When we first saw the trailer for Catherine at the 2010 Tokyo Game Show, let's say we were more than just a little intrigued by Vincent and his troubles with women. This mature game is story-driven experience that explores infidelity in relationships, and Vincent is the star for the week. Catherine is like a game within a game, where you'll be introduced to Midnight Venus, the host of the show. During cutscenes, you'll notice the words "Golden Playhouse" in the upper left-hand corner, which is an homage to some '70s television shows in Japan, similar to Twilight Zone. Atlus came by to show us multiple cutscenes (including one where we learn that Vincent has a tendency to wet the bed) and the types of puzzles you'll encounter in the game.
Vincent is 32 years old and has been with his girlfriend Katherine for five years now. He likes the way things are going and sees no need to change, especially when Katherine pushes him to commit. Things start to get even more complicated when he meets Catherine, a perky blond girl who somehow winds up naked in his bed the next morning. Due to some excessive drinking the night before, Vincent is not sure if he actually slept with her. The juicy story unfolds during gorgeous cel-shaded cutscenes that are fully voice acted. It might sound like a soap opera at this point, but there's more to throw into the already intriguing mix. A series of mysterious deaths have occurred and the news reports are calling them the "Women's Wrath" because they all involve young men who died in their sleep.
The puzzles in Catherine takes place while Vincent sleeps, where he's beginning to have nightmares after meeting the seductive Catherine. In his dreams, he must climb a seemingly never-ending pile of blocks, which is meant to signify the "blocks that he must overcome in life." The goal is to push and pull blocks around to create a staircase for Vincent before the steps crumble beneath him. If you die in your dreams, you also die in real life. It's meant to be intense and mirror the terror that Vincent is feeling; throughout the level, there will also be checkpoints and pillows to collect for retries. In between stages, he'll encounter other men who appear as sheep. We're told the whole sheep thing is symbolic for a couple of things, but we'll let you play the game to figure out that part.
As you make your way through the game, there's a morality meter that shifts, depending on your actions and responses to particular questions. For example, we were asked if we have ever cheated on someone, and our options were "I plead the 5th" and "I don't think so." What's interesting is that your answers are collected like a survey, and when you're online, you'll be able to see what other players have answered in pie-chart form. By the end of the game, your meter will dictate which ending you'll see, and there are seven in total. It takes roughly eight to 12 hours to complete the game, and you will need to restart to experience the other endings.
There are leaderboards where players can see how they rank when it comes to the puzzles. There are boss fights as well, which are still represented in nightmare block-pushing form. Instead of just having the pressure of the blocks disappearing beneath you, in our demo, we encountered an enormous demonic baby that was trying to squish us. So you'll not only have to frantically push and pull your way to freedom, but you'll also have to stay out of giant ugly baby's way and dodge the lasers that come out of his eyes. As the puzzles get more complicated, you'll be introduced to new types of blocks, such as a spring block that propels you upward, and there are also hazardous ones to avoid. After you've completed the game once, you unlock a multiplayer mode (which we didn't see), but it involves competitive and cooperative offline play.
There was a patch that went out for the Japanese version of Catherine that added a "Very Easy" mode, as well as some tweaks to the levels that were proven to be too difficult. In "Very Easy" mode, you have a higher chance of receiving an energy drink that allows you to jump several blocks at a time rather than just one. "Normal" mode has also been adjusted so that you have the ability to undo what you've done if you happen to pull out the wrong block. The easier difficulty settings will also allow the mystic pillows that you collect to grant more retries. All of these changes will make their way into the North American release.
Because the game is designed and developed by the Atlus Persona team, you'll find similarities in the art style, and the music is also done by Persona series composer Shoji Meguro. Though it is rated M for mature and the content is definitely adult oriented, there is no nudity as all the cutscenes have been carefully cropped for your convenience (or displeasure). For those interested in the soundtrack, it will be included along with an art book if you preorder the game.
Catherine looks to be a twisted tale that explores themes that aren't often touched upon in video games (or in certain social circles). We look forward to seeing what becomes of Vincent when the game ships for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on July 26.