Thursday, July 28, 2011

Catherine - A Good First Date

Atlus, a Japanese game developer best known for the Persona series, has recently released a new title known as Catherine. As more information about the game was revealed before its Japanese launch, it seemed like a pretty weird combination of a romance game and a puzzle game. However, I must admit that what really grabbed my attention was the puzzle segments. When the game recently came over to American shores, I decided to give it a try, and actually found myself enjoying it overall.

The story seems a bit odd in words: 32-year-old Vincent Brooks is in a relationship with a woman named Katherine McBride. They have been dating for a few years and the possibility of marriage is recently brought up by Katherine. After a night where Vincent drinks at the Stray Sheep bar, he wakes up with a younger girl named Catherine, bringing chaos into his current situation. Around this time, he's begun having nightmares wherein he runs away from something whilst climbing up a tower by moving blocks. As this is going on, there has been a string of mysterious deaths that only seem to involve young men. As Vincent goes through these nightmares, he must ultimately decide between Katherine and Catherine.

The plot is better understood during play, but it manages to keep you invested the entire time. It has some rather interesting twists and it makes you feel like you are Vincent whenever a new surprise shows up. However, these events are created mainly through a series of questions throughout the game, which in turn affect a karma meter. What makes it really unpredictable is that it's not the typical good/evil meter found in such games as the Infamous series, rather its weighed entirely on your personality. This leads ultimately to one of eight different endings, of which I ended up with one of the better ones. In terms of story, this game is unique and handles its concept rather excellently.

As I mentioned before, this game includes a puzzle element in the form of sliding blocks to ascend a tower. These occur between bits of the story within Vincent's nightmares, in which he must survive the climb or he dies in real life. Different types of blocks are introduced with every new section, as well as a myriad of techniques you can use to climb higher. Power-ups such as Mystic Pillows that give you more lives and Energy Drinks that let you climb more blocks at a time can help you advance further more safely, especially during boss stages, and sometimes you feel fortunate to have the right one at the right moment. I actually didn't mind these sections that much, seeing them more as a mildly frustrating challenge (I played on Easy), though it may be because I'm more of a casual gamer and I enjoy playing puzzle games.

In any case, an interesting way you can better at these portions is by playing the Rapunzel game while in the real world. It has similar gameplay to the nightmares, but on a smaller scale and with a limited number of moves. Once you learn new techniques you can use them to get farther in this minigame, which is also great practice for what lies ahead at the end of the day.

You can also drink and send text messages in the game, the latter of which can also influence the course of the game. When you drink enough, you not only can move faster in your nightmares, but you can also learn some interesting trivia about alcohol. It's amazing what you can learn on the subject from this game, assuming you didn't know some of it already.

Both visually and musically, Catherine further impresses. The anime-style cutscenes and graphics are pulled off fantastically, brought further to life by some amazing voice acting. The soundtrack, most of which you hear in the nightmare segments, is composed mainly of remixed classical music, such as "The Hut on Fowl's Legs (Baba-Yaga)" from Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition and the Hallelujah Chorus among others. This really adds to the atmosphere and is a rather interesting choice for a game.

Catherine's concept sounds weird at first, but it's a really enjoyable experience. I think anyone more adept at puzzle games will get more enjoyment out of this, the nightmare segments being just another puzzle to solve. I'm not sure I'd play Catherine again anytime soon, but I may give it another shot sometime in the future.

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