Catherine Xbox 360 Review
Catherine is essentially a block moving puzzle game, the twist is the games involving storyline sandwiched between the aforementioned block moving puzzles. The story itself is in fact the main reason to play Catherine. The question is can you stomach sometimes very difficult block moving puzzles in order to see all the games interesting story?
The story of Catherine starts out pretty mundane and then eventually gets really weird. The main character in the game Vincent Brooks has been seeing his girlfriend Katherine for a long time, about 5 to 10 years. So his girlfriend Katherine is starting to get antsy and begins pressuring Vincent to marry her. Vincent however has a crippling fear of commitment and despite the length of the relationship still isn't sure if she's the one. Then one night at his favorite bar the Stray Sheep he meets a new girl, and the next day he awakens and realized that he has slept with her. This causes neurotic indecisive Vincent to freak out in a love triangle ensues. Bizarrely it turns out this new girl's name is also Catherine and during the game you will desperately try to juggle a relationship with both girls at the same time without letting either of them go. Meanwhile every night Vincent is taken to a nightmarish dream world where he is forced to climb blocks in order to reach the top of a gigantic monolith. This is where the horror element comes in. The next day when Vincent wakes up however he remembers almost nothing from the nightmare except that he had a very bad vivid dream. Eventually things get even stranger but if I revealed too much about the story I would spoil it. Some important cut scenes of the game are anime but most of the scenes in the game are rendered using the game's own engine. One frustrating part of the story is that there's a good evil aspect to the game where depending on how you answer certain questions your personality will change a certain way so that the cut scenes will supposedly play out differently. However it really only effects and Vincent internal thought monologue, and not the story itself except for the actual ending. This is annoying and I find it disappointing and discourages replaying the game.
Gameplay in Catherine follows a formula. There is a nightmarish segment that lasts 3 to 4 stages ending with a boss fight. Then you'll be a cut scene where Vincent either talks to his friends or goes on a date with Katherine. Then we there'll be another cut scene where Vincent will discuss the events of the day with his friends at the Stray Sheep Bar. Then the player can walk around the bar talking to different patrons, play the Rapunzel minigame, and then when you've talked everyone, send Vincent home, where another nightmare stage begins.
In the nightmare stages you start at the bottom of a tall vertical wall, your goal always is to reach the top of it. To accomplish this you must move around the blocks in the wall to make stairs or platforms that you can climb up on. There are a couple of weird rules however. Vincent can push or pull almost any block that he can reach. Unless blocks are right next to each other you cannot move more than one block at the same time. Blocks must have some support underneath them or else they will fall. Oddly even if a block is only touching the edge of another block it can still be suspended. If a block falls on Vincent you will be killed. Also you have a certain amount of time to get to the top of the wall because the bottom of the wall is slowly collapsing and falling into a abyss. Vincent also can only climb one block at a time so if a ledge is two blocks taller than Vincent he can't climb it without moving another block first as a stairs. If Vincent pulls a block out so that he no longer has footing, he can still hang onto the side of a ledges and shimmy across.
Since generally walls are only 6 to 8 blocks wide and ledges most the time are only two or three blocks above Vincent, most puzzles can be solved by moving out three or four blocks on the first level, two on the next, and one on the third level in order to make stairs to the next ledge. As you progress through the game new types of blocks are introduced, such as collapsing blocks, which can only be stepped on three times before deteriorating, trap blocks that launch spikes to kill you when first stepped upon, ice blocks which you cannot move on without slipping, exploding blocks which act as time bombs, and once detonated turn nearby blocks into collapsing blocks and several other annoying varieties. Puzzles in the games start out pretty simple but there is a learning curve and although the game is generous with continues, initially giving the player around 20, it's easy to get stuck on one puzzle for a long amount of time and burn through all your extra lives. Also things like this spike blocks or boss fights tend to waste a lot of your continues as well. The last stage in any nightmare level is always a boss fight, usually a manifestation of one of Vincent's fears or insecurities. Bosses usually won't kill, unless too slow at climbing the wall. In fact most of the time bosses won't directly attack you, instead they'll use some special ability to hinder your climb up to the top of the wall. Like changing the attributes of blocks, destroying blocks, knocking you father down the wall, or even reversing the movement controls. I have to say that most of the bosses have particularly awesome designs and fighting them is one my favorite parts of the game.
