Genre: Puzzle/Platformer/Dating Sim Hybrid
Release Date: 07/26/2011
I’ve been a huge Megaten fan for most of my gaming “career”. I’ve imported most of the series . I’ve done translation guides and/or walkthroughs for Devil Summoner, Soul Hackers, the Snow Queen Quest for Be Your True Mind and Innocent Sin to help with my learning Japanese back in the day. I’ve also loved how Atlus would try crazy new things, from publishing Ogre Battle and Ogre Tactics games when Enix pulled out of the US market to Virtual Hydlide or Bloody Bride. So when I heard they were trying their hand at a puzzle game semi-connected to the Megaten subseries of Persona, I was intrigued, especially since I’m a big fan of puzzle games.
At the same time, I was a bit hesitant. The one-two punch of Persona 2: Innocent Sin and Persona 2: Eternal Punishment was pretty much the peak of Atlus for me, and although I enjoyed Persona 3 and 4 for what they were, they didn’t feel like actual Persona games. It was more really well made games that had nothing to do with the Persona universe save for using the name and shoehorning in poor Igor. It was Phantasy Star 3 syndrome. It also didn’t help that nearly every review that I read from across the Pacific or person than I talked to took a big verbal steaming dump on Catherine. Still, I assumed it would be a case of Persona 3 where Americans would love it while Japan was so annoyed by the original release that Atlus has remade that game twice in an attempt at apologizing to the understandably grumpy Persona fan base (and milk more money out of them). That’s the danger of using a brand name but nothing else from the original games. See things like Guardian Heroes Advance or Still Life 2 games. Longtime fans get cranky.
Still, by not using the Persona branding, this let the new “Team Persona,” as they are calling themselves (according to the enclosed artbook), forge their own identity without any preconceived expectations. It also let them try something other than a role-playing game, which is pretty much all Atlus has developed (But not all it has published) up to this point, so I applaud them for trying something new. So now the question is, does Catherine live up to the hype Atlus has made for it, or is the end result less than overwhelming?
Vincent Brooks is not your typical protagonist, nor an especially likeable one. He does the bare minimum to get by in life, his job, and his relationship. He has no dreams or ambitions and is content to spend his life drinking in a pub with his mates until last call every night for the rest of his life. His girlfriend Katherine, however, has other plans. She’s very career minded and wants to settle down and have a family. This is not something Vincent wants however. Yet somehow, they stay together in spite of this fatal flaw in their relationship (to say nothing of their drastically different personalities). One day Vincent is drinking the memory of a bad nightmare away and then wakes up the next morning next to a nubile young blond girl named Catherine. Like Vincent, she doesn’t want a serious relationship. She just wants to have fun and she really seems to like him. However, this doesn’t change the fact Vincent is now a cheater and is juggling two women at the same time without being honest to either one about what he is doing. He’s sure telling his friends about it though, like a douchebag. This also coincides with nightly dreams about having to climb a crumbling tower or die. Is this just a reflection of his inner doubts and stress, or could it be something more?
Although the core of Catherine is pretty nice with selectable dialog options, (very) slightly branching paths based on choices you make and eight different story endings, I just couldn’t get behind the plot at all. I found it either stupid or insipid from beginning to end. Vincent is one of the most unlikeable characters I’ve seen in a game and through all nine chapters he hems and haws about making any decisions at all. He just whines and wallows in self-pity. He’s just kind of a dick that no one would like in real life, yet he has all these friends and people that look up to him, even though he does nothing with himself, nor does he want to. He’s horrible to both women, lying to them outright from beginning until (nearly) the end and he’s just the kind of guy you want to bitch slap and say, “Just man up, you pussy.” It also doesn’t help that you can’t really make any choices in the game. The dialog choices are mostly window dressing that lead you to one of three paths (Cheater, Lover, Freedom) and then Chapter Nine decides if you get the Bad, Normal or True Ending for each path (or in the case of Freedom, Normal or True). The game still progresses linearly, even if you are a total asshole to one girl and extra good to the other and then reverse it the next go-around. Because of this, the urge to throttle Vincent just constantly rises not only as the game goes on, but with each consecutive playthrough.
