It’s very hard indeed to define exactly what Catherine, the latest creation of Persona developers Atlus, is. Look it up, and you’ll find certain genre titles attached: platformer, puzzle game, horror, simulator – but none of those do justice to what Catherine is all about.
I can, however, conclude two things about the highly original title; one, that I have never played anything like it before, (and probably won’t ever again), and two, that it is very, very good.
Existing in roughly a 50/50 split of cutscenes and gameplay, Catherine is heavily story-based, and its plot isn’t exactly conventional for a video game. There are no epic quests or gunplay or car chases here, as the primary setting is a downtown bar, and the main character a middle-aged man named Vincent – a man caught in quite a pickle.
While he is committed to his long-term girlfriend Katherine, he’s also a big fan of the drink, and finds himself consistently waking up next to a young bombshell named Catherine. This all sounds like something straight out of a run-of-the-mill soap opera until he starts experiencing nightmares, rumoured to only affect cheating men, in which the dreamer must reach the top of a treacherous stack of falling crates, or else he will die in real life.
Despite this sounding like a mad Japanese hybrid of Eastenders and Twilight Zone, it’s portrayed fabulously well, with each twist hitting much harder than one might expect. Of course, it carries with it the expected anime-style melodrama, and if Japanese culture is particularly unbearable to you, Catherine will do little to convince you otherwise.
While some of the gameplay takes place in the bar, allowing you to socialise with friends, drink and chat to the regulars about local rumours (which ultimately determines the outcome of the story), the real challenges come in the dream sequences, in which Catherine’s unique puzzle-platform design requires you to arrange and climb blocks to stay alive.
It’s fascinating, oddly addictive, and in the latter half of the game, brutally difficult. I had no shame in having to tone down the difficulty in points, as the challenges require you to think more and more on your feet as blocks fall away threateningly beneath you.
Catherine certainly isn’t as long as its Persona predecessors, lasting only about 10 hours, but with eight different possible endings and brilliantly watchable cutscenes, there’s reason to play the game again just as one would watch a film or TV show again. If you’re one to give everything a go once, there’s no excuse not to give this quirky title a bash.
Published by: Deep Silver
Developed by: Atlus
Platform: PS, Xbox