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Bev Chen
17 Aug, 2011

Catherine Review

PS3 Review | An affair to remember.
Atlus is a company that is no doubt best known for Shin Megami Tensei, a series of games with a heavy prominence on mythological creatures and demons. Atlus’ latest release, Catherine, is a title that also focuses on demons, but of a very different sort. When you step into the world of Catherine, you step into a world filled with demons of lust.

In Catherine, you play as 32 year-old Vincent Brooks, a man whose life seems to be going nowhere. His girlfriend Katherine is pressuring him to get married and might even be pregnant with their child. Despite his reluctance to pop the question, Vincent remains a faithful boyfriend... that is, until he wakes up beside the girl of his dreams, a perky young blonde named Catherine. As if that wasn’t trouble enough, Vincent begins to have bizarre nightmares in which he is surrounded by sheep and forced to climb towers in order to survive.

Catherine and Vincent, aka Trouble and the Poor Man.

Catherine and Vincent, aka Trouble and the Poor Man.
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It’s here that we’re going to dispel a common myth about the game - Catherine is not a dating simulator. You never really have the chance to interact with either of the leading ladies, apart from the much-talked about texting system. The rest of the social aspect of the game sees you wandering around your local hangout, chatting with fellow barflies and wait staff about various topics that hint at something ominous. If anything, Catherine is more of a moral simulator, which ties in perfectly with the intense and engaging story. Indeed, it’s the story that has propelled Catherine to something resembling infamy within gaming circles, promising players eroticism. However, those looking for full-on sex and naughty bits will have to look elsewhere though, as Catherine actually keeps it fairly tame. Still, the fact that it keeps anything too explicit hidden well away lends itself well to the classiness of the game, or else it might have ended up being crude instead.

Vincent’s nightmares do earn the game the moniker of being a horror game, although hardcore horror fans will probably find the game to be fairly low with the scare factor. It’s certainly a degree darker than say, the more recent releases in the Persona series, but we found that the most disturbing aspects of the game to be linked to the moral (or immoral) decisions that the player can make throughout the course of the game, which in turn can result in eight different game endings. It raises a lot of questions about human nature and society in general, and the game often makes you feel like you are the one being judged instead of Vincent.

Catherine’s gameplay is unusual, and probably not at all like what gamers were imagining when the title was announced last year. The gameplay stems from the aforementioned story element of climbing towers to survive Vincent’s nightmares. To do so, you must push and pull blocks into place and form a stairway for yourself. It’s far from being a walk in the park though (as nightmares usually are), with the game throwing numerous obstacles in your way. Firstly, the tower is slowly crumbling below you, which means that a fast climb is a safe climb. Secondly, regular blocks aside, there are a whole range of blocks that include but are not limited to Torture blocks that threaten to impale you on spikes, unmovable Dark blocks, and Ice blocks which cause you to slide around. Thirdly, there are occasionally also enemies that knock you off blocks or stand in places that are essential to your climb route, although they are mostly more a minor annoyance than an actual threat.

Work those blocks.

Work those blocks.
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Each nightmare ends with a ‘boss battle’ of sorts, with the boss in question chasing Vincent up the tower. In these scenarios, you don’t just have the blocks and the long climb ahead of you to contend with, but also the various attacks the boss has. Some of the more memorable ones we came across include an attack that spawned chainsaws that moved across blocks and another that would temporarily reverse the game’s controls. However, there are items scattered around some levels that can be used assist you. Some destroy all enemies on the screen, others turn blocks normal. There’s an item for almost every tricky situation at hand, but you just need to know when to use it.

If this all sounds like it could get tedious or overly linear, don’t worry – the beauty of Catherine is that there is always more than one way to solve a puzzle. This increased our already significant enjoyment of Catherine tenfold; it encourages you to think outside the, er, box. The game frequently teaches you new climbing techniques, which not only helps you save valuable lives but can also give you a fresh perspective on how to tackle stages you may have already beaten. Of course, some ways of climbing the tower are more efficient than others, which is where the scoring system comes into play. The faster you climb, the higher your multiplier increases, and the higher your score. Your final score each level earns you not only bragging rights if you submit your score to the online leaderboards, but do well enough and you can unlock challenge levels for later play. It’s a neat way of encouraging you to learn all the little nuances of each level as well as offering high replayability and new challenges now matter how many times you play the game.

