Let me start by saying this: I love the game developer Atlus for giving me the Persona games. That amount of love is equal, if not greater than, my disdain for puzzle games. I hate puzzle games. I find them pointless and not at all rewarding. They seem like a waste of time. I feel this way because I am absolutely terrible at them. It is like I get a puzzle game in front of my brain and it asks, “so, what do you want me to do with this?”
But I pre-ordered Catherine anyway, trusting in Atlus.
It gave me everything I was expecting: a unique game with strong characters and a storyline that keeps you playing far longer than you intended. Yeah. That’s right. This puzzle game has a wicked plot. How often can you say that?
The protagonist is a 32-year-old named Vincent. He has a beautiful, bespectacled girlfriend named Katherine who is pushing him toward tying the knot. They’ve been together for “years” (Vincent can’t actually remember). He writes code, has a messy apartment and a disheveled appearance. Personally, I can’t see what Katherine would want in a guy like that. You date those guys in high school; you don’t marry them in your 30s. Though at his core, Vincent is understandable and as a player, you genuinely care what his fate will be (and not just because he’s ‘you’).
When Vincent falls asleep, he begins having nightmarish puzzle dreams where he quickly realizes if he falls in the dream, he dies in real life. Not sleeping well affects his day to day life with Katherine and his friends at the bar. He ends up drinking there alone one night and meets the title character, Catherine. Drama ensues.
The puzzles are consistent with towering blocks that you have to move around to get to the top before the whole place crashes down. There are varying degrees of difficulty. There’s even a secret ‘super easy’ mode, which tells you something right there. It starts off relatively easy: move one block to get to the next level. Then you get the exploding blocks. And the ice blocks. Oh, god, the ice blocks. And it gets more difficult as the levels progress. Even on easy, which describes itself as a setting for people who care about the story, there are many opportunities to find yourself smashed on the blocks below.
I played on easy for my first time through. The boss levels, which consistent of Vincent’s fears chasing after you, are brutal. You don’t have the same time to think things through: you have to move blocks around (quickly) and get the hell up before you get killed by a baby with a chainsaw. No. Really.
There were many times where I was ready to throw my controller through the television. But, as I said, I’m not good at puzzle games, and I don’t exactly enjoy them. If you enjoy a challenge, Catherine definitely delivers.
The story is what kept me from turning off my console and storming out the door in a video game induced rage. I wanted to continue on to see what’s going to happen when Vincent wakes up. Every day adds a new drama. Every day you learn more about your friends at the bar (who, by the way, have awesome backstories).
It is definitely an adult storyline. I don’t say this just because you get dirty pictures sent to you via text message (and you do) but because it deals with adult themes. Marriage. Children. Divorce. Regret. Infidelity. Vincent, or the characters around him, discuss these ideas in full details. Some of the loading screens have quotes about marriage or women. The bartender, a Boss, constantly has a word of wisdom about women to give Vincent.
Please notice how I keeping saying “Vincent” instead of “you” or “the player.” I think the biggest drawback to this game is that the cut scenes are very long and you don’t really get any input on what’s going on. The player is only occasionally asked for their input and it is usually a choice between two different, somewhat encouraging statements. It is unfortunate because Catherine does implement a karma scale that is affected by your choices. The only thing it seems to affect is Vincent’s inner-monologue and the ending.
I know the price tag is a bit hefty at 60 dollars. It was probably about 15 hours of storyline gameplay but there’s definite replayability and it is not just so you can get the different ending. There’s a side game along with the goal to get a gold ranking on the puzzles (I’ve managed only one myself). Once you get gold on a normal level puzzle, it opens up a completely new area.
The game stands out as something different than we’ve seen before. Isn’t that what gamers truly crave? A game that takes them outside the norm and does something fantastic? Catherine definitely has that going for it. It had me seeing blocks in my sleep last night which… now that I think about it, probably isn’t a good thing.