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On its release, gamers were not quite sure what to make of Catherine. The cover (and plot synopsis) seemed to suggest some sort of adult title and no doubt some people were disappointed to get home and find the saucy looking title was actually a puzzle game.
You take control of Vincent, a young man troubled by bad dreams and girlfriend issues. Each night he dreams he is climbing a tall tower which is gradually crumbling from the bottom up. If Vincent doesn't reach the top in time, or falls, then he will die in real life. Meanwhile, through the use of cut scenes we learn of the problems he is having with his long-time girlfriend Katherine and the beautiful but mysterious Catharine who he has just met.
The opening minutes of the game will certainly have you scratching your head. It features weird dreams, walking, talking sheep, the mysterious deaths of young men and an attractive young lady. It makes no sense at all. Yet because it's so odd you are instantly intrigued and want to find out what on earth is happening and how all these weird, disparate elements fit together.
This strong narrative continues throughout the game and always feels like it's an integral part of the whole experience. It breaks up the action, intrigues you with regular plot developments and generally gets you immersed in the whole game. So good is the plot that it successfully masks the fact that the underlying gameplay is actually quite shallow and not particularly original.
In gameplay terms you have to ascend a series of towers without falling. Along the way you can collect objects to help you or give you extra points. Some blocks have special properties that will help you to reach otherwise inaccessible ledge and learning how to use these properly is essential for progress. The idea of climbing towers is one that's been used lots of times before (most notably in 8 bit classic Nebulus), but somehow Catherine manages to make it feel fresh. Much of this is down to the plot. However odd it gets, it provides a reason for your actions and helps build a connection with their on-screen.
True, the cut-scenes can sometimes feel a little long. There are times (particularly in the early stages) when you seem to watch ten minutes of cut-scenes for every three or four minutes of direct interaction. Whilst these help to establish the game's plot and characters, there were a few times when I was itching for them to end so that I could get on with actually doing something!
The difficulty level in Catherine is very finely balanced. Early levels are pretty easy and give you a chance to get used to the basic controls and mechanisms whilst later levels feature some really fiendish designs and incorporate puzzles that will really have you scratching your head. It's the perfect blend between a thinking game and an action game. On the one hand, you need to get a move on or the tower will collapse beneath you; on the other, you need to stop and think about what to do, as one wrong move can prove fatal.
Graphically, the game looks very good. The cut scenes feature impressive manga-inspired graphics that look as good as any animated cartoon. Characters have real personality and all look very different and the whole thing looks gorgeous, instantly drawing you into Vincent's world. There's also a marked graphical difference between the real world and the dream world and this helps to create clear distinction between where you are control of Vincent and when you are not.
Graphics in the dream world are not perhaps a little more functional but they still work well. The forced 3D perspective gives a good view of the playing area so that you work out your next move. I did find the lack of clear distinction between different types of block slightly frustrating. Although they do look different, with the 3D perspective, this is not always instantly obvious; which is quite annoying since they do have a direct impact on gameplay.
Sound is uniformly superb. The speech is convincing and genuinely helps to convey the emotions of the various characters you meet, whilst the tunes are atmospheric. This is particularly true of the music for the tower climbing sequences which manage to convey a sense of grandeur, horror, excitement and danger all at the same time. It's clear that the developers of Catherine spent a lot of time thinking about the sort of atmosphere they wanted to establish and just as long making sure their vision was realised.
It's a shame some of the language and content makes this game unsuitable for younger players. There is some suggestive content and quite a bit of swearing. Whilst this makes sense in the context of the game, it's a shame that it also makes what is essentially a fun, puzzle game inaccessible for kids.
It's not hard to see why Catherine didn't make much of an impact on the sales chart. It's such an odd little title and can't easily be pigeon-holed into a specific genre. If you fancy trying something a little different, you should give Catherine a whirl. It might be a bit strange but the excellent presentation, immersive plot and well-balanced gameplay all combine to produce a title that is best described as unique, but fun.
Members of Playstation Plus can currently download Catherine for free, or it can be bought as normal for £10-15.
© Copyright SWSt 2013
As I've said in previous reviews, im not a big fan of the current games market, so I am always on the look out for something new to try which is a little out of the norm. This game is definitely that!
Whats the story?
You play through the game as a character called Vincent. A man who is happy with his girlfriend Katherine, until she starts talking about commitment. At this he starts to panic as commitment is something he has always tried to avoid, so he joins his friends in their local bar for a few drinks. After his friends go home Vincent remains in the bar - and is joined by a beautiful and mysterious girl called Catherine (not Katherine his girlfriend). The next thing he knows he's waking up in his flat next to Catherine, unable to remember the events of last night.
Full with guilt about what he might or might not have done, Vincent doesnt know what to do. His worries about his worries, fears, doubts and guilt follow him into his dreams, and manifest themselves into grotesque and terrifying monsters which he must try and escape from.
