Catherine Review: Does Vincent Dream of Adulterous Sheep?

Catherine is a game that makes you think; not just because the puzzles require brain function to solve, but to think about relationships as well. Once the training wheels were off I suddenly found myself not playing a game, but a deep morality driven experience. Puzzles aside, Catherine asked me questions I never really thought of, but took the time to actually reflect on my answers, and how others might react to them. I wasn’t thinking in terms of “this is a game; law is one path, chaos is another.” I was thinking about my own experiences and how the relationships I’ve had have shaped me. This is the greatest achievement of Catherine, but also the greatest weakness.

Catherine is a game that deals with the opposite sex. What puts Catherine above other games of its type is that the decisions present a moral ambiguity in the way that, there is no right or wrong decision, but only a decision that needs to be made.  While the questions may be ambiguous, the answers fall under a strict “Law vs. Chaos” meter. It is great to have those though provoking inquiries, however, they don’t mean much when the answers do nothing to change how the main character reacts to events.

Our narrative is centered around Vincent; a 32 year old man who doesn’t know what he wants in life, this fact is only accelerated when he wakes up one morning to the sight of the raunchy elbow porn of Catherine. His life is turned upside-down when he is faced with the decision of staying with his long time girlfriend Katherine, or leaving her for the 22-year-old vixen Catherine. It is sad to say, all the characters fit into certain archetypes. The characters have depth, but it is a very shallow depth, and their themes are presented to you in an obvious way, so much so that they feel like they are beaten over your head.

Most of the tale takes place in either Vincent’s room or “The Stray Sheep”, a local bar that everyone seems to go to. The environments mimic the monotony of Vincent’s life, but the excitement comes from the interactions he has with the people around him, they are interesting people but they don’t serve much of a purpose. Getting drunk at the bar before you go to sleep actually gives you a speed boost in the puzzles so it is good to have a couple beers before hand, and the game will humorously give you a piece of trivia on what beverage you are drinking.

The gameplay of Catherine is made up of block puzzles that have you climbing towers towards a small exit platform. Block puzzles start out simply, but rapidly increase in difficulty. Once you start thinking with blocks, the puzzles feel more natural, however the learning curve is very steep with these Q*bert inspired challenges.  There are different types of blocks (heavy, ice, bomb, etc.) that give the gameplay diversity to break up monotony. Coming across new types of blocks and learning their uses gives a good sense of progression.  Environments may seem repetitive and bland, but they only act as a backdrop similar to Guitar Hero where the main focus is on the path, not the surroundings.

You have some control over the camera, however it is incredibly limited control that doesn’t really hold much purpose at all, even though at times you need to spin the camera behind some blocks. Bosses draw the attention of the camera every now and then due to a special attack, causing you to lose track of your position or push a block the wrong way, or just flat out die unknowingly.

At the end of every puzzle, Vincent must answer a question that affects your morality and will help decide which ending of the game you unlock. These questions will change depending on how you answered the previous questions, giving some variety if you want to replay the story for all eight endings. The downside is these answers do not affect the majority of the narrative, only the positioning of the meter for a certain ending.

Where the gameplay seems to fall flat, other areas climb high. Each musical piece is a remixed version of classical songs, some of which might be catchier than their originals.  Voices match the characters perfectly and evoke emotion within them, driving the story forward to interesting conclusions. For the first game Atlus has developed in HD, Catherine looks great. The anime cutscenes are a nice treat for completing challenging levels; however dread washes over as you wonder what puzzles may come next.

I enjoyed my time with Catherine, just like I enjoyed my time with my ex-girlfriend. Like a relationship, during the game I was able to look over the flaws and experience Catherine. Also like a relationship, after it was over I felt like there were things that could have been changed to make it better. While Catherine is a fine game, just like my ex-girlfriend I hesitate before I say go out and buy her.

Score:  7 out of 10