Occasionally in the game to come across another sheep also climbing the wall. Usually these sheep have it out for you and try to push you off. What's most annoying however is when you cannot climb up on a block if another character is standing on it which can really waste a lot of your time. One thing that makes the game easier is that when playing on easy or normal mode you can press the back button to undo your last block movement which makes experimenting easy. This can also be used as a way to gain extra time when you're stuck on a tough puzzle. One of my objections to the game is the jarring difficulty spike on level six and seven, where there are often instances of only one solution to puzzles and no variation allowed. Oddly however all the levels after that are much easier and I have to wonder what compelled them to design it that way.
In between stages of the nightmare levels you'll reach a landing, with a little chapel and other characters to talk to. Much like in the bar, talking to characters here will help you complete side quests in the game which really only serve the purpose of getting achievement points, or moving your good evil alignment. there's also one or two characters that will teach you various techniques for climbing that will usually come in handy on the upcoming stage. Then before moving onto the next stage you must go into the confessional a disembodied voice will ask you a personal question with a yes or no answer. The questions are very weird Japanese survey questions and for some reason they have an effect on your alignment. The questions remind me of the Wii's Everybody Votes channel. For instance one question is in a crowded room do you like to be the center of attention or unknown in the back. According to the game apparently being center of attention is especially evil. So players trying to go for a perfect good or evil run may have to reload a few times in order to get the desired alignment answer correct.
There isn't much to do in the Stray Seep bar stages. You can talk to your friends or the other customers, but the hitch is that as you talk to people time moves on and some customers will go home, so you have to prioritize who you want to talk first. The trick is to talk to the customers who aren't your friends first, then your main friends at the initial table, and lastly Erika and the bartender boss, since they are the last to go home. Using this method you should be able to see all the conversations. You can also arbitrarily change the music using the bar's juke box. Geting drunk on beers for some reason makes you move faster during the nightmare stages. Or you could play the tiresome Rapunzel minigame which plays the same as the nitghmare stages, but with worse graphics and no time limit. Call me crazy, but I thought the point of mini games was for them to be different from the main game itself , so as to act as a diversion or sidelight if you get tired of the main game. Periodically throughout the bar stages you'll get text messages from either of the two Catherine's. You can then reply to these messages with preselected responses that will affect your good and evil alignment. Occasionally a good response to a Catherine text will reward you with a racy picture of her, and sometimes either Katherine will call after certain replies.
I think that most players will probably prefer one aspect again to another so some people might prefer the nightmare stages over the bar stages or vice versa, but either way I doubt most will enjoy both equally. At least one segment will quickly become tiresome and overstay it's welcome before you reach the end of the game. The nightmare stages are very hard at first, but after you memorize then they become pretty easy. Supposedly the game has eight different endings, but he story itself being the same up until the ending. So it's hard to imagine anyone playing through the full game eight times.
After you beat the game you can replay the nightmare stages in two player offline competitive mode. If you beat a stage with a high score you'll earn a gold medal, and when you get enough golds you'll unlock new bonus challenge stages in the of Babel mode. Babel stages are particularly difficult because you can't use the back button to undo your last move, and puzzles are randomized to from a small set of possibilities. I'm not sure why the co-op is an offline only or why there aren't more characters to choose from when playing multiplayer, but if I had to guess I'd say that it had something to do with block movement lag and general laziness.
The graphics of Catherine aren't really that great. The anime the cut scenes look really good but the in game engine often looks like a PlayStation 2 game. Character modeling isn't too detailed although the textures are. The main problem is the game's poor lighting which doesn't show off the details of the textures.
Every piece of dialogue in the game, with the exception of text messages is fully voiced and well acted which is great. Most of the characters are well cast with their personality coming across even in their voice. There is original music in Catherine, and it's pretty good, my favorite being the title screen theme. The soundtrack during the nightmare stages are rearrangements of classical tunes. Some like the morning theme used during the ice stage however seem out of place. Regardless sound is certainly a strong point of the game.
The controls in Catherine are pretty simple. The left analog stick or directional pad moves Vincent. The a button is used to push or pull a block. The back button undoes your last block movement. Sometimes the analog controls make Vincent behaved little finicky so the directional pad seems to work better, and I can see why some people might prefer the PlayStation 3 version due to its better D-Pad.
Catherine has an engaging story that's entertaining to play through once, but dull on a second play through. I found the nightmare stages to be very frustrating at first before I eventually got the hang of them, then they became too easy. This is a problem with Catherine, things are either kinda fun or no fun at all, which signifies the highs and lows nature of the game. Since Catherine has almost no replay value outside of alternate endings and only has local co-op I recommend renting the game or only buying it if you can find it cheep. I really didn't like the nightmare stages, and I only found the story to be moderately entertaining, so I can't in good conscience give Catherine a score higher than a 5/10.