Catherine is a sliding block puzzle game. You push blocks around and try to create a path so that you can climb to the top of a pile of blocks, preferably as fast as possible because the lower levels are dropping off into a endless void. You’ll come across a few different obstacles in your path like immovable blocks, blocks that emit spikes, ice blocks that you’ll slide on, blocks that move on their own and threaten to knock you off. When you get to the top of the stage, you climb up another series of blocks. Blocks, blocks, blocks.
Sounds incredibly exciting, right? Well what if I were to tell you that the game was about the fear of commitment? About infidelity? About how men are more boys than men nowadays, refusing to grow up or take responsibility for their actions? Bet you didn’t expect that in a videogame.
But that’s what makes Catherine so unique. It’s an actual adult title. Usually when people call a game adult it means that you can blast people’s heads off with a nice assortment of weaponry, or that you’ll see demon babies shooting out of a giant creature’s nipples (don’t laugh). But here it’s adult simply because it has adult situations involving relationships and the issues we all deal with as we grow older.
The story revolves around a man named Vincent who’s got a girlfriend named Katherine. They’re in their early thirties and Katherine’s biological clock has stopped ticking and set off an alarm. She subtly hints as much when she tells him about a conversation she had with her mother about where their relationship is going, but Vincent isn’t sure he’s ready for that level of commitment yet. He talks about his problems in a bar that he frequents every single night with his buddies, who sympathize. Only one of them is married and he doesn’t really talk about what it’s done to him. There are a few other characters in the bar that you’ll be able to talk with as well during these quick sequences in between downing your choice of drinks- the waitress who’s an old friend of yours, the weird old bar owner, the various drunken regulars. One night though, while puzzling over a (sliding block) nightmare he had the night before, he stays after his friends go home and bumps into a beautiful young girl named… Catherine. After apparently blacking out, he has another nightmare and wakes up to find that she’s spent the night. Oops.
Now Vincent’s torn between reason and lust, the idea of being stuck in a relationship for the rest of his life and the idea of having fun times with this incredibly sexy, decade-younger girl.
But every night the nightmares continue and what’s worse is that people actually seem to be dying in them. Otherwise healthy men in their late twenties are just waking up dead every day, and there seems to be no reason for it. A rumor is going around that a woman is cursing all these unfaithful men, but that couldn’t be true, could it? Vincent will find out the hard way, climbing for his life every night only to wake up not quite remembering what happened.
Although the story is incredible and so much better than we’re used to getting in our games, the meat of the game is the puzzle sections. Each night he wakes up surrounded by sheep, dressed only in his boxers and holding a pillow, with horns having grown out of his head. A disembodied voice taunts him and urges him onward and upward, and the puzzles do get very tricky. On your journey up you’ll find items that help you along the way but many more obstacles, including some of the other unlucky sheep who are trying to climb up as the world falls apart behind them.Thankfully the game does a good job of introducing new challenges and teaching you new climbing techniques level by level. It becomes a nice challenge trying to find a path to the top and it really becomes quite an addictive game.
But now you’ll understand the genius of the game. See, you’re not just pushing blocks around to get to the top of some pile, you’re climbing for a reason. The threat of death, sure, but the thing that’s behind you changes each stage and represents Vincent’s inner demons. For example, during various stages you’ll face monstrous versions of your girlfriend, your fling- even your unborn child at one point. Catherine manages to take some fun gameplay and mix it up in the best way imaginable, giving real weight and some actual impetuous behind your actions.
[caption id=“attachment_14725” align=“aligncenter” width=“568” caption=“What is up with his shirt? Is that a RAPE LOVE shirt or something? - Devin”]
The game is aided by some incredible film-quality animation with fantastic voicework that really lets you like these characters, even if Vincent can be too much of a whiny pussy at times. But hey, that’s what the story is for- a man trying to learn to stand up on his own two feet. Or not, depending on the ending (there are eight) which is decided by your choices along the way, such as the text messages you send to your two girls every night in the bar.
It is a much longer experience than you’d expect (it can run 20 hours) and that might actually be one of the game’s shortcomings- it’s one of those games that overstays its welcome a bit. Like the many Asian horror films that were clearly an influence on the game it just doesn’t know when to end. There’s a sequence near the end of a really long bit of animation that feels like an ending, but there’s still hours and hours to go, and you might be sick of the puzzles by then. There’s also a story twist that’s fairly predictable and then the game just goes off the rails with its Japansese insanity.. not a bad thing, necessarily, but might not be for everyone.
Besides the main game you can unlock a Babel (as in the tower) mode that features random large stages that lets you play solo or with a friend, and there’s a Vs. Colosseum mode that lets you fight with a friend to get to the top of a stage first. Both are very fun. There’s also an incentive to try the levels in the main story over again, as you’re given a trophy (gold, silver, bronze) depending on how fast you make your ascent.
Even if you’re not big on puzzle games, Catherine certainly deserves your attention. Just think- how many games have you played where you’ve ignored the cutscenes? Gamers are constantly forced to sludge through mindless, boring stories from games that are just repeating the same thing over and over.
Here’s one that understands that good gameplay is only aided by an engrossing story.