Life is full of choices, mostly minor instances like get a Wi-Fi or 3GS Vita or to “go large” on a meal, however at some point in our lives, most of us will take the plunge into the terrifying world of commitment, a point in life where either yourself, a partner, or both decide it’s time to make the next step in your relationship, be it for love or the fear of being alone. Though a familiar scenario for many of us it’s a plot rarely used on computer games, especially in the western market so it’s a welcome change that we get a chance to take on the world of Catherine.
Catherine is presented as a TV show called Golden Playhouse, hosted by The Midnight Venus, Trisha who introduces a new episode “Catherine”(think of it being similar to an episode of the Outer Limits), where you are essentially watching in on the story as it unfolds and controlling the main characters actions at vital points. Catherine is essentially a few ideas cleverly pieced together to create something very original on home consoles, from a light social role playing game in the pub to the block moving nightmare puzzle world all wrapped up in a Japanese horror/thriller anime.
Our main protagonist Vincent is at a major turning point of his life, his girlfriend Katherine of three years is starting to push for settling in together and he is a little jittery about the prospects, this is made worse one day when he wakes up next to the “girl of his dreams” Catherine with no recollection of how or if anything happened. Deciding to keep it secret (other than blurting over the pub to all his mates) he then gets caught up with life and commitments to both women and so begins an amazing tale of pain and heartache and life altering choices, made ever harder with Katherine confessing she may be pregnant and Catherine saying she would die (and then kill him) if he cheated on her, what would you do?
What initially appears to be from the guilt of his possible infidelity, Vincent’s dreams have warped to the point of becoming punishing puzzles that he must overcome to awake the following day. Initially not too taxing, these dreams get worse and with Vincent’s life becoming split, from the confusing real world of the pub and the living nightmare that is his dreams, he has no idea what to do next, so it’s down to you to help him.
Starting in the real world which is mostly based in the confines of Vincent’s local boozer, the Stray Sheep, openly chatting to his three mates, having drinks and then wandering around, talking to other patrons, desperately trying to remember what happened in his dreams and also piece together advice on how to deal with this bizarre love triangle he finds himself in. As the game progresses, whispers and gossip turn his attention to an old tale of the Woman’s Wrath, where men are punished for their dirty deeds and die in their sleep; is this connected to the recent spate of deaths in town? is this happening to Vincent? and how is Catherine connected?
Though the game-end revelation is well hidden right up until the final moments, until then Vincent still has the task of dealing with both ladies plus his own feelings so as you control Vincent and talk to other patrons and send text messages to both women you can earn points that effect his Inner Idea meter. Split between red and a blue Seraphim’s, certain decisions you make on Vincent’s behalf will sway the Inner Idea meter either way, with later dialogue reacting to where your loyalties lie and effecting how you converse with them, leading you to one of many different outcomes.
Once satisfied with enough chat and booze Vincent can go home for the long sleep, where at night, he drifts off into a terrible and surreal dream world where death lurks on many levels, the kicker is, if he dies in his dream, he dies in real life. The only way to escape certain death is to reach the top of a huge tower of blocks and to open the exit to wake up and return to the real world. Of course these blocks are not just stacked in an easy to climb fashion, so instead they are filled with different properties to overcome. Vincent is unable to jump in any form; however he can shimmy ledges like the best of them, which early on becomes a vital commodity with spiked blocks and ice slides requiring perfect placement and timing to reach the end. As well as dodging and clinging on for his life Vincent also needs to move certain blocks around to gain access to other areas using specific techniques, but getting your head around the gravity defying mechanics of the blocks themselves takes time; basically, as long as one edge is touching another the blocks are able to hang suspended in air. The nightmare levels have numerous stages, with lobbies appearing midpoint allowing you to take a well-earned breather, chat to some very familiar looking sheep, learn some new techniques and also purchase items to carry to the next challenge. Items are also littered through the World of Nightmares, like coins to spend at the shops, mystic pillows that grant additional continues plus an assortment of powers that can create blocks, eliminate enemies and also turn all hazardous blocks harmless.
The controls are kept to a minimum, with you controlling Vincent with either the left stick or d-pad to move him around, though early on you realize just how unresponsive he is via the stick, that and the controls flip axis an awful lot due to the camera angles so sticking to the d-pad works so much better as a defined press in a specific direction makes for much better control.
Difficulty is something of a sticking point for Catherine; it gets hard very quickly and never lets up, with the nightmare levels following you to your own slumber. This is down to sadistic speed required to clear levels and the insane gravity defying nature of the blocks; even with plenty of replay chances and an undo power on the easy difficulties, it still will hurt your head.
The overall content of the game is very graphic at times with some extremely surreal imagery, surprisingly though it’s not over the top on sexual content that can usually be associated with this sort of title, in fact it very adult but more along the way of adult experiences rather than swearing and nudity (though there is a lot of swearing).
Once you have ventured the many different endings you are still left with a decent puzzle game that will entertain for hours after initial completion through another show introduced by The Midnight Venus, Babel mode; where you can go solo or in pairs to complete random towers over four different environments, with each connected to an online scoreboard to see who is the greatest climber in the universe.
Catherine is a very original title that is refreshing for the home console market, but with its high difficulty and that fact that its being aimed at a very specific age group (25+ males), any younger and a large amount of humour and references may be lost. If you do fall within this group though the it’s well worth your time and money.
Rating: ExcellentReview Policy(version tested: Xbox 360)
You can order your copy of Catherine from Shopto on PS3 or Xbox 360.