There have been those who have criticized the Japanese video game industry, slamming its lack of creativity and innovation. However, it doesn’t discern the simple fact that there are some true gems coming from Japanese developers. Catherine, the latest from Atlus’ Persona Team, might just be a contender.
In Catherine players assume the role of Vincent Brooks, an awkward 32-year old office work, who finds himself torn between two beautiful women. Currently dating Katherine, his long-time girlfriend, who abruptly springs the discussion of marriage and an unexpected pregnancy onto him, during lunch, Vincent finds himself questioning if he’s truly ready for a committed relationship. In the midst of everything, he meets Catherine, a slutty seductress who seduces him one night at a bar.
Now, with marriage and a pregnancy playing on his mind he finds himself doubting his every action, whilst his growing fear, guilt and fidelity is manifesting itself in his dreams. Though, what he doesn’t realize is that his dreams might be related to a string of freak deaths that are taking place in his neighbourhood. As rumour grows, more people begin to show the same symptoms.
The player is tasked with the deciding the fate of Vincent’s heavy moral decisions, leading to how the overarching story will thus pan out. As Vincent finds himself pondering the value of honesty and the right thing to do – he begins to realize – whatever decision is made, someone is going to get hurt. Worse yet, someone might die.
Catherine’s story plays out in part through cut-scenes, some of which are rendered in traditional Japanese anime format – produced by Studio 4°C – whilst others are represented in similar stylization within game. Yet, the rest of the story is delivered through interacting with Vincent’s friends, and additional characters that appear in his local watering hole, the Stray Sheep, of whom will deliver insights into the rumours and the like.
There is, though, a lacking amount of storyline expressed throughout the platforming sections of Catherine. In part, it feels like wasted opportunity, as there certainly could have been more interaction from Vincent during these sections. However, taking into consideration the level of difficulty, it’s probably a good thing. It’d be hard to follow storyline, let alone the messages that are already transcribed during these sections as it is without becoming distracted and losing attention.
The gameplay mechanics consist of blocks that need to be pushed, pulled and placed into an ideal location in order to allow Vincent to climb higher and escape the nightmare. What’s stopping Vincent from ascending to the top you ask? Well, to name but a few: gaps, traps and crumbling blocks. You’ll have to create a bridge out of blocks in order to traverse across, dodge spikes that attempt to impale Vincent and move fast over falling blocks that will send him to an unpleasant death. There are also additional obstacles such as heavy blocks which can’t be moved, and others that he can’t hang onto.
Throughout levels are spread enigma coins, pillows, and various other goodies. These will help Vincent last longer as the levels quickly become harder as the game progresses, making it worth going the extra mile to nab them. Enigma coins help boost your overall score at the end of each nightmare, whilst pillows allow you an additional number of life’s which is handy due to the sheer brutality of the game. Though, due to sometimes pressing time restraints it can become rather frustrating trying to obtain them leading to some minor annoyance.
There’s a fine line between Catherine’s brutality, and it can often feel more like plain luck, rather than skill. However, there’s a plethora of techniques that’ll help Vincent reach the top, including the need to create a bridge from blocks, or form them into a triangle in order to traverse to various heights. Learning key formulas and utilizing them is the key to success in latter stages of the game.
Yet, you’ll often find yourself dying time and time again before being able to even complete a level. This wouldn’t be so bad if Catherine didn’t limit you by the number of retries of which once used up require the player to return to the title screen, and load the game all over again. It can quickly become annoying when being forced to exit the game, pushing you to save the game whenever possible.
Catherine’s mission structure focuses on Vincent’s ascent up the tower within his nightmares, consisting of eight floors, each with multiple stages. Upon completing each stage, the player is taken to a “Landing Floor”, essentially a hub level, allowing you to interact with other characters in the same situation as Vincent all of whom take the form of sheep – which is oddly enough how Vincent also appears to them. On these levels, and through conversing with the various sheep, Vincent can learn new techniques to help him traverse levels, purchase items from merchant sheep, or just provide advice to those in need. Once ready to proceed, it’s time for him to pop into the confessional booth and move onto the next stage. The sheep on each landing level slowly decrease over time until there’s no longer anyone else to be found than Vincent.
For those who’re interested in some co-operative action, Catherine’s got you covered. In addition to it having a fully-fledged single-player storyline, that can easily last 12 hours on its own, there’s also a rather decent multiplayer experience taking shape in the form of “Babel” and “Colosseum”.
The former, Babel becomes available after obtaining a gold prize on normal or hard difficulty of the Golden Playhouse (the single-player campaign) and can be played by up to 2 players. Pitted against 4 different levels with randomized block layouts, players need to cooperate with one another in order to reach the top. In Babel one player takes control of Vincent and the other as Katherine. Colosseum, on the other hand is only playable by 2 players after having finished Golden Playhouse at least once. Each player takes control of a sheep and competes to climb the tower first. They’re both fun and fresh and complement the single-player experience wonderfully. It is, however, a little annoying that they can’t be played from the get-go and have to be unlocked.
There is, undeniably, a true sense of wackiness in part whilst playing through Catherine; it defies all stereotypes of the constant bombardment of shooters or sport titles that flood the market year after year. And, in a way, it is refreshing to see a game that’s willing to take risks with its story, design and gameplay. However, Catherine isn’t without its faults; there are many annoyances to be found from the problematic pacing of story to the harshness of the levels themselves. Though, it is easy to overlook them, they still exist at the very core of the game.
Catherine is available now on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in Standard Edition and “Stray Sheep” Limited Edition.
- Vincent's Character
- The Deep Storyline
- The wackiness
- The Sheer Brutality of the Game
- Problematic Pacing Issues