Despite these glowing points, Catherine makes a couple of rather depressing design decisions that can turn an already difficult level into something worthy of screen-smashing rage. The game tells you early on that you can work around the back side of the tower, but the camera is unaccommodating and refuses to budge after a certain angle. Meanwhile, controls are reversed, so it’s often likely that Vincent isn’t moving the way you want him to. When you’re madly scrambling to get back onto blocks it’s incredibly frustrating and unintuitive. Some of the later levels (in which blocks randomly change) tend to make gameplay more luck-based which, in a game where having a solid strategy is the key to survival, seems somewhat unnecessary.

That's a boss if we've ever seen one.

That's a boss if we've ever seen one.
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Catherine is lovingly presented with the use of cel-shaded graphics. The amount of care that has been put into creating these assets aren’t overly obvious during tower-climbing gameplay, but there are a fair few cutscenes in which you will be able to admire the visuals. There is the occasional cinematic that is animated in the traditional Japanese anime style, which are for the most part quite well-done, but at times feel somewhat lazily done. The music has been handled by Shin Megami Tensei maestro Shoji Meguro, who creates an interesting and well-suited soundtrack comprising of original tracks and arrangements of famous classical songs.

At the end of the day, Catherine isn’t a game we would recommend to people who dislike puzzle titles. Core gameplay aside, there really isn’t much that is likely to entertain or encourage such players to continue, especially given the limited interactions Vincent has with the other characters. Gamers who enjoy puzzle games are in for a very deep and rewarding gameplay experience though, because regardless of these flaws, Catherine’s story manages to be a compelling and fascinating trip into the human psyche. If you’re one of these people, prepare for a long and loving relationship.
The Score
If you hate puzzle games,Catherine will be like a scorned lover, vying desperately for your attention with methods that don’t always work. If you love puzzle games though, Catherine will be the closest you will ever get to having the perfect relationship, drawing you in with its strong and compelling storyline and deep and multi-faceted gameplay. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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20 Comments
2 years ago
Thanks for the review, Bev.

It pretty much answered all my questions, and I've decided that Catherine just isn't the one for me.
2 years ago
what about Katherine ?
2 years ago
Good review. I hate puzzle games (except for Lumines because I like the music) but I'm digging Catherine's gameplay. I wish it was a bit more weighted towards character interaction. I'm feeling the social sections are a little too short which makes playing the game for 2-3 hours rather tedious because 80% of that time is climbing and pushing blocks. But with that said I still enjoy the puzzle gameplay a lot... just in short bursts I suppose.

I'm also having the same problem with the controls. They get reversed when you start hanging on the sides of a block. Too many times have I died because of the controls, it gets a bit frustrating.
2 years ago
2 years ago
Jahanzeb wrote
It pretty much answered all my questions, and I've decided that Catherine just isn't the one for me.
Same! I mean cmon... no naughty bits! I am disappoint.

Jokes, just got my copy in the mail yesterday! Can't say I'm not looking forward to playing it. Cheers for the review good sir.
2 years ago
everytime someone says to me now 'demon's souls is the hardest console game' I'm going to reply back 'have you played Catherine?'
2 years ago
It makes Demon's Souls look easy. This is one game where I'd recommend starting on easy mode.
2 years ago
no one here has mentioned the moral implications that are raised in the game. i think that in itself is to be congratulated that a game company like atlus has seen fit to allow the gamer to taste the consequences of the actions and decisions made. it gives credit to the gamer as having the capacity to learn something important about life, something games mostly ignore in favour of sex and graphic violence only. atlus once again delivers a deep and thought provoking experience. bravo to them. other game studios could stand to learn a thing or two from thier example
2 years ago
Jahanzeb wrote
Thanks for the review, Bev.

It pretty much answered all my questions, and I've decided that Catherine just isn't the one for me.
And thirded. I know I'm not going to enjoy the core gameplay here, which is a shame because I was realy looking forward to this game.

I really love the look of the game and the sound of the story, but puzzle games aren't really my thing and if an already difficult game where you have to constantly think on the fly is made even more difficult by unintuitive controls and a poor camera, I'll give it a miss.
2 years ago
The camera and controls aren't terrible, they just take a little getting used to. It's kind of disappointing that some people are passing it up without even giving it a shot. Give the demo a try, it's a good indication of what's in the full game.
2 years ago
Pagan's Mind wrote
The camera and controls aren't terrible, they just take a little getting used to.
...so they're unintuitive?