Unfortunately, the other characters in the game are mostly unlikeable as well. Catherine gets more and more obsessed with you, when she’s supposed to be the more “open relationship” type while Katherine gets more domineering and pissy. Neither girl is one that anyone would really want to end up with, but then Vincent isn’t a blue ribbon winner himself. Because of how shallow and negative both women’s personalities are, I can see some people painting the game as misogynistic, but the truth is, it’s equally snarky towards men as well.
Then there’s the end of the game itself, where Chapter Nine just sends things straight down the poop chute for me. The crux and motivation of the main antagonist in the game is that he has what the Childfree Community refers to as the, “Babies Rabies.” Why are thousands of people dying in their sleep? Because the guy behind it all wants people to breed and this is his way of getting rid of men who don’t want to commit, leaving only baby/marriage oriented men left in the world. Now, this is in spite of the fact there is overpopulation on the planet to begin with and the bad guy (who isn’t really bad, just kind of omnipotent and stupid at once) somehow doesn’t know about the population boom even though he is between a hundred and a thousand years old (the game keeps flip-flopping. It’s one of the many plot holes in the story). If you are population obsessed and you are immortal, the rise in humanity’s numbers would be the first thing you would notice, so this ranks as one of the stupidest plot twists and motivators for a game I’ve ever encountered. It’s basically, “If you don’t breed, you are worthless.” and taken at that face value, the game should piss people off with that message. The good thing is that the game tries to assert said bad guy is wrong, but then in the Lovers path, Vincent actually says said antagonist is right but doing things in the wrong way as he now does want to get married and have a family so all the death and suffering and mental breakdowns are okay. In the Cheater paths, he still ends up committed to Catherine and depending on what you get even wakes up in bed with Catherine AND said antagonist. Hell, in all the endings, the antagonist and Vincent become friends on some level, unintentionally implying that it’s okay to be an insane serial killer with godlike powers as long as you can get your friends laid/married. Ouch.
To put it bluntly, I really hated this story. I like that you can slightly affect the outcome of things and that there are eight endings. I also liked that there is a LOT of story here. It’s just the plot holes and strange instant characterization changes on top of all the characters being both unlikeable and outright stupid ruined it for me. This doesn’t mean the game is badly done. I mean, I became passionate about the characters and wanted to see the endings. If it was bad I’d be apathetic or annoyed. The fact I grew to hate nearly every character in the game shows that Catherine is decently written – just that it is populated with the kind of people that I absolutely loathe to come in contact with. So it’s not a hatred of the writing as much as it is a hatred for those being written about.
Is the story a good one? No it’s not. There are holes in the plot and with the characterization that you could shove a truck through, but the core of the game is well designed and if you can stomach the story, it’s worth trying to get as many endings as you can, all of which are long and detailed (even if they are shallow) . Again, I didn’t like the motivation of the antagonist or any of the characters, but I stuck it out to get six of the eight endings, so there is something here worth seeing unfold, even if the game’s plot consistently pissed *me* off.
Story Rating: Poor
As harsh as I was with the story, I was very impressed with the visuals of Catherine. The game has four distinct graphical areas to talk about. The first are the anime cut scenes which look really good. Everything is fluid and really well done. Character models are highly detailed and everything looks sharp. The anime cut scenes often shift over to computer graphic based cut scenes. These two are impressive, but when there is an almost seamless cut from one to the other, it can be a bit jarring, since there are noticeable differences between the two in all aspects. That being said, the computer based graphics look very similar to the anime cut scenes, which is quite impressive, but it’s just different enough that you can tell something has changed. Both are very well done.
The third graphic style comes with bar scenes or the “church-esque” rest stops. Here the graphics take a slight downturn in quality, but that is because you’re now an active participant in the game instead of watching it unfold ala a visual novel. Here the visuals are still very impressive with a lot of detail to them. The “Stray Sheep,” where most of the non puzzle moments of the game unfold, looks like an actual pub and it’s although the backgrounds could have used a tad more depth and texturing, it’s still quite good.
