Unsual and very difficult, but refreshing and rather excellent. You owe it to yourself to check it out.

User Rating: 9.5 | Catherine PS3
There's many different ways to create hype, surrounding one game. Some choose to give away free copies (that would by Microsoft's strategy with Kinect) and huge PR billboards and advertisements (main examples Call of Duty & Battlefield). For Catherine, all it took to create hype was to release some screenshots. Seriously, they just released a few screenshots and people thought it looked so weird, they were hooked on the game. It's good, because the game is pretty unusual for a video game. Largely due to the concept and theme the game delves into. It's not out in Europe yet (before next year), so consider this a helpful note on whenever or not the game is for you.

Catherine follows Vincent Brooks, a 32 year old office worker. He is dating a woman called Katherine and while being perfectly comfortable with their relationship (they've been together for 5 years), he comes under a lot of pressure, to marry her, against his will obviously. Ironically, while getting drunk at the local bar (The Stray Sheep), he meets a girl called Catherine, somewhat Vincent's dream girl. Accidentally however, he wakes up the following morning, with a naked Catherine besides him. As if that isn't enough, ever since he's been cheating, he starts to have strange nightmares about monsters coming to kill him, and talking sheep. It's far from a lone case however, as this appears to have been happening to a lot of young men as well. Now, Vincent simply must survive, and decide between Katherine and Catherine, or just give them up entirely.

The story is pretty unusual for a video game, delving into themes such as: relationships, cheating, love, marriage and lots others, and how many video games can you think of that delves into those themes? Things are literally turned upside down with the whole supernatural aspect, which keeps players intrigued in what's going to happen. If it seems like the parts outside of those nasty nightmares are boring, then prepare to be surprised by the fact, that they aren't. Vincent is hilarious pathetic, yet he's also likeable enough that you want him to figure out what's going on. It may lack the emotional punch, and at times it does feel more like an anime, than game at times. Yet the game is a good example of how video games are perfectly able to tell a great story.


So, what kind of game would you think Catherine is, then? Survival horror? Action Adventure? 3rd Person Shooter? Nope, it's a puzzle game… okay it's also partially a social game. See, the nightmare portion of the game is a tower climbing puzzle, where you have to climb blocks, in order to reach your goal. Yes, that is literally what you have to do whenever Vincent's having a nightmare, climb blocks. It's not as easy as it sounds, but we'll get to that later.

The common way to climb is obviously by pulling out blocks, then stabling them somehow to make a path that you can use to climb. Of course it isn't that simple, as the game does throw in different types of blocks to create some challenge, like ice blocks and bomb blocks. You'll even encounter hostile sheep, who will push you down in order to survive, or blocks that can outright kill you. The towers themselves are designed rather well actually, requiring you to think up certain techniques in order to move on. The game also has a small scoring system that will grant you medals, which can be used to unlock bonus content. Should you do something you didn't meant to do, you can press select to cancel your last movement. It's a lifesaver, but it can exploit the scoring system however. See, when earning points, you can earn multipliers by how fast you are and obviously the multiplier will only stay on for a certain amount of time, should you fail to make progress. But revert to your previous move, and the timer will reset.

Now that doesn't sound too difficult, does it? Well remember the monsters I mentioned earlier? Yea, the ones I said were chasing you. Well, since you're chased, it means that you can't stand still and think about what to do next. You can pause the game sure, but otherwise the game forces you to think on the move, and that's where the difficulty lies. The game can be very difficult, steeping just a few shy steps away from Demon's Souls difficulty. Now, besides the monster chasing you, the towers themselves can be pretty difficult to figure out. There were literally some levels where I was stuck at some places for up towards half an hour; it can be that difficult to progress in the game. On the harder difficulty, you can't even revert to a previous move, and the layouts change completely.

