Catherine is fantastic.
I’m getting that out of the way because this is a game that has been widely praised for its mature central plot, of Vincent – a guy with an oppressive, sensible and self-assured brunette girlfriend (Katherine) who wants to make a man out of him and get him into wedlock, but who is also about to embark on a rampant and exciting affair with the blonde, cute and free-spirited Catherine. This is the backdrop to the puzzle sections – which are the subplot, as men are found having died in their sleep, their faces frozen in sheer terror.
All the men in the dream world that Vincent goes too are sheep. He is too. But yet, in this realm, he is a superhero – being chased ever up a tower of block-puzzles with their own quirks and eccentricities by manifestations of his own real-world fears. When he embarks on his passionate and illicit romancing of Catherine, he is chased by the lower half of a woman, her middle bits lined with razor-sharp, demonic teeth. When Katherine talks to him about marriage, he is chased by an oppressive witch. His monsters, his demons are internal. But speak volumes about his tormented love life.
By surviving, conquering, and answering riddles and questions, Vincent grows. And in doing so, the story veers. In the real world, Vincent socialises – a big part of the game, dialogue-heavy but done in a superb way – but everything interconnects. His choices have a profound impact on his future. He is growing, developing and becoming aware of what he wants as much as the player is.
Catherine is, at its base level, a tower block puzzler if we boil away the dressing up. But it is the dressing that makes Catherine so brilliant – so fiendishly enjoyable and addictive. As the challenge ramps up and Vincent’s subconscious provides ever more twisted machinations of his own deeply-held fears, your respect for him does too. At the start, he’s a bit of a jerk. By the conclusion, he wins your heart and you want him to get his stuff together. Ignoring the social dialogue, the choices, the love triangle and the clever interpretations of his own insane imagination would be to miss out on what makes Catherine such a joy, and keeps you plugging on when the towers get progressively tougher.
Catherine is very Japanese. But it’s the sort of thing we’ve missed for far too long. It is a very simple, polished game with a fantastic and meaningful adult theme – it is funny, moving, terrible, silly, crazy and painful. It is a tale of a mans life as it gets complicated; as he is forced to choose between following his head or his heart, as the world around him shifts and changes as much as he does. It is Japanese – it is anime. But to ignore the brilliance, the sheer balls and courage that it takes to release Catherine as a commercial game rather than an indie title, would be doing it a disservice.
Catherine is one of the strongest games in recent years. Not because it, technically, does anything new with the puzzle genre itself. But because it tells a story and builds a world that is creative, inspired and totally left of field. It is a creative risk; in a world where so many companies play it safe, Catherine is charmingly different. It is a little scary. It is a little weird. But get to know it, and Catherine is as deep, rewarding and affirming as you’d want any game to be.
Catherine has done really well so far in sales, and has just hit Europe. Where I hope Catherine wins just as many hearts as she has done everywhere else.
She’s a maneater. But you’ll love her regardless.