Finally there are the puzzle scenes. Here the graphics drop a few more steps in quality, but don’t take that as a negative. It’s that the cut scene visuals are so good, the puzzle bits of the game can’t possibly live up to that quality. What’s here is still very good looking for a puzzle game, although there is far less detail to the blocks, traps, Vincent and the background as you would otherwise find in the game. Still, what’s important is that you can tell all the types of the blocks apart, which is crucial to your survival.
Overall, I was very impressed with the graphics in this game, especially since Atlus first party developed games aren’t usually know for their high quality compared to other titles on a console. Atlus really pulled out all the stops here and if nothing else Catherine is one of the more visually impressive titles of the year.
Graphics Rating: Great
Like many gamers, I was disappointed to hear that Atlus was removing the Japanese audio track from Catherine and only using an English dub. This struck me as odd since there was plenty of room on the blu-ray disc for both. My best guess is that like Heavy Rain, the original language track had a slightly different take/wording on things. Either that or Atlus didn’t feel like subtitling, which admittedly would have been annoying to have pop up in some of the puzzle levels. Still, the English voice cast did a pretty decent job. Vincent is played by Troy Baker who always does a great job in all of the anime/video game related projects he is in. I like him best as November 11 from Darker Than Black. Katherine is played by Michelle Ruff who you might know as Crimson Viper from Street Fighter 4, Shanoa from Castlevania or Alice from Shadow Hearts. I usually like her work, but she was a bit too monotone here for my tastes. Laura Bailey (Trunks from Dragon Ball Z, Rayne from Bloodrayne, Chun-Li from Street Fighter) is Catherine and she does a wonderful job with the character, especially in the latter stages of the game. The voice cast can be a little dry at times compared to the dialog they are given (Especially Boss and some of the supporting cast), but overall everyone does a good job.
The soundtrack to Catherine is simply sublime, although I was disappointed that the pack-in soundtrack is less than thirty minutes long. In truth it’s not really fair to include a lot of the soundtrack in the rating as it contains some of the best pieces of classical music out there. You have works by Chopin, Bach, Dvorak, Handel and Rossini. Specific songs range from “Ode to Joy” to “The Hut on Fowl Legs.” It’s not the best versions I’ve heard of these tracks, but Shoji Meguro’s renditions of each song are fantastic. The game does include completely original compositions which you can access at will from the Jukebox at the Stray Sheep. Although they are not as wonderful as the classical compositions of yesterday, they are still quite good in their own right.
Overall, the audio aspects of Catherine are up there with the visuals as the best parts of the game and together they make the game come alive in ways the story often falters in.
Sound Rating: Great
4. Control and Gameplay
Now for another area where I was less than impressed with in Catherine. To be honest, I realize that Catherine is the first non-RPG for the development team and going from designing a turn based RPG to a puzzle platformer with constant action is a huge paradigm shift so I will be lenient in some respects. On the other hand, if you are an avid puzzle gamer, the bugs, control issues and wonky camera angles will make it apparent that this is a first time puzzle game for these guys. As such, those gamers will no doubt be far more critical about these areas. Regardless, the end result is that Catherine is a highly ambitious and original game that could have really used some more time getting polished up before release.
Let’s start with the puzzle bits. The puzzles are kind of a cross between Donkey Kong Jr., Burger Time and the block puzzles from Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, although that description still fails to do justice to the game. In each puzzle stage, you play as a boxer clad Vincent who has to climb a tower made up of blocks. The goal is to get to the job through pushing, pulling and climbing before the tower crumbles away or you fall to your death. These puzzles all take place in a dream world, but much like the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, dying here means dying for real.
Ascending the tower is pretty straight forward and the game will give you hints (called “techniques) on what to do via examples between each stage. The problems come when you actually try to climb and the gameplay issues that hinder you sometimes far worse than your own cognitive abilities (or lack thereof). You can use either the analog stick or D-pad to move and you hold down the X button and a direction to push or pull a box. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well unfortunately, the controls don’t work as well as they should. There were many times where I wanted to pull, where the game pushed instead. There were just as many times where I wanted to move right and my character moved left (or vice versa). Worse were the times when I tried to climb up a block I was scaling and my character decided to plummet to its death instead. I tried three different controllers and this happens with each one, so there is something decidedly wrong with the control detection in the game. Now there is one particular boss that can hit you with an attack that makes you move opposite of what you press, but all of these instances I’m talking about happened outside of that. This doesn’t happen regularly, but it happens enough that you will swear a blue streak about it when it does, because you will die. Again, this is the kind of thing that simply wouldn’t happen with a seasoned puzzle or platformer dev team, so it’s as understandable as it is annoying. Finally, you’ll also notice lag between when you press pause or undo and when it actually occurs. All in all, not the best job with the controls here.
