As much as I love action and shooting games (especially Splatoon), puzzle-based adventures have seemed to be the kind of games that I’ve been drawn towards lately. One of those titles that I’ve gotten around to playing is Catherine. Usually when I play any video game, I’m instantly able to draw similarities between the current game that I’m playing with some other games that I’ve played in the past. Catherine on the other hand, is truly unlike any other title that I’ve played before. It features creatively crafted platform-puzzle stages, Kafkaesque horror imagery, and it explores the complexities and tribulations of relationships.
In Catherine, you play as a 32 year-old man named Vincent, a systems engineer who enjoys the company of his friends at a local bar called The Stray Sheep after an arduous day at work. He also likes spending some time with his slightly pushy yet caring girlfriend, Katherine (K). For a quite awhile, he’s grown fond of this straightforward and facile lifestyle; he’s sort of an indecisive individual and not very fond of drastic changes to his daily routine. This easygoing life that Vincent has enjoyed is suddenly at a crossroads when Katherine (K) begins subtly pressing him towards wanting to get married at some point – which is something that fills him with immense dread and uncertainty since he’s not exactly sure what is the best decision to make at this point in his life.
Throughout this mentally-draining ordeal, he meets a blonde temptress named Catherine (C), who’s more free-spirited and lustful than his girlfriend; basically the polar opposite of Katherine (K) personality-wise. After a night of heavy binge drinking, Vincent (much to his bewilderment) wakes up on his bed to Catherine (C) sleeping right beside him. As you’d imagine, Vincent feels quite a bit of staggering guilt after coming to the realization that he has just cheated on his girlfriend.
During this time, Vincent and other men going through similar personal infidelities, begin to have bizarre and disturbing nightmares, which permeates the core foundation of Catherine’s gameplay as a whole. The nightmare segments of the game require you to safely traverse to the highest point of a tower by pulling and pushing cube-like blocks in various directions in order to arrange a navigable platform to continue moving higher up. In addition, the blocks beneath you are progressively falling down to the dark abyss, so you need to be constantly vigilant and on your toes while doing mental gymnastics in order to succeed in these tricky situations. As you venture forward, you’ll come across many different kinds of blocks and enemies/bosses that’ll force you to use your noodle (brain). Every now and then, you might get a bit flummoxed and stumped on what to do next, but it feels incredibly rewarding and cathartic whenever you do overcome the wide array difficult obstacles that block your path after some trial and error; be prepared to die a lot regardless of which difficulty setting you’re playing at.
While I really loved the level designs and overall variety that went into each nightmare stage to prevent the experience from becoming stale, their was one thing that incessantly bugged me. I found the camera to be very restrictive and oddly framed for some of the advanced levels, so moving around can be quite frustrating at times when you occasionally can’t clearly see where Vincent is on the stage. But besides that, I enjoyed this part of Catherine very much.
When you aren’t in a hurried frenzy to reach the top of a tower and escape your doom, Vincent gets to converse with others at The Stray Sheep, and respond to either (or both) Katherine (K) and Catherine (C) through text messages. While the conversations of this portion of the game may seem inconsequential at first, the choices do carry some weight since this game includes a morality system, which ultimately leads to one of 8 possible endings that you can wind up with upon completing the game. So, if you aren’t happy with the ending you get or just curious about the other closing scenarios, Catherine has a lot of replay value since you can always try again for a different outcome.
All in all, Catherine is an incredible mix of ingeniously designed puzzles with relatable subject matters that are rarely explored within the world of video games. It has plenty of memorable characters and a high amount of replay value. If you are itching for a unique gameplay experience that’s both engaging and remarkably thought-provoking, Catherine is a game worth checking out.