From the beginning I knew Catherine was going to be a strange game. I just knew it. Call it gamer’s intuition, a premonition, or a simple judgement based on the gameplay, screenshots, and story I had seen prior to the game’s release – I just knew this was going to be a weird experience. Was I right? Of course. I’m so rarely wrong it scares me sometimes. I even had a moment not unlike Bruce Willis’ realization that he never gets sick (in Unbreakable, also known as one of Shyamalan’s last watchable movies) where I realized that I am never wrong. Then I realized I was wrong yesterday and at least three times the day before that, so I guess this entire paragraph is now wrong. See? That makes me right.
Where was I? Oh, right, this game is weird. But weird in a quirky, unique way that rarely gets in the way of the enjoyment you can have with this game. It has an interesting story with a mixed bag of characters (some I liked, others not so much), some fantastic puzzle sections, and a few neat surprises along the way. If you’re into surprises then you should know that there is nothing, nothing waiting for you after the break. Surprise! See, now this is one of those times where I wish I could take control of your computer, so right as you clicked the link and experienced the surprise I could’ve also had your computer do crazy things that would’ve exponentially increased the potency of the aforementioned surprise. Now let’s get on with this review.
The Baby Factor: It really isn’t like any other game out there, but I bet that if some sort of sex-crazed anime fan visited a barn and had his way with some sheep then went home to sleep (he would be pretty tired) and had some crazy nightmares, the result would probably look like Catherine.
In this game you take control of a bed-wetting 30-something year-old named Vincent who enjoys eating pizza with his friends, taking verbal beatings from his bitchy girlfriend, and fighting his way to the top of crumbling towers while he sleeps. Part of the game takes place in the Stray Sheep Bar, where Vincent can keep busy by sending and receiving text messages (the cellphone feature is actually surprisingly cool), chat with people, listen to a jukebox, buy drinks, and play a Rapunzel minigame. You’ll be spending part of the game here but really, when Vincent’s awake you’ll be spending much of your time experiencing the story. The real fun comes when Vincent is sleeping.
When Vincent sleeps he immediately starts having these bizarre nightmares that’s populated by sheep, who are actually other men that are stuck in the same situation as Vincent, massive shifting and crumbling staircases, and terrifying bosses. Lucky for Vincent, he has a fabulous pair of boxer shorts, two sheepish horns, and a pillow to hug while he tries his best not to fucking die. Oh yeah, did I not mention that? If he falls to his death or gets slain by one of the bosses that lurk in a handful of the levels Vincent can totally die in the real world.
At first, the puzzles start off pretty simple, slowly guiding you through the different mechanics until you’re used to getting your way around them. Basically, what you need to do is make it from the bottom of the tower to the top by moving around these blocks to form staircases that help you make your way up. There are items along the way that can help you or boost your overall score and bosses that can shift the tower, forcing you to react quickly. The entire time you’re climbing up this thing the base is crumbling, so you have to be on the move at all times lest you die an extraordinarily painful death. Or a quick one, I’m pretty sure Vincent didn’t feel much pain the couple dozen times I made a mistake that made him fall off the tower to his death.
Once you beat a tower you’ll be able to take a breather at one of the many summits where you can relax, chat with fellow sheep, purchase new items, and learn new tricks to make sure you’re prepared for anything that gets in your way. You’ll also be asked a question and you can compare your answer to those of your fellow gamers. It’s not a big deal, I would’ve even liked to see this expanded on a little, but it’s just another quirky addition that sets Catherine apart.
You should know that this is a gorgeous game. It’s always fun to watch, and that’s a good thing for a game that you’ll be spending a good amount of time watching. The cinematics are gorgeously animated, the in-game cut-scenes look great, and the game as a whole is completely different from anything else out there. This isn’t a surprise since Atlus also brought us the stunning Persona series, but it’s nice to see a game that isn’t afraid to really whip out the pink.
Throughout the game you’ll be making decisions that will directly affect the direction the story takes. If you’re an asshole that’s going to make your experience different from a kinder player’s experience. This is neat because it gives you a reason to return to the game a second time, to see what would’ve happened had you done this or that differently. These decisions can be found in the text messages you send, the answers to the aforesaid quizzes, or how you respond to certain major plot points. Add to this the morality system that tracks how good or bad you are and Catherine is actually a deeper game then you might at first realize.
For the more socially inclined among us, fear not as you’ll be able to experience this bundle of weirdness with a friend in a couple modes. The Babel and Colosseum modes (the latter can only be unlocked after you’ve beaten the game) let you compete against a friend in finished challenges you encountered in the main story, and you can and even track your stats to see how you compare to other players.
The Final Word: This game’s appeal is limited. Many gamers are sure to love Catherine’s unique puzzles, gorgeous animations, and adult story, but some will find the steep learning curve and outlandish events a little difficult to get into.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Catherine, which was provided by the publisher.