Boss fights are when things go to hell though. In these battles you’ll encounter regular slowdown where one of their special attacks is used, especially in the eighth and ninth chapter/day of the game. Because of how vital split second timing is to get through these stages, this kind of slowdown is borderline unacceptable – especially since this is a puzzle game in 2011. Boss fights are further compounded by some really bad camera angles that occur if you a) get too far ahead of them or b) they use certain attacks. These angles can really throw you off and get you killed, although since they tend to only occur on a boss stage, I tried to look at them as an extra layer of difficulty rather than some bad programming decisions.
Then there are the bugs. The first one I’m going to talk about is something I only encountered once but it was more than halfway through stage 9-5 and it was so awful I nearly lost my voice from swearing, especially as I was on a perfect playthrough at that point. What happened was Vincent simply disappeared from my screen. He didn’t die. I just climbed so fast and ahead of what the game was ready for that he somehow just vanished from the game. I didn’t die. I wasn’t hit by anything. I didn’t somehow get on the far side of a block and couldn’t see my character. He wasn’t simply invisible. He just wasn’t there. I struggled to figure out what exactly happened and eventually both Thomas Mutton and I sat there staring at where Vincent should be. Occasionally he would attack the air and nothing would happened. It was as if both of us were having a simultaneous “WTF” moment and looking to the other to figure out what had happened. Then I chose to retry and all was well…until I was hit by a meteor four steps from the finish. F word.
The other big bug happens on Easy or Normal and ironically, it actually makes playing through the game more difficult than on Hard when it happens. And it will happen. Almost every time you use the “Undo” feature, in fact. This feature lets you take back your last move with a block. It’s supposed to be a rewind feature that sets everything back to that moment. Unfortunately, more than three fourths of the time, it doesn’t exactly happen that way. Instead the block movement will be reversed, but other things will stay the same. Say you undid a move because a block you ran across crumbled into dust and you needed it to proceed. If you hit undo, you will go back to the last move of a block you made (pulling/pushing) but that disintegrated block may or may not be there. Whoops. In boss fights, you might reset down to a lower position of the tower, but the boss will be exactly where it was before you reset. Again, this may or may not happen. It all depends because the undo feature is that buggy. The two worst examples of this are as follows: You press Undo and the last block you moved is reset, but your character’s position on the tower is not. The other is on the eighth day where you have to make a path not only for you, but an AI controlled partner). If you press undo here, said partner is almost never reset back to where they were and more often than not, this traps them permanently. Combine this with the boss location bug that occurs with Undo, and you might as well restart the stage. Overall, Undo tends to do as much harm as it does good and once again, you can see that puzzle platforming is NOT the forte of this development team.
Although the game is certainly playable and a great core idea for a puzzle game, the bugs and lack of refinement will drive diehard and longtime puzzle fans insane with the myriad of issues that they are not used to seeing in this genre. This is another thumbs in the middle because the game had a lot of potential and while it lives up to said potential in originality, it certainly doesn’t in terms of gameplay.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Mediocre
Not only are there eight endings to the game (My advice is to save at the beginning of Stage Nine and replay it several times to earn all the endings for the path you are on, then start over from the beginning and go a different route.), but the game offers quite a few things to do outside of the puzzles in story mode. You have a variant of the game known as Rapunzel that can be accessed in the story mode via the arcade console. It plays almost exactly the same but with more precise controls, retro graphics and you have a limited amount of moves that you can make, but without the worry of a time limit. It’s actually a less pressure filled version of the game for people who end up finding the rest of the title too hard to deal with. You can even access an alternate version of the Rapuzel via a special code. You can also access things like Babel, Axis Mundi, the Coliseum and more. It you like the story, you get eight endings. Of course, if the game makes you RAGE, as it will many of you, it doesn’t matter how many endings there are if you can’t bring yourself to finish the game even once.
