Format reviewed: Xbox 360
Other formats available: PS3
Developer: Atlus Persona Team
Publisher: Deep Silver
You know that dream you have where you have ram horns on your head and you have to climb strange blocks and if you fall you die? Plus there are mystic pillows too. No? Neither do we, but that's, basically, what Catherine is about.
The hero of Catherine is Vincent Brooks, although to call him a hero is a big insult to real heroes out there. Vincent couldn't be wetter than if he spent his days in a swimming pool.
The man has no backbone and is actually quite annoying. What he does have is a girlfriend called Katherine, who he has been with some time, and they are beginning to talk about serious commitment and getting married.
However, he hangs out with three waster friends in a bar called the Stray Sheep where he can interact with these friends, send and receive texts, drink and play a game on an arcade machine called Rapunzel.
This though isn't the main part of the game, that happens at night once Vincent has gone to sleep. Catherine you see is a survival horror, puzzle game. A genre we can't say that we have encountered previously.
Before we go on to explain this, what you also need to know is that in the game there are a number of unexplained deaths where young men are being found dead in their. This is only as far as the authorities are concerned, you will know why this is happening.
You see, when Vincent dreams he doesn't think of nice, happy things. No in his dreams he has ram horns and has to climb a staircase of collapsing blocks whilst trying to avoid traps such as spikes. Along the way he meets other dreamers, they are anthropomorphic sheep, and needs to pick up mystic pillows that give you retries as well as things like the ability to make a block when you want to.
To get up this ladder of blocks you have to push, pull and climb them. A lot of the time it isn't obvious, thankfully you have the option to go back a few moves if you get stuck.
Of course you can't spend too much time faffing around because the blocks below you are gradually falling away and soon enough you won't have a block to stand on. If you fall, and you have run out of retries, which does happen, you die and you have to reload the game right from your last save.
This is a bit old school, but then Japanese games are known for being frustratingly hard at times.
Added to this there are boss levels where in addition to the puzzles, traps and falling blocks you have a boss character who is trying to kill you. In one level this is a big hand that's trying to stab you with a fork, in another it's quite a scary thing that looks like a woman from the waist down with a viciously long tongue that doesn't come out of its mouth, but somewhere far more disturbing!
Now as well as dating Katherine, Vincent also manages to have an affair with the very attractive Catherine, as least he won't get the names mixed up (as long as he doesn't write to them). Being a drippy type he then begins to mope and moan about what he's done, whilst not doing anything about it and having more nightmares.
The thing with the game is that depending on what you do as Vincent, how you answer the questions posed to you before each of the nightmare levels and your other actions determines the ending of the game; and there are many different ones.
In this way, and in the some of the feel of the game it does remind us a little of Heavy Rain. It's not as good though and we did get rather fed up with the puzzles after a while. Each level is basically the same, they just get longer and harder with more annoying bosses thrown in just to leave you wanting to throw the controller, console, cup of tea, chair and whatever else is within spitting distance into the screen in sheer frustration.
It's this one-trick ponying that lets Catherine down. It really needs more variety because it does get too much. This is a shame as the concept is really good, it looks great and is from that Japanese gaming tradition where everything is just a little bit odd. That's good odd though.
So if you like an oriental twist to your games and don't want the latest Call of Battle Massive Massacre 4, but something a bit different it's certainly worth a look for novelty value alone.
Review by Tuckski for BCS