Meanwhile strange deaths have been happening all over the city, people being found in their beds apparently terrified to death. Rumour has it that they are men who have cheated on their girlsfriends and are being punished. Have these people been having the same dreams as Vincent? whats causing their deaths? and does Catherine have anything to do with this?
This is essentially a puzzle game, not what you might have expected right? By day you play as Vincent in his awake state at the Stray Sheep (his local bar), here you can talk to his friends and other patrons of the bar, and pick up clues in regards to the unknown curse thats causing other unfaithful males to die in their sleep. You also recieve text messages from Catherine/Katherine which you can reply to on his phone, you can choose multiple replies and responses and this can effect the ending of the story (yes this is a game with multiple endings based on the decisions you make and the way in which you treat the K/Catherines).
When Vincent goes to sleep you are transported into his dream/nightmare world in which he has become a sheep (wearing boxer shorts) as have all the other men who are suffering from the same nightmare who also appear in your dream. In order to be able to wake up again in the morning, and not join the long list of dead unfaithful boyfriends, Vincent must solve block puzzles. Each puzzle is basically a tower of blocks, you have to navigate Vincent to the top of the tower in order to survive. Sounds easy I hear you say? Its really, and I mean REALLY not! Its a race against time, and you have to manipulate and move blocks around in order to get to the top, the other sheep in your dream also try and knock you off (oh yeah if you fall, you die), some blocks can't be moved and other's have spikes which spring out and kill you. There are also explosive blocks and crumbling blocks, slippery ice blocks or blocks that move on their own. All these hamper your progress in getting to the top of the tower, to top it all off you are being persued by some crazy grotesque manifestation in Vincents nightmare that is also trying to pull you down and kill you.
There is also a waiting area before you start a new puzzle, in which you can talk to other sheep and share hints and tips on hwo to solve certain arrangements of blocks and move them to your advantage. Before you start a new puzzle you also have to enter a confessions box and answer a question, your answers to these questions affect the outcome of the story.
So, to summarise...
Catherine is another crazy Japanese game that is highly addictive and incredibly fun to play. I think that the graphics look stunning and the way the game plays is highly unusual and a great change from the norm, it keeps it interesting. The storyline is very interesting and thought-provoking, and you might not think it but also realistic, dealing with common adult themes (but with a anime/horror twist).
The gameplay is very addictive, and also very difficult - but it keeps you coming back for more. My only criticism here is that it can be very frustrating at times to the point that it makes your angry! But I loved it, I loved the challenge and thats what want from a game.
Overall I would give the game full marks, its something different, its highly addictive, its thought provoking with stunning visuals and its difficult! I would definitely recommend trying the game, although I realise this might not be everyones cup of tea. However it can be picked up for around £15-£20 now its been out a while so for the price you should definitely give it a try!
In a marketplace oversaturated with sport games, endless sequels and first person shooters Catherine stands out as one of the most unique console titles I have played in years. Forget about saving the world, leading your favourite team to cup glory or managing a successful farm - what we have here is a more mundane adventure were we aid Vincent Brooks in the unenviable task of juggling the affections of two women who share a remarkably similar name. As a bachelor who couldn't score a date if my life depended on it, I can only look in envy as the thirty year old protagonist of this game gets to choose between two stunning beauties. The predicament Vince finds himself in isn't as glamorous as you would first imagine though given that it has got him mixed up in a strange sheep themed curse.
The two women in Vincent's life are Katherine and Catherine (I guess it makes recording lines much easier when the two female leads have a name that is pronounced the same.) Katherine is his current girlfriend who, after many years of courtship, is now nagging her man to take the plunge and get married. As is the case with most guys, Vincent isn't too keen on the idea of life long commitment and settling down. He rather likes the status quo of going to work, seeing the love of his life and spending the evening getting plastered at the local bar with his pals. Ironically enough it is his fondness for late night booze ups that threatens to ruin his comfortable routine after he gets smashed on alcohol resulting in a one night stand with the seductive Catherine.
So what is Vince to do? Initially he wants to keep the affair a secret, break up with Catherine and save his long term relationship with Katherine. Things are however never that simple. He gets stuck in an endless cycle of alcoholism and inadvertent hanky panky with the free spirited Catherine. Perhaps he should reconsider staying with Katherine the sourpuss? To keep things interesting Katherine reveals to Vincent that she is pregnant, Catherine threatens to murder Vincent if he ever ditches her and a stalker, who claims to be seeing one of the girls, starts to harass our hero. Being a Japanese game you can expect a strange twist near the end as Vincent deliberates which of the two women he should ultimately stick with. He doesn't have much time to ponder the decision though as there are rumours on the news that men who cheat on their partners are mysteriously dying in their sleep.