If you like the game but not the story, there are many variants of the puzzle to play through. If you don’t like either well, you can always trade it in. It’s nice to see so many options for playing Catherine, even if it is all more or less the same thing, and it makes the $60 price tag for a puzzle game go down somewhat easier.
Replayability Rating: Above Average
…and here we come to the crux and most controversial aspect of the game. Since before it was even officially released in Japan, people screamed bloody murder at how hard this game is. I played the Japanese and American demos and didn’t find either to be too bad. Now that I’ve beaten the game enough to get six of the eight endings (Damn you Freedom endings!), I can honestly say that even on “Hard,” Catherine is not truly that difficult of a game when you take the block puzzles on their alone and you play a lot of cognitive puzzle games. If you are a chess player used to think four to five moves ahead, you’ll be fine, even on Hard. Instead it is a series of bad/odd programming choices that make the game cheap rather than any real cognitive challenges that are being offered. After all, just play Rapunzel. Either version of that game within a game is challenging but not mind numbingly difficult, and it’s essentially the same game but without any of the problems that plague the main version of the game.
We’ve already covered the bugs, slowdown and camera angle issues that create an illusion of challenge in Catherine when it is really just something that needed a little more time in quality control. We don’t need to rehash those. Instead, in this section we’ll look at the OTHER issues that plague the game that most puzzle development teams would have never been foolish enough to include and how it makes the game cheap rather than hard.
Besides the undo feature, which is as problematic as it is helpful, the challenge of the game comes in climbing the tower within a certain time limit. In truth, rushing through the tower is what will lead you to Vincent’s demise. If you are just playing for the story and don’t care about your score, take your time and you’ll see that the game isn’t that hard. If you care about getting gold trophies for each stage and maxing out your score, the challenge comes from that rather than the block puzzles themselves. It is your own mind wanting to rush through things instead of thinking through them. If you find Catherine challenging, my advice is to play through a stage without caring about the score and just seeing how to get through the level, then going back and replaying it with an attempt to get a faster time/higher score/better trophy. You’ll be surprised how much less stressful (and easier) the game is doing this.
…but then we have the fact that Catherine is cheap. We’re talking Eternal Champions end boss cheap. We’re talking instant death without even a fraction of a second to prevent it cheap. This is coming from a guy who perfected Galactus on Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Nightmare Geese in the Fatal Fury games, so I know the difference between cheap and difficult pretty well. Honestly, Catherine can be so cheap it is all but guaranteed anyone that plays this game will rage quit at some point. The good news is that the cheapness only occurs in boss fights. The regular puzzle levels are fine enough to get through if you can stomach the bugs and other issues we’ve already covered. Boss fights however add a level of randomization regarding where attacks will land, which changes the game from a quick thinking set of cognitive puzzles, to needing luck just as much as you need skill, which will pretty much set off most puzzle gamers the first time they encounter it. The cheapness lies partly in that slowdown and control issues almost guarantee you will be killed by an attack even if you reacted in plenty of time. Whoops! Did the game make you walk into that attack instead of away from it? Too bad.
The randomization of attacks can also cause a puzzle to be unsolvable. Was the only block that you could use to move up destroyed? Too bad. Undo (and risk the bugs associated with it) or start over. This is pretty much inexcusable as a quality puzzle game is one where you and you alone are the source of your own demise. Where you are simply not quick enough in hand or mind to move on. Again, the game is beatable (I achieved all gold trophies in easy and normal and all gold and silver in hard), but this aspect of Boss fights doesn’t make things harder – it just makes things cheaper because some attacks you can’t see coming, nor can you prepare for. Factor in the other issues playing the controls and gameplay and you have a recipe for a lot of stress, profanity, and pissed off gamers.
