Catherine Review

Susan Arendt | 26 Jul 2011 09:00
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Mixing elements of soap operas, anime, dating sims and puzzle games, Catherine is a bizarre amalgamation that never ceases to fascinate. No one element outshines the others; the anime style cutscenes are your reward for making it through the puzzles of the nightmare levels, and the socializing with other characters fuels your interest in the unfolding plot. It's an ingenious balance of frenzied game mechanics and laid-back consideration that will leave you emotionally exhausted, but satisfied. Which is appropriate for a game that's mostly about sex, really.

The trouble begins one night in the bar when Vincent is approached by the scorchingly hot Catherine, who pretty much throws herself at his pants. Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a bad thing, but Vincent is already dating Katherine, who's been not-so-subtly hinting that it's about time they got married. Vincent's infidelity is particularly poorly timed, as adulterous men have been dying mysterious deaths all over town. The rumor going around town is that if you die in your dreams, you die for real, and all of the philandering fellas had been suffering from strange nightmares - nightmares that Vincent has begun having himself.

The nightmares are where Catherine's actual gameplay begins. Each night, Vincent must climb a tower by maneuvering blocks into helpful positions. You can't jump, and you can only climb one block high, so the secret to survival is to move things around to create bridges and staircases. The tower is slowly dropping away as time ticks on, which adds a bit of pressure to the climb, but the bottom drops out slowly enough that you should have more than enough time to consider your strategy. You'll need it. They start off simply enough, but the puzzles of Catherine rapidly become fiendishly difficult, adding in spiky traps, ice blocks, black holes, bombs, and "mystery blocks" that don't reveal their true nature until you step on them. Fortunately, your fellow adulterers are on hand to help; between levels, you visit a landing where you can learn new climbing techniques and chat with others who are trapped in the nightmare with you.

The puzzles are real brain-twisters, but the true frustration doesn't come until you encounter one of Catherine's disturbing bosses, which not only chase you up the tower, but use various powers to make your journey more difficult. Based on Vincent's personal fears and doubts, some just straight-up shoot at you, others merely change the blocks in your path to something less helpful, but their pursuit forces you up at a breakneck pace that doesn't leave much time for thoughtful contemplation. Checkpoints along the route prevent you from having to repeat the entire level over and over again, but expect to die a lot during the boss sequences. A lot. The bosses are exponentially more difficult - and therefore more frustrating - than the rest of the game, but the satisfaction of polishing them off is palpable.

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