A PUZZLE GAME IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING
Having read my description of the story I wouldn't be at all surprised if you assumed that Catherine plays out like an adventure game, or perhaps one of those naughty Japanese dating sims (especially when you spot the anime drawn box art showing Catherine in a state of undress.) The title's core gameplay is however that of a puzzler masquerading as something else, alluring would be players with an intriguing plot so they try out a genre they would normally shy away from. Although there are mature themes, and disturbing imaginary in parts, there is nothing pornographic about the game (unless you consider a girl dressing up in a few kinky outfits and showing off cleavage to be overly saucy.)
Although I don't dislike puzzle games (I am a recovering Tetris addict after all) I must confess to picking up the game after eyeing the gorgeous cartoon graphics and reading up a synopsis of the story. The narrative is told via anime clips and sections at the Stray Sheep bar where players have direct control of Vincent. Whilst at the bar he can chat with his buddies and other patrons to pick up clues on what is going on with regards to the curse that is killing off unfaithful males. During the bar sequences Vincent will also receive text messages from his female suitors which he can respond to using his mobile phone. How Vincent interacts with the cast of characters doesn't seem to alter the linear storyline in the slightest, but be aware that it will have an influence on which of the eight different endings you get. The finale of the adventure is ultimately determined by how you answer certain key questions and your morality meter's level which swings depending on how you treat each girl.
DON'T BE A SQUARE GIVE CUBE PUSHING A GO
Once you exit the bar Vincent dozes off and we enter the meat of the game which takes place in his nightmares, were he is transformed into a boxers wearing sheep. In order to survive the dream sequences, to avoid joining the ever expanding list of cheaters who have met their demise whilst napping, he has to clear various levels by climbing to the top of towers made up of blocks. It's a race against time as Vincent struggles to reach the summit of the collapsing structures by manipulating the position of the cubes. To succeed you need to work out the optimal way of pushing/pulling blocks in such a way that they form steps you can use to advance up the levels. It starts off easy enough, but as you would expect the nightmarish stages become more and more devious as you progress through the game.
After a while you will be introduced to different types of blocks. Some of the cubes are helpful (such as the trampolines that propel you up several floors) but most of them will hamper your progress. Some blocks for example are too heavy to move. There are also trap blocks that can impale Vincent with spears if he stands on them for too long. Another threat comes in the form of explosive blocks that will detonate and crumble surrounding cubes, potentially wrecking a path you were hoping to take. Other types of blocks include ice cubes that can cause you to slip to your doom or monster blocks that move on their own. Learning how to deal with these obstacles will determine Vincent's fate, so it is just as well that he ends up learning advanced techniques to bypass them (such as clinging onto ledges and making pillars collapse by pushing out a column's bottom block.) It's also possible to collect/purchase power ups along your travels to get you past sticky situations.
Aside from the diverse array of blocks another threat to Vincent's well being come in the form of enemies. As you ascend the levels you'll come across fellow humans, who have been transformed into hostile rams, who will try to throw you to your doom. There are also several stages were a giant boss will chase after you. These guardians come in all shapes and sizes including deformed infants and demonic versions of your girlfriends, which give the game a horror feel to it. If you take too long working out how to best the puzzles the bosses will catch up to you and inflict an instant kill. The bosses also have special attacks to hinder you that do anything from altering blocks from one form to another, reversing your controls or firing beams that will decimate pillars (and Vincent) should they happen to be in the firing line.
I'm going to give Catherine full marks as I thoroughly enjoyed it. Besides I think it deserves kudos for trying to do something different, rather than emulate other successful games by copying a formula that is proven to sell (I'm looking at you shooting games.) The stylish visuals are complimented by good sonics which include a soundtrack featuring a jazzy piano score and some well known classical pieces. The voice acting was handled by established actors, who have made their name staring in anime shows and video games, so I had no complaints with their performances (although at times the lip synch of some scenes seemed to be marginally off.)
Although I'm giving the game full marks, as I personally loved it, I have to admit it is a niche title so it isn't going to be for everyone. If you despise puzzle games keep away because the story alone won't be enough to sustain your interest. The difficulty is also quite high (even on the easiest setting) so I can imagine a lot of players may get frustrated and abandon it halfway through. I would however encourage them to stick at it as you'll get a tremendous sense of satisfaction in working out how to conquer sections that initially have you stumped. The game is generous with extra lives (earned by collecting pillows) and has checkpoints during levels so you don't have to repeat much when you die. On the easier difficulties it's also possible to reverse time, by hitting select, which comes in handy to undo mistakes.
In terms of game length it will take around ten to twelve hours to finish the story, which isn't bad for a puzzle game (especially when you consider the replay value it has.) If you are up for a challenge you can go through the game again on a higher difficulty setting, or you can just revisit the adventure to view the different endings. Due to the inventive level design stages can be cleared using different strategies, so replaying the story doesn't have to be an exercise in memorising the one and only solution to clearing a chapter. Outside of the story mode there is an arcade machine offering tons of optional challenge levels which more than makes up for the disc's asking price. All in all I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun a puzzle game with sheep could be... it wasn't half bah bah bahd.