when these bosses move around the stage, the camera will zoom in, out, or completely block your view. Unfortunately, moving Vincent around can also be a bit of a nightmare. The controls are very touchy. I found myself trying to move to one block but then ending up going passed it and dying on a spike trap. Hanging from blocks also proved difficult. If you hang and move from behind the puzzle the controls are supposed to be reversed but I found that there is just no order to the controls. Going left will make me go right, but as soon I turn a corner of a block, the same motion does the exact opposite. I've wasted vital time in cycles of moving back and forth on a block trying to figure just how to control Vincent before I end up reversing a move or falling to my death.
The fun of Catherine is nowhere near done after your first run-through. For being a story-driven puzzler, it has a surprising amount of replay value. There are multiple endings that could be achieved by the moral choices you made during the story and whether you favor freedom, commitment, or indifference either way. Babel mode allows you to replay each of the puzzles solo or cooperatively. The Colosseum is a competitive mode that pits two local players against each other in a series of puzzles. If you hate being rushed in the puzzles in the game, you can play Repunzel, a side-game found in Stray Sheep that lets you figure out a series of puzzles without the fear of running out of time. Although online play would have been a great addition, there is still a hell of a lot to do with the Catherine.
The music of Catherine consists of jazzy little numbers that are played during your time in Stray Sheep. While lounging you can use the jukebox to listen to different songs you've unlocked throughout the game which will also consist of songs from other Atlus games such as Persona. During the nightmares, each area is accompanied with modern renditions of classic songs from Beethoven among others which sound great and add a sense of urgency to each stage.
With each cutscene, you become more and more acquainted with each character. I was absolutely blown away by how well the voice acting was in this game especially with Vincent and his voice actor Troy Baker. The professional level of voice acting adds to the story and strengthens the connection between the player and Vincent and allowed me to connect with his many conundrums.
The graphics are absolutely gorgeous. The character models are portrayed in perfect cel-shaded animation that resemble the animated cutscenes that occur here and there. Although as beautiful as the anime scenes are, the entire game could have gone without it and still look just as beautiful. The nightmare chambers look dangerously morbid and bathed in darkness while the Stray Sheep looks calm and relaxing. It's a balanced portrayal of night and day as seen through Vincent's eyes.
I know I've underplayed the horror aspect of the game but I'll go ahead and say now that it truly is a terrifying experience with the combination of grim areas, horrifying bosses, and the overall sense of haste. Catherine is an odd game in that it attempted to be a dating sim, a survival/horror, and a puzzle game. The weird thing is that it succeeded. But it really all comes down to whether or not you like puzzle games. If you can take bombardments of mind-bending puzzle-solving after puzzle-solving with the occasional control issue then this game is for you. Everything else included is just icing on the cake.
Lasting Appeal: 3/3
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