Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Released: 2011
Rating: Mature

Written by Victoria Zukas

To say that Catherine is unique is an understatement. Catherine is a puzzle game who’s focus is on the drama of a long term relationship. The name of the game comes from one of the main characters. Vincent is under pressure for commitment from his girlfriend Katherine, when he meets another girl named Catherine. Catherine practically throws herself at him at the local bar, and the next morning Vincent wakes up with no memory of what happened and a gorgeous naked girl next to him. He then spends the rest of his nights climbing a tower of blocks as punishment for cheating on Katherine.

I came into the game with very little experience with puzzle games and I was able to get through and enjoy Catherine. Notice how I said “get through”? The gameplay in Catherine was designed for puzzle game fans and people who love a challenge. I played on Easy mode and I never made it through any given level on the first try. In fact it usually took five or six tries per level. This game’s “Easy” is what other games call “Normal”. Thankfully there are mid level check points and if you completely mess up you can restart from your last check point at anytime.

The same team that made the Persona games made Catherine, and it shows in the art style and story. I can’t think of anyone other then the Persona Team that would attempt a game like Catherine and pull it off so well. Usually I save statements like this for last, but it really needs to be said. Buy this game. No really – buy this now; new if you can afford it. In an industry where companies will make the same game over and over (I’m looking at you and your sports series EA) it’s refreshing to see someone go out on a limb and make something wacky and different. This is made even better by the fact that it’s a great game. You actually care about Vincent and what he’s going through. All of the supporting characters are characters instead of caricatures. Hard core puzzle game fans will find the challenge they want, while new players to the genre will still be able to enjoy the game. The visuals are beautiful. It’s clear that care was taken to made sure no graphical bugs got through and the aesthetic works well for the atmosphere they are trying to create. The game goes for an anime approach with it’s art style, using full out hand drawn animation for it’s major cut scenes. I really can’t praise Catherine enough.

However, no game, no matter how good, is without it’s faults. The loading times tend to be long and jar you out of the experience. Also, when you’re not pushing blocks around there isn’t much to do. The game is divided into two sections, the first being the puzzle sections and the second being time spent at the bar. The gameplay in the first half is great, while the gameplay in the second is non-existent. You basically walk around the bar, talking to people and sending text messages. I’m not joking; you save via your cell phone and you will get messages from both Catherine and Katherine via text. This creates an obvious divide between gameplay and story. It’s like the game is saying “Yay you beat that level. Now we’ll show you a cut scene and let you walk around a bit so you can get an idea what the heck is going on.” A little more weaving of gameplay and story would have been nice, especially towards the end when the game dumps a mountain of cutscene on you right before the last set of levels. I don’t want to spoil anything, but trust me when I say the last hour or so comes out of the blue.

One point I haven’t made up my mind on is Catherine’s use of a moral choice system. During the game, in both sections of gameplay, Vincent is asked questions. Depending on how the player answers is which way the meter goes, which in turn changes the ending. On the plus side, the meter isn’t good vs evil like in most moral choice systems. One side represents stability and Katherine and the other freedom and Catherine. On the negative side, the system is so transparent that after awhile that I stopped picking what I would have picked and instead starting picking based on which girl I wanted Vincent to wind up with. When you start gaming the game on your first play-through something is wrong.

Despite the faults mentioned above Catherine is a fantastic game, and one I highly recommend. If nothing else, buy it so Atlus can keep making new and interesting games. We need more wackiness like Catherine out there.

Final Verdict – Buy It