Because of this, it is important to remember various techniques. No we're not talking about special abilities you learn via EXP (in fact, there's none of that here). No, it's rather techniques on how to move blocks in a certain way, in order to progress. Like pushing one out, hang around the corner, that sort of things. If you forget all of this, you're screwed. For some, it can seem a bit too difficult, and I've seen a lot of players giving up on the game entirely, after the demo. But while it's difficult, it's also very intense, something rarely seen in puzzle games. The level of rewards might not be on Demon's Soul's level, but you will feel a brush of excitement and accomplishment once a level has been completed. It should be said though that some parts can be difficult due to the controls. For the most part, they work out fine, but whenever you have to hang, the controls sometimes have a decency to reverse itself, which is annoying as hell.

The game does give you plenty of breathing room, however. Between levels, you can walk around and talk to other sheep, brushing up on new technique or buying a power up. Bear in mind though that power ups will disable any chance for a gold medal, however.

During the day, or whatever, the game is a bit more reminiscent of the social elements found in Persona, though they aren't as well developed. At the Stray Sheep bar, text with Katherine and Catherine, or you can talk to your friends and various other people, listening to their problems and maybe helping them, though that certainly isn't required. You can also train your climbing skills by playing Rapunzel, which essentially is the same as the main game, though with no time limit, and a counter on how many times you can move. Though not as intense as the nightmares, it does help build up the various characters. The somewhat disappointing aspect of this however is, that it only takes place at the Stray Sheep. If you get tired of walking around in that bloody bar, then you're out of luck. It would have been nice if you got to explore other environments as well, such as Vincent's work, the sushi restaurant, or even Vincent's apartment.

The game also has a moral system, which is something I initially disliked, but it does fit the game's subject matter rather well, and it's more subtle than the likes of Fallout or Mass Effect. Your overall moral depends on how you react to other characters, as well as what you answer in between levels. Yes, before you can move on to the next level, you have to enter a confession box and answer a question about you in a relationship. The questions are random each time, and some of them aren't morally obvious either. A fun fact is that the game actually takes whatever answer you give, and compares them to other plays, bringing up a chart of how which answer players take the most. All this leads up to one of 8 different endings. All of which changes certain parts of the story rather well. How's that for replay value? Everything you do in the game affects it, so you better be careful around what you do, or say.

The game itself takes around 10-15 hours to complete, though of course it could go well into 20 hours, depending on your level of skill with puzzle games. Besides the 8 endings, you unlock babel mode, where you compete to see how fast you can climb the tower, which layout changes every time. There's also a Vs Colosseum mode, which is the same thing, though with two players. A disappointment is that none of the modes can be played with other people online; it's strictly limited to local play only. There are at least online leaderboards.


Graphics & Sound
Catherine might not have cutting edge graphics, but it does really look like an anime at times, which is impressive in its own right. The cut-scenes alternate between in-engine cut-scenes, with anime drawn cut-scenes. The frame rate holds up for the most part, though there can be moments where the game chugs a big. The environments looks nice in general, though the nightmare sequences could do with some more disturbing material. The character design is great over all.

The music is an odd mix of trip hop, mixed with classical orchestral elements, remixed that is. It's good, filled with some catchy tunes. There's no option for the original Japanese language, but the English dub is actually pretty good, making you forgot all about wanting the original Japanese dub. The dialogue is also well written and excellently translated. The only problem is some weird sound issues. During gameplay, the sound might disappear completely for a few seconds, or until you pause and unpause the game. Another oddity is the volume between the game itself, and the anime cut-scenes. Apparently the volume is higher during the anime parts, rather than the gameplay itself. It's weird.


Catherine is an unusual video game, with unusual themes and an unusual concept. But it all works very well. Among the many generic shooters found in this day and age, Catherine stands out among the crowd as something now and refreshing. In addition, the game itself is one of the weirdest, but memorable games in this generation of video gaming history. If you can deal with the difficulty or if you've finished Demon's Souls, then you owe it to yourself to check out Catherine. You won't regret it