There are more issues that this however. On the eighth day, you’ll be escorting a young lady through a maze while being chased by a boss. However the computer controls the AI of this girl and holy hell is it stupid. The puzzle itself is really easy, but the lady in question will get herself killed repeatedly because the computer can’t figure out how to follow you or do its own puzzles, even when you leave a really easy and obvious trail to follow. The game lets you have commands like “Wait” and “Follow,” but even when you have follow activated, she’ll just sit there as the boss climbs ever closer to her. She’s also roughly half to a third of your speed. Even worse, the boss has randomized attacks and she’ll happily walk into them over and over again. This is not difficult – this is cheap/bad programming. Again, a quality puzzle game makes you the source of your own demise. It should not come at the hands of bad AI killing itself and leaving you to take the punishment. This is pretty unforgiveable, but thankfully this is only a single level in all of the game. I’ve yet to find anyone that would remotely classify the escort mission as fun. See for yourself why.
Finally there is the ninth set of stages in the game. There are five of these. All five have random blocks that can be a different power when they are activated. The power can also change by hitting undo. However, the problem is that occasionally you will need a block to be of a certain type to advance. Otherwise you are screwed. On Easy or Normal, you can do undo and reset the block type, but on Hard you are screwed. Thankfully, these times where a block needs to be of a specific type happen very rarely, but again, it’s bad design that the possibility of this can even come up. Stages 9-4 and 9-5 are the worst though as you have back to back boss fights with all the problems those come with, all the problems that come with the general bugs in the game and some new special problems guaranteed to make some gamers break their copy of Catherine in twain. The first of these issues are than Thomas Mutton can randomize block types. Slowdown occurs when this happens and so if you are on a block that gets randomized into some item of instant death, you simply can’t move in time. He might also randomize a block that needs to be of a specific type to move on (there are a few of these in 9-4 and 9-5) and if this occurs, it’s undo or retry, which has me once again repeating the differences between a high quality puzzle game and Catherine. You’ll also encounter the occasional meteor that will kill you. Usually there is a warning sign that this will happen as the block glows red for a second. However, sometimes you won’t get the warning, or even see the meteor. You’ll just die. Again, bugs and bad programming decisions.
Once again, none of this makes Catherine unplayable, but it does make Catherine cheap rather than difficult and keeps the game from being considered a quality puzzle title. Taken on their own, the block puzzles are pretty original and fun to think your way through, but with all the bugs, control issues, and some almost asinine programming decisions, Catherine is a game that will be far more stressful than fun for the vast majority of gamers that pick this up. The bottom line is that a ardent puzzle gamer will be able to rip apart Catherine for design choices and be far crueler about it than I’ve been. I understand why some of these choices were made and why they seemed good in theory, but I also can see that the game suffers from too many issues to make it accessible to the average gamer.
Balance Rating: Bad
Honestly, as bad as Catherine is in some areas, it really is an original and innovative idea for a game. Of course part of that innovation comes about by being a puzzle game made by a team that has never done puzzle games before. It really let “Team Persona” think outside the box and come up with something so simple but so brilliant in design that it manages to stand out big time. Of course, this also is what led to the design flaws in the game, but it’s what gives me confidence that if they make a sequel (either in name or design), these flaws will be excised and the new game will be pretty damn impressive.
I can think of several puzzle platformers. I can think of several games that even mix puzzle gaming and light dating sim elements. But is there another game out there that combines cognitive style strategic puzzles with platforming elements and dating sim/visual novel elements? I simply can’t think of one. About the closest comparison I can make is Sigma Star Saga that has light dating sim elements, shoot ’em gameplay and RPG elements, and even that’s apples and oranges with Catherine.
No, in spite of its flaws, Catherine really is a very original and innovative beast. It might get you to swear like a sailor, but it’s a game that should be experienced at least once, even if you hate it, because it’s so different from anything else out there, yet it feels familiar enough that you’re surprised you haven’t played something like it before.
Originality Rating: Unparalleled
Yes I have been critical about what’s wrong with Catherine, but that’s my job. I’m a critic after all. So in spite of said criticism, it might surprise you to learn that I beat the game six times in twenty four hours. It was two sets of marathon gaming. I’d get one ending and then earn the other three based on where my characters bar was, then the next day I started over and earning the other three. I won’t lie – by the end of it I was swearing A LOT. Catherine is a frustrating game to begin with but to play through it completely twice and all five bits of stage nine a total of six times straight through would drive most people insane. I’m probably no exception. It did however let me really scrutinize the game along with what worked and what didn’t.
