Well the wait is finally over, Catherine is out! Atlus finally released their long talked about and drooled over story driven puzzle platformer, but does it live up to all the hype? Therein lies the question, how do you explain a game like Catherine and relate it to the hype that it generated mainly from depictions of its titular character Catherine? My answer is you simply don’t. While Atlus put out a huge PR campaign for the game, it still left many scratching their heads as to what was really going on, even after putting out several videos showing off some of the amazing animation, action sequences, and the brilliant music; people were still left wondering how the sheep thing connected to the anime.
The way that it all comes together is much like the way a game like Persona 4 managed to bring high school life together with fighting demons in another dimension: it splits the game into two seperate worlds. The game revolves around Vincent, a pretty normal guy who is being confronted by his long term girlfriend, Katherine, to take his life and their relationship more seriously. After a night at his favorite bar, the Stray Sheep, he wakes up with Catherine in his bed after a particularly strange dream, and is confronted with the reality that he cheated on his long term girlfriend with a stranger. That is the reality of the story: the anime cut scenes and the conversations that take place amongst Vincent’s friends at the Stray Sheep. The other half of the game takes place in the realm of nightmares, where Vincent is forced to climb a tower every night, competing with sheep to reach the top or die a horrible death.
The story may sound a little complex already, but that’s just the highlight reel so to speak. Catherine weaves an intricate tale about Vincent and his two girls, while also exposing a strange phenomena which sees men withering away to a desiccated corpse in the middle of the night. The game deals with a great deal of heavy issues that are rarely dealt with in games. The story is just plain engrossing, every chapter adds more to the tale and makes you want to power through the puzzle levels just to get to the next twist and it would seem that this was the developer’s intent all along since they made the puzzles incredibly difficult to complete.
Heck, that may be an understatement, the last time I was as frustrated at a game was Demon’s Souls and that is just on easy mode! Even though they seem straight forward at first, twists get added into the mix every chapter making a simple “pull a block here and climb,” sort of action turn into “HOLY GOAT BALLS WHAT THE HELL!!!”
The basics of the tower levels is simple, you can pull, push and climb blocks in three dimensions to try to get to the top of the level before the bottom literally falls out from under you. You can climb up a single block at a time and the blocks will not fall out as long as they are touching the edge of at least one block. Along the way you can get power ups, which you can carry one of at a time, these are pretty simple but helpful items to collect. They range from blocks you can toss out to help get up an area or a little more helpful like the energy drink which allows you to climb two blocks at a time for a short period. The team managed to somehow make the puzzle mechanics stressful and rewarding at the same time, rarely tipping the balance into the realm where you want to throw a controller.
In the end, Catherine is something new. It can’t really be related to any other game and in a time where every game has a genre and innovations are hard to find, the fact that it is hard to describe is refreshing to me. Even for Atlus, who seem to seek out the oddball games and bring them to us, this game is out there and I cannot be more pleased that it is. The only real hang ups the game has are that the controls sometimes make the already insanely hard puzzles even harder and that the puzzles are so insane even on easy, if it were not for those two faults the game would be perfect!