Catherine could be the strangest game I have ever played, it certainly seems unique. Developed by Atlus, it was released on the PlayStation 3 back in February 2012. You can buy it for €59.99 on the PlayStation Store or PS Plus subscribers can currently download it free of charge.
You take control of Vincent, a thirty something living in a small apartment in the city. He is happy to keep living his life as it is now, comfortable and familiar. Unfortunately for him his girlfriend Katherine thinks the opposite; she is interested in marriage and planning their future together. Such thoughts frighten Vincent, leading him to spend his evenings drinking at his local bar. It is here he meets a young woman and, after drinking too much, wakes up with her in his bed the next morning. Catherine (with a ‘C’) is ready to offer him everything Katherine won’t, no strings attached fun and excitement. From here Vincent attempts to juggle his life between the two Catherines and if that wasn’t stressful enough, Vincent starts having nightmares every night in which he is fighting for his life, die in the dream and you’ll never wake up.
These nightmares are the core gameplay. Essentially Catherine is a puzzle game; you start at the bottom of a tower of blocks and have to move them around in order to climb to the top. You need to move fast since the blocks below you will begin to fall, taking you with them. These puzzles are HARD. Each round contains several block tower stages with a ‘boss’ stage at the end. Within these the blocks beneath you will fall and you will be chased by a manifestation of Vincent’s fears, some of these are downright creepy. Atlus are known for being unforgiving in their games and Catherine is an example of this. Some of these puzzles can seem impossible, when you figure them out you can feel like a genius, or the solution could appear so obvious you’ll wonder what it was you were stuck on in the first place. There are Easy, Normal and Hard modes so you can play to your own tastes. Each puzzle then offers further challenge by allowing you to achieve a gold, silver or bronze trophy in it. To get the golds you will need to focus on collecting piles of cash scattered throughout the puzzle as well as completing it quickly. Puzzles become harder as you progress, adding different kinds of blocks and traps to the mix. There is massive replay value in these for anyone trying to get the gold trophy on each puzzle. There is a challenge mode and multiplayer as well, where two players have to race to the top of the tower.
The nightmare puzzles will be where you spend most of your time, but while Vincent is awake you will get to play through the story side to Catherine too. His waking hours are mainly spent at the Stray Sheep, his local bar. Here you can reply to text messages on your phone, play an arcade game or talk to your friends and other customers. The choices you make on who to talk to and what to say affect how the plot plays out. There are eight endings to see depending on the decisions you make. The gameplay graphics are nothing special, though there are fully animated ‘anime style’ cut scenes throughout the game and these are lovely to watch. The soundtrack is full of tunes that add to the suspense, particularly in the nightmare mode. The piano tune in the bar is a nice change and makes for some easy listening. Voice acting is excellent; every character is performed well, even the supporting cast.
Really it is the plot’s idea and how it presented itself in the game that caught my interest. Everything is based around Vincent’s fear of change and commitment, and how that ends up affecting him and those around him. It is a shame to see how exaggerated the characters were though as it makes it very hard to root for anyone. Katherine is such a nagging person, criticising everything he does, you’d wonder why Vincent is with her in the first place. On the other side Catherine seems genuinely a bit mad and Vincent himself is so passive and weak willed that he ends up just telling himself he should sort things out without ever saying anything of any substance to either of the women. Exaggerated as they are though, they are all relatable, a man under pressure by society to settle down, the ‘committed girlfriend’, and ‘the other woman’.
Catherine is a game that you’ll remember long after it is over. I’m still trying to think of one that compares to it and I can’t. It is a great idea, a combination of an interesting and unique story, tied into a solid and seriously challenging puzzle game.