• Catherine Review Sony PS3

    In Catherine, you play as Vincent, a sweaty 32-year-old man with an interesting choice of underwear. Your girlfriend, Katherine, is pushing you to take your relationship more seriously. Come on, you’re 32, you should be married by now. You put it off and put it off and one day in your favourite bar you meet Catherine. A cute, young, blonde girl with a fantastic figure. She instantly starts coming on to you, and you both end up back at your place. Basically, remember that really nice dream you once had? Yeah, that happened to Vincent.

    The problem is that there’s been strange rumours going around. People that have been dying in their dreams have been mysteriously turning up dead in the morning, and since that night with Catherine, Vincent’s been having really odd nightmares...

    Vincent's nightmares are where you play. Unfortunately these sections just do not work. There’s an unhappy marriage between puzzling and action, with the balance between the two all wrong.

    The basic premise is that you have to climb a huge tower of steps until reaching the very top. You do this by pushing and pulling blocks around to form stairs, and by climbing up the tower one step at a time. As well as pushing blocks, Vincent can also hang off the side of blocks and manoeuvre around. Normally, though, he can only ever climb up one step at a time. This means that you constantly have to evaluate the effect that moving blocks will have on the blocks surrounding them, as collapsing parts of the tower in the wrong order (or at all) could make further progress impossible. There’s a number of special blocks that come into play including spikes, blocks that will kill you if you step on them, blocks that are immovable, heavy blocks that take longer to move, trampoline blocks, and numerous others. Apart from the trampoline blocks which are slightly difficult to distinguish from normal blocks, these extra blocks all look unique and enable planning ahead.

    This is all well and good to begin with, and for the first few hours where things are relatively simple the game can be a lot of fun.

    The problem with Catherine is that, in the second half of the game, planning ahead is often impossible due to the action part of the action/puzzle relationship. All the while Vincent is climbing the tower, the parts below him are relentlessly collapsing, forcing him up and up the tower with no time to stop and think. This means that often you must push and pull blocks almost at random and just hope you stumble upon a safe route up the tower. Failure to beat the bottom of the tower will result in a (soon to be VERY familiar) “Love is Over” screen, which reveals that Vincent has, as the rumours suggested, died in his sleep. Even if you don’t get caught by the bottom of the tower, there are numerous other ways that could result in the end of love. As well as the aforementioned spike blocks and the blocks that automatically kill you, you can simply fall off the side of the tower, or blocks could collapse on, and crush you.

    Oh, or the bosses could get you.

    As excellently designed as the bosses may be (and they’re truly excellent), playing their stages is rarely much fun. Where you’re chased by the bottom of the tower in normal stages, in boss stages you’re chased by bosses which are about ten times quicker, enabling even less time to think than you would normally find yourself with. If the developers intended to create a feeling of tension and of feeling threatened, then they've succeeded, it’s just that they don’t fit with the gameplay at all and there’s no real way to keep that level of threat while offering the player more of a chance to think, and without a chance to think, the puzzle sections are just pointless.

    The biggest issue is that dying in Catherine is really, really harsh. It’s demoralising. It’s hideously frustrating. If you get to the very top of the tower and make some mistake (or a boss gets you), you will have to go back to the very start and complete the whole level again, or back to checkpoints which are spaced so far apart that they’re as good as going back to the start. Some of the bosses (one later on in particular), have attacks that are so cheap that you’ll die over and over again right at the top of your climb simply because the game gives you literally no time to react to what’s coming and if you didn't happen to be moving at the time there's no avoiding the attack. Back to the previous checkpoint. Actual anger.

    To make it easier, and to appease complaints over the difficulty, Atlus promptly released a “super-easy” patch which, in easy mode, is as good as a win button. In the harder difficulties you’re granted more “retries” after the patch which doesn’t reduce the frustration at all. In the easy mode, levels are near totally covered in drinks that allow you to jump up three steps at a time for a short period. There aren’t that many places in the game where the blocks are higher than three levels above Vincent and so it allows for huge sections of levels to be bypassed entirely, removing a lot of the stress of getting to the top. Unfortunately, it also removes a lot of the point of the game. Rather than offering the player more time to solve what puzzles there are, it just says "why bother with them at all?"

    The whole thing is annoying in a way, because there’s a lot of potential in the mechanics of the block-climbing puzzles, and the game shows it in how Rapunzel is so successful. Rapunzel is an arcade game that Vincent can play in Stray Sheep, a bar he frequents and where he first meets Catherine. Rapunzel takes the basic block pushing mechanics and removes the time limits and the threat, and reduces the size of the levels right down so you can see it all. In this mode, you’re not trying to race to the top, you’ve got all the time in the world to get there but the difficulty is in actually finding the route to get there. Rapunzel is all about the puzzles, and it shows how good the main mode of Catherine could have been if the developers had committed to it.

    Outside of pushing blocks around, Catherine is all about conversation and about choice. The story is revealed through cutscenes with Metal Gear Solid levels of talking and length. The game is playable in Japanese if you haven’t any knowledge of it, and most of the story is able to be followed, but despite some neat directorial tricks there’s not much in the way of visual storytelling and huge portions will be lost. An English version has been confirmed, and no such problems will exist there.

    Perhaps the most interesting thing about the game is the choices you’re given throughout. Rather than having a simple good path (save him!) or bad path (kill him!) the choices Vincent gets are often unrelated to what’s going on, but they will have a subtle effect on the choices he makes later on, and change the ending that you’re given.

    If you’re still committed to Catherine because you’re after an intriguing, twisting story which is worth experiencing, then there’s the question of which version to buy. The Playstation 3 game is undoubtedly the one to choose. The controls are incredibly sensitive, and it’s near impossible to play the game with the analogue stick on either platform. With the D-Pad on the Xbox 360's controller so terrible, there’s only really one choice if you have the option of both.

    Of course, you could just base your decision purely on the box-art instead...

    If you’re not after the story then the question you have to ask is “why would I want to put myself through this?”.

    - An intriguing story
    - The music is wonderful
    - Rapunzel

    - Gameplay is unbalanced and simply doesn't work
    - Frustrating
    - There are sections where you're forced to play in areas of levels you can't even see

    Score: 6/10