I'll end up giving the game a shot when it's released locally, but do we always have to have a defense squad for what appear to be valid criticisms?
2 years ago
GooberMan wrote
Pagan's Mind wrote
The camera and controls aren't terrible, they just take a little getting used to.
...so they're unintuitive?

I'll end up giving the game a shot when it's released locally, but do we always have to have a defense squad for what appear to be valid criticisms?
Yes they're unintuitive. Does it break a game? Of course not.

I was critical of the controls as well in my first post in this topic. There's no defense squad going on icon_rolleyes.gif.
2 years ago
I understand your point of view Pagan, and there's no denying that Catherine is great at what it does. But some gamers (such as myself) have little to no tolerance for such a hardcore puzzle title.

And while Catherine has some interesting asthetics and story elements, it's still for all intents and purposes, a puzzle game.
2 years ago
Pagan's Mind wrote
Yes they're unintuitive. Does it break a game? Of course not.
Only if you assume that other people can put up with rubbish controls.

But let's use Demon's Souls as an example. Maybe this game is harder than Demon's Souls. But there's one thing it will never be - fairer. Demon's Souls was hard because it was hard, not because a designer/programmer was lazy and added an artificial challenge via dodgy controls.

It's this very reason why you'll never hear me say a good thing about the first Uncharted game. Well, that and the all-over lazy design (ask me about the lost-for-200-years key to a door some time).

Bad controls are very definitely a game breaker. But hey, if you're more masochistic than I am, good for you.
2 years ago
Just FYI - the alternate tagline for this article was "Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'cock-blocker'."
2 years ago
GooberMan wrote
Pagan's Mind wrote
Yes they're unintuitive. Does it break a game? Of course not.
Only if you assume that other people can put up with rubbish controls.
You're assuming the controls are utter rubbish. The game points out that you need to hold down the button otherwise it gets reversed. If you can't adapt to a games playing style then it's your loss. You don't have to be a masochist to enjoy Catherine. How about giving the demo a go before judging the games controls?
2 years ago
Oh hi, defence squad. Took a couple of days, eh?

Pagan's Mind wrote
If you can't adapt to a games playing style then it's your loss.
You just lost Game Design 101. Playing style and dodgy controls are completely separate issues.
2 years ago
Catherine's controls aren't dodgy, though. They work really well, and are very easy to pick up. Sure, they're not quite what you might be used to from other games, but they're not exactly hard to get the hang of.

Once you've learned them, it becomes really easy to do really cool stuff.

Either way, Catherine is a brilliant game, and one that nobody should miss.
2 years ago
Nice review of the game Bev. Couldn't have put it better myself.

The controls for Catherine work fine. Mostly. As mentioned in the review the game's camera control is not so great when you want to view the back of the wall to see where Vincent is. It doesn't allow you to turn all the way around so you get a clear view. If the game allows you to go around to the back wall then it should accommodate for that by allowing you to swing 180 degrees to the back. That or perhaps do something to make the blocks partially transparent when Vincent moves around the corner to the back so you can see his exact position.

The reversal of controls when you are at the back is something that doesn't quite make sense to me either. As you've explained Pagan, you can hold onto the pad to keep Vincent shifting in that direction whilst he is behind the wall otherwise the controls are reversed. However, it's something that doesn't seem to sit quite right with me. In my opinion they should've kept the controls the same for the back of the wall as they did for the front regardless of whether you hold the button whilst you move in the back or push the pad for one step. To have Vincent move left at the back of the wall if you hold the left button then to have it suddenly reverse and have him move right if you push left is somewhat confusing and frustrating.

Aside from those gripes and the amount of torture the game puts you through towards the final puzzles the game is quite enjoyable. But I would definitely warn those that are interested in the game that don't like puzzles to try the demo first to see if they enjoy it. If you don't then I probably wouldn't get it. The game has an easy mode for those that want to play Catherine for the story (as explained by the game) but I'm not sure how difficult that is. Normal was quite difficult...and I'm not even going to speak about hard mode...
2 years ago
Got into this game this week. A great purchase.

The puzzles are great, and infuriating at the same time.

Definitely not my normal type of game as I hate puzzles but this might win me over to expand my horizons.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  27/07/2011
Publisher:
  Atlus
Genre:
  Puzzle

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