For most gamers, it’s probably best if you play one set of stages at a time and take a break after each one, especially if you are feeling your urge to kill rising. Taking those regular breaks will help you to calm down and think clearly. Remember, a lot of the illusion of challenge in Catherine comes from not thinking things through. Rushing and being blinded by anger/frustration will get you killed all the more and then you’re trapped in a downward spiral.
Even though I was critical of Catherine I had a hard time putting down the controller, although that was mainly because I wanted to get my time with the game done and over with. Six out of eight endings. If you’ve played the game ask yourself if you’d put yourself through that. I burned myself out on Catherine. It’s simply not a game that is meant to be played for long stretches of time, both by design and by the nature of the genre.
9. Appeal Factor
So here’s the funny thing – in spite of all the hype the game has received, I’ve yet to talk to an actual person I know that actually loved the game. Most of the praise is coming from nameless faceless people on the internet. Most people I know (or readers of this site) have said they either cancelled their preorder after playing the demo or hated the game so much that they didn’t bother to try and finish it. Hell, a lot of people I encountered on various websites or at video game stores seemed shocked and surprised that Catherine wasn’t an RPG. Those people got what they deserved, but still – it tells you that Catherine is the very definition of a niche game. It’s a puzzle game that most puzzle gamers will pick apart for its flaws. It’s a heavy story based game where the story can easily be picked apart by those that really play attention or play through it more than once. The only real core audience I can see the game having are people who are diehard faithful to Atlus titles. But then I would be counted as one of those. As would Mark. As would the few people I know that finished this game, and none of them actually would call the game good, much less great.
Catherine is a funny game in that the core audience you would expect to pick up a puzzle game will actually be turned off by it and people who rarely play puzzle games will actual enjoy it for what the game is. There is no real true predictable audience for the game and so far the only real thing that can be said is that a good portion of the people who thought they were going to buy this game didn’t and out of those that did buy it, a large number didn’t enjoy it as much as they thought they would, or at all. At the end of the day, Catherine is going to be a very niche game with a very small core audience. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It simply is what it is.
Appeal Factor: Bad
I have to admit, it was pretty brave (arrogant) of Atlus to charge sixty bucks for a puzzle game in a day and age where these things usually run between fifteen and thirty dollars. Of course, most of those puzzle games also don’t have anime cut scenes, the level of production values in this game, or a full voice cast behind it. Still, after finishing Catherine, it’s hard to say it is worth sixty dollars when something like Stacking is just as innovative, better done in terms of game play and only $14.95 to boot. Catherine just didn’t do it for me. There were too many game design issues and the story was too insipid for me to get behind it. At the same time, I respect the game for its originality and innovation and I was wowed by the graphics and audio. It was an interesting game and I’ve glad I played it, even if playing through 9-4 and 9-5 repeatedly on hard to get six different endings had my girlfriend thinking I was going to murder the development team when all was said and done (I know where some of them live.. BUM BUM BUM!). At the end of the day, Catherine had too many flaws and design issues for me to give it a positive recommendation, but it’s so original and interesting that I can’t give it a negative one either. This is one of those games where I strongly insist you play the demo before you thinking about buying it. It’s why we have demos after all. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by purchasing a sixty dollar game that ends up pissing you off. Play the demo and if you like it, realize the demo is the easiest bits of the game on the easiest setting. Know what you’re in for and try to rent or else buy the game when it gets a lot cheaper. This way you won’t be pissed with yourself for paying full price for the game. You’ll just be pissed at the game and/or your ability to play it.
Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Bad
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Catherine is a puzzle platformer made by a development team that has only done turn based JRPGs up to this point. Because of this, the game manages to be highly original and innovative as the creative team was able to think outside the box, but it also suffers from design flaws and bugs that would have never gotten past a team dedicated to making puzzle games. The game excels in both audio and visual, but the bugs, balance issues and a weak ninth act of the game drag things down more than a bit. In truth, as much as Catherine is a game I think everyone should experience, it’s also a game that NO ONE should purchase blindly for a multitude of reasons. If ever there was a game you that should try before you buy to ensure you know what you are in for, this is it. Caveat Emptor indeed.