Do you remember that day you received your first video game console? How about that time you discovered a secret stage that none of your friends knew about? Those days of being so excited for the latest iteration in a long-running series, only to be disappointed or have your expectations exceeded beyond your wildest dreams. That is what the Video Gamer’s Experience is all about. Now lets take a trip down this electronic memory lane.
It had been six years since the release of Sony’s third iteration of the “Playstation” video game console, the “Playstation 3” (PS3) when the fall season of 2012 rolled into existence. Yet, being the Playstation fan that I was, I still opted to wait before purchasing the system. The simple fact was a majority of the games I believed would be exclusive to the console moved to multiple platforms; including the cheaper, yet highly desirable Microsoft “Xbox 360”. Six years after the system was released in North America and four years after becoming a “360” owner, I finally found a reason to purchase the latest PS3 model – the slim, 500 gigabyte version featuring a free game.
But I wasn’t just buying the PS3 for one game. The system did feature several exclusives and HD remakes that intrigued me. More importantly, certain games available on both video game consoles that I owned gained higher reviews and recommendations in favor of Sony’s “Blu-Ray” playing behemoth. After spending a couple of years investing in my PS3 library, I started picking away at a bucket list of sorts. The “Playstation 4” had already come out and entered my home, but there were still games on the previous generation’s consoles that I wanted to play before calling it a day. One of those games happened to be “Catherine”.
I had heard so many great things from friends, associates and trusted reviews alike about the Atlus studios-created game; giving me every incentive to free up some time and give this unique journey a whirl. But all the words and warnings in the world couldn’t prepare me for what was about to unfold.
Did I Complete “Catherine”
Atlus Co. is mostly known for its role playing game works – most prominently the “Persona” series. The studio’s anime-influenced style both in art and story has divided gamers more than the, at times, brutal difficulty and steep learning curve that comes with each iteration. Rather than stick to what made them famous, Atlus decided to create a game more grounded in the realistic struggles of a romantic relationship while making the player jump through hoops (or over blocks) to see what happens next.
You play as Vincent; a thirty-two-year-old tech worker who is easily confused about the future of his relationship with beau Katherine, tends to drink his woes away and can’t help but question whether or not what happens to him at night is real or just an extreme nightmare similar to something Freddy Krueger would come up before stabbing you to death.
The latter is where things get heavy for the player as he/she is forced to enter a nightmare world where our lead moves free-floating blocks around to make a path that will, hopefully, free him from a fatal fate. But it’s not as simple or easy as it reads. Firstly, the blocks beneath you fall in a timely fashion in hopes of making Vincent plunge to his bloody death. There are also variations of each block depending on what level you’re on. The more you progress, the more variant blocks you’ll have to deal with; be it ice blocks, spike trap blocks, or my personal least favorite, the crumbling block.
Not only do you have to deal with falling and transforming blocks, there are also enemies who will inevitably knock you down or get in your way. And that’s not even mentioning the ridiculous boss battles that pop up at the end of each nightmare level (not each sub level, mind you). “Catherine” can become a real test of one’s patience and the story’s strength might become the sole reason sole one finishes the game at least once. In my case, that’s exactly how it went as the last levels proved to be all the confirmation I needed that once I was done, I was done. I saw one of the eight endings, but have yet to go out of my way to witness them all; let alone try out the other puzzle oriented modes and side quests sprinkled throughout the game.
Did “Catherine” Live Up to the Hype?
“Catherine” isn’t just a puzzle game (though there are a ton of puzzles beyond the game’s base mode). One of the biggest positives of “Catherine” is the variety offered beyond just each nightmarish world. The game’s core is puzzle action, but one of the most rewarding experiences is the downtime between each night. Vincent, trying to figure out what to do when things go awry, hangs out in a local bar with his friends. The player will have a chance to drink, ask his friends for advice and even converse with individuals who sound so much like your fellow sheep in the nightmare world. During your bar time, Vincent also can text his girlfriend, look at dirty pictures, watch the news, work the jukebox and even play a mini-version of the game – “Rapunzel” – on a nearby arcade cabinet. By the game’s last act, the bar had become almost place of peace and sanctuary for me as much as it did for Vincent.
And for those who just can’t get enough of “Catherine’s” core game play, the fine people at Atlus added “Babel” mode where the puzzle lovers can just climb and climb randomly generated puzzles in hopes to topping the online leader board. You have a friend who is a puzzle-holic, too? Well try “Coliseum” mode where two people can race (and sabotage) each other on their way to victory. It’s definitely nice to know Atlus was thinking about replay value beyond the main story mode.
As partially noted above, “Catherine” features a brutal level of difficulty (I played on “Normal”, but many have stated even “Easy” difficulty can be challenging) that can hinge not on the player’s abilities, but sheer luck. There have been many a late-stage death caused by something as simple as a block suddenly transforming into a spike trap (replay the stage and the block might transform into something more solid and inviting – a situation that also happened to me). One of the biggest faults with the game play is the control scheme. For some reason, the “Grab” button (“X” for the PS3 version) is attached to more than just “grab”. Pressing the “grab” button while hanging from the side of a block will cause Vincent to fall. This too will cause several deaths as you’ll instinctively press the button in an effort to push or pull the block you’re hanging from/moving around, only to find yourself fall instead.
But those problems are minor (mostly thanks to the “Undo” button) compared to the biggest complaint anyone should have with the game, the camera. For some reason, the camera only rotates about half way around your blocky tower; forcing the player to guess when he or she is dangling from a block behind the ever-changing wall. Once again, deaths aplenty can come from this technical flaw.
But one of the game’s main draws also has problems. “Catherine’s” story is probably one of the most interesting and enjoyable parts of the game, but the emotional attachments that should be created thanks to the game’s “morality” system is mostly broken. Throughout the game, the player is given a chance to answer a bevy of questions that supposedly shape the story and play into what ending you’ll receive. Sadly, the morality meter fluctuates during cut scenes where the player is given no control over Vincent’s responses to his questioning love interest. It becomes painfully obvious that the player’s answers only matter during the last levels (making a supposedly important portion of the game a complete waste of time).
“Catherine” definitely lives up to the hype of being a game that might not be for everyone. And for those who get it, the game can be a rather unforgettable tale featuring a strong challenge.
Should You Play “Catherine”
Like most video game reviews, the recommendation can vary depending on the type of player you’re focusing on. My suggestion on whether or not you should play this game is not tied to the game’s style, substance, or story, but rather a simple question, “What is your temper like?” As rewarding of an experience “Catherine” can be, there will be (many) moments where you’ll like throw your hands up in the air and proclaim, “Forget this, I’m done!”
And this reaction isn’t based on a lack of skill or failing to adjust to the game’s learning curve, but poorly thought out mechanics, happenstance, and one painful escort mission. “Catherine” isn’t a terrible game; far from it. The puzzles are unusually unique. The adult-oriented story mostly works and kept me play long after I was tired of the puzzles themselves (though they just couldn’t keep it simple). And there is enough stuff added to make you play beyond the main mode. But all of those positives can’t take away from the fact “Catherine” can be one of the most frustrating experiences anyone with a slither of sanity can ever play that doesn’t feel like an accomplishment when you hear that final bell, but a mercy shot.