December 26, 2013

That's A Wrap: Catherine

warning: may contain spoilers 

I've been fortunate lately, that I've been able to gather friends together a number of times for nights of epic gaming sessions. This week's adventure chronicles the most fun I've had torturing men in a long time…

Catherine is a pretty cool game that manages to weave together a puzzle gameplay concept with an intense story. In addition to that, it features some cool arcade elements, and everything is narrated. Even "pause". It's a pretty strange way to go about things but I feel like it works for Catherine. 
I remember having a conversation with a friend shortly after it came out, and discussing how it appeared to be a boring "porn" game. It turns out, this game has a magic ability to make a lot of men really uncomfortable. Especially when they're playing this game with a woman who knows all their wives.😁

Gameplay this time through was handled predominately by myself and and my friend Mike, with a sort of "his hands, my head" approach, as I'm usually pretty good with puzzles, and Mike has a history of beating games in record time. With this plan, we attempted to beat the game (story only) in one session. It took us 15 hours to do so. I'm reminded once again that Catherine is a surprise, a much better game than any of us had expected, and it was a lot of fun to revisit it.
Catherine is centered around Vincent, a fairly typical man who's struggling to decide what he wants for his future, especially regarding his long-time girlfriend Katherine (with a 'K'! That's important!), when along comes the mysterious Catherine - who just happens to be everything Vince likes/wants in a woman - and our poor hero gets lost in a world of confusion and curses and sheep and… stuff. Vincent begins to have terrible nightmares in which he's forced to solve a sort of "puzzle tower," and if he fails to reach the top, he will die in real life as well as in his dream.

Between each level, Vince usually has an encounter with one or both K/Catherines; Cath is very forward and aggressive and clearly not very emotionally attached to this affair, and Katherine, frankly, is hardly worth fighting for in my opinion, but there isn't much else to do, so hop to!
But Vincent is not alone! He has his trio of friends to help him sort his crap out. Jonny is a dark and curious character who seldom has anything useful to say and I strongly suspect is up to something... Toby is a harmless kid, and the only one of Vince's friends that is not terribly effected by the current phenomenon. Lastly is Orlando, who gets my vote for best character, both witty and insightful and seems to lend himself to Vince the most throughout the game. Also present during bar shenanigans is a waitress, Erica, who nobody seems to mind confiding in, and the bartender, usually just referred to as "the boss." Har Har Har. Character development in Catherine is pretty minimal, save for Vince, but it doesn't hurt the gameplay at all, really.

The graphics have a Japanese "anime" style to them, which actually reminds me a lot of one of my favorite shows ever, Cowboy Bebop. The animation, however, is often a little more grotesque and there were a number of times I found myself expressing my desire to vomit to my pals. This game may give ME nightmares... Other than that, a really solid-looking game with great style. The loading screen brings back all sorts of angry memories about Ghosts n' Goblins!
The music in Catherine is pretty prominent, a lot of remixed classical tunes with various instruments to convey different intensities. I wouldn't sign it up for any awards but overall the soundtrack is a very fitting companion for the game.
I feel like the sound effects in Catherine are, by default, much louder than the music and vocals, which is pretty strange. That bell at the end of each level is super annoying. The voice acting varies from terrible to mundane. Being familiar with Japanese media, I have a hunch that the none of the English voice actors managed to truly capture the characters the way the Japanese ones always seem to. Vincent in particular, I felt was poorly delivered.

Gameplay is pretty straight forward. There's a lot going on, but you just take it one step at a time and let the game unfold as it does. You start with a chunk of the story, then launch into one of Vincent's nightmares in which you have to climb a level of the tower by moving a series of blocks around. Each level has an added difficulty, but you also learn new techniques along the way to help make the job a bit easier. As you climb, the tower slowly disintegrates beneath you (you can track this with the bar at the side of the screen), and at the end of each stage there is a boss that hinders your climb significantly. I feel like this is a great approach to bosses for a puzzle game.  Playing a game that doesn't involve actually attacking the boss was very refreshing for me. As you climb, you can collect pillows, which serve as "continues" should you fail a level, and you can hit checkpoints along the way so that if you fall, you don't have to start from the very beginning.
Each level then ends by asking the player a question regarding their opinions about life and relationships, the answer you choose determines how the rest of the game will unfold. Essentially, you can work toward an ending with either of the Catherines, or if you play your cards really specifically, neither.
The game has a really good pace; there's quite a bit of story to be seen and the puzzles are pretty challenging. The controls in the puzzle level take some getting used to, as you use your left stick for virtually everything short of using an item - which can create or manipulate blocks, eliminate enemies or boost your abilities - and grabbing blocks. I would often accidentally execute the wrong maneuver and since time in an asset, these mistakes are costly. This is where Mike comes in.😉

The game is actually very difficult. Normal mode is incredibly frustrating for some levels and even easy mode can be tricky. I reckon hard mode must be nearly impossible! We played on normal for most of the levels, since, with the two of us together, we could move at a better pace than either of us could manage on our own. I'm pretty sure I played on easy mode the first time I played Catherine, and I recall that being a pretty typical playthrough for me: enjoyable but occasionally frustrating.
When not in Vinnie's nightmares, you spend most of your time at the bar compiling information with your friends, and talking to the other bar goers. You also get to potentially add to the story by reading and responding to text messages Vince will get on his phone, and if you make a trip to the loo, you can get a little insight about the next level. If that doesn't provide entertainment enough, you can play the Rapunzel mini-game. This mini-game is essentially the same as Vince's nightmares, but of course you are a prince attempting the join Rapunzel in her tower. The main difference is that instead of a time crunch, you're only allowed a certain amount of moves to reach the damsel. We really didn't bother with Rapunzel in this playthrough, but I do recall it thoroughly pissing me off when I first played the game.

I feel that Catherine may be a bit of an underdog, especially amongst the ladies, but I implore you to give it a shot if you haven't yet. It's surprisingly fun, even if you have played it before, and if you have a lot of male friends you must force them to sit through it with you. I made innumerable threats to my pals over the comments they made during this playthrough! (All in good fun, of course.) If you're unsure about your future with your man, make him play Catherine!
  • "Create block" items are never a bad idea. 
  • You can purchase these blocks or other items from the merchant sheep on the platforms between floors.
  • If you play in easy mode, you're offered an "undo" option, which you can execute by pressing "back" on the 360 controller.

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