Catherine is a title I waited quite some time to get my hands on. Having downloaded the demo near its release, my appetite for it was well whetted. I am happy to report that it did not disappoint.
The game opens on the protagonist, Vincent Brooks, a 32 year old male with no discernable goals in life. He is having a lunch date with his long time girlfriend, Katherine McBride, also age 32. It speeds forward to a Nightmare, in which Vincent has to climb a structure which is constantly losing its bottom edge, or risk an in dream death. Life carries on and in another cinematic, Katherine talks about a recent party she went to. All of her friends are married with children, and even her mother has been chiming in about yet-pending nuptuals. A night of drinking ensues, with yet another Nightmare, and Vincent awakes the next morning next to a woman he barely remembers meeting… named Catherine.
The game progresses with these elements very fluidly. Catherine is a game where each facet has an impression on the others, and in a way that I found very intriguing.
The major part of the game lies within the Nightmare, in which Vincent climbs to escape his impending doom. The entire point here is to find a path upward. However, such boons are quickly dissolved, and a path must be forged instead. As you play you will get very basic tutorials, and the joy of figuring out the gameplay. Fortunately, it is not horrendously complex, so you’ll quickly be able to focus on the climb ahead. The best way I can describe how the Nightmares are laid out is to have you imagine a Jenga tower. The blocks are laid out and support one another. Even as you move them about there is the chance that you will cause some to collapse elsewhere, which can turn disasterous to your progress if you do not pay attention. Each area will introduce new block types. These will make progressing more difficult and unique. There are also active enemies scattered about that will keep you from ascending swiftly. If you are in the correct place you can move them aside, or even use blocks to eliminate them permanently.
After each segment of a Nightmare stage you will reach a Landing. Here you can save your game, buy an item to aid in your ascent, and discuss the climb with those also afflicted by the Nightmare. Often times, there will be “techniques” that you can go over. While they don’t grant you with any special abilities in and of themselves they will help you see how to get past particular obstacles inside the game. To exit each Landing you will have to enter a Confessional booth. Inside you will be asked a question. As you answer these questions you will alter your alignment toward either Law or Chaos. Inside the Nightmares themselves your alignment has little effect.
After passing each stage, you will wake up. The story is revealed in hands off cinematics at this point. Your aforementioned alignment will make small yet telling, and overall major, changes to the story. Each time you make a choice that has a bearing on what would be Vincent’s mindset a guage appears on the right side of the screen, showing toward what direction he now leans. During these cinematics, this guage will appear again. There will be an indication which choice he is making which changes the scene from that point.
Soon thereafter, Vincent will return to his watering hole of choice, The Stray Sheep. While at the bar he can interact with other patrons, which sometimes affects alignment, but mainly lets you find out more about each person. Text messages will come in, and in most cases, these will cause your alignment to shift as you respond to them. In most cases it will put you in closer touch who you send the reply to, if the response would be favorable to them. Occasionally, if you get sent an attachment, you may have to head to the bathroom stall to view it so that no prying eyes are overlooking. A jukebox lets you to listen to some of the in-game music as well as other pieces made from the developers (for instance there are a lot of songs from the Persona series). The proprieter of The Stray Sheep, one called Boss, keeps an arcade game called Rapunzel to entertain his guests. It has similiar properties to the Nightmares. The biggest change is that it is not timed, but limited to a certain number of moves. Exceed the moves or ruin your chance to reach the top and you will need to begin again. Perhaps the most important part of being at the bar is drinking. Outside of learning interesting facts regarding each beverage you knock out, you’ll be able to push Vincents’ climbing speed up after downing a couple. It should be noted that time seems to pass only as you speak to the patrons. Take your time with all the other activities here before returning home to face a new Nightmare.
As I said, I was very pleased with Catherine. It feels like a mix between a puzzle game and a dating simulator, and the bridge between the two connects well in the end. The game handles very smoothly, and the title song “The Show is Golden”, has become my song of the month thus far. The puzzles are tailored well to each difficulty level, and there is even a Very Easy mode that can be activated. If you are going for story based achievements or just trying to fly through the game this is the way to do it. In addition, there is multiplayer functionality, and extra puzzle modes for when you are complete with the main story. These change every time, so there is always something new. I can’t say I’d limit a recommendation of this title to a limited group. It is worthwhile to pick up if for nothing else as an afternoon indulgence. The main story, Rapunzel, and Babel game modes offer a long life to this game.
If your collection is wanting for a solid puzzle title I highly recommend Catherine for your enjoyment.