1. The game is rated out of 5 stars, no half stars.
2. This is a review of the PS3 version.
3. The overall score is not mathematically derived from the scores of the different components reviewed.
Catherine is 2/3 block-puzzle, 1/3 dating-simulation developed & published by Atlus. The promotions leading up to the release of this M rated game presented a provocative tail of sex & nightmare. However, the actual product is much more tamed and leave a lot more to be desired.
You play as Vincent, who is sort of the every-man, undistinguished and unremarkable. He has a girlfriend, Katherine, who is the opposite of him; organized, forward thinking, way too good for him, ready to take the relationship to the next level. One day she tells him of a life altering news, which ends up pushing Vincent away from her. That night, he goes to the bar he always goes to and gets smashed. He also meets a younger prettier girl named Catherine and ends up having, what he thinks would be, a one-night-stand.
Of course you end up having to juggle between these two women.
About the same time, Vincent starts to have weird nightmares involving a clock tower and talking sheeps. At the bar and on the news, people can't seem to stop talking about recent deaths involving cheating men. Are the nightmares related to these deaths? What about Catherine?
The game involves lots of decision making as well as 8 different endings, so the Vincent you help develop and the ending you see (which is only decided by the last 3 decisions you make) will factor into your satisfaction of the story. However, the overall arc is pretty rigid and I can safely say it doesn't satisfy in many ways and all the endings feel half-hearted. There are some good moments but none of it add up to much.
The dating-simulation part of the game takes place exclusively at a bar. This is the only place in the game you can walk around and talk to people. The people you can interact with include your friends and other customers. It's unfortunate that there aren't more places to explore because all the people you meet are likable and give color to the world. It's also unfortunate that we don't really get to know any of them, as they aren't well developed, Especially your friends who you've had a long history with but the game only reveals their personalities. This feels like a missed opportunity as what's there is good but there is simply not enough.
There is also a texting aspect during these sections on your cellphone. You can interact with Katherine and Catherine, replying to them in either positive, negative, or sometimes neutral manner. You can also choose not to respond. Although you can only choose from pre-written messages, it's very interesting because it's really relate-able to real life and give gravity to the choices you're making throughout the game, no matter how artificial they are.
Most of the game takes places during you dreams. Basically you have to climb blocks until you reach the top. There are different types of blocks such dark blocks (which are heavier than the normal ones) or ice blocks (which will make you slip and slide), as well as many other. You have to manipulate these blocks by pushing and pulling them. These blocks are gravity defying, able to float in mid-air as long as an edge is connected to another block. These simple properties all combine to provide fun but accessible block-puzzle. I recommend playing on the easy setting. It provided decent challenge and I didn't feel the frustration many people expressed in the normal difficultly.
You'll spend most of your time climbing blocks so it's good that the concept is simple and fun. However, you'll eventually get the feeling that these puzzles could definitely have been more inventive and you won't really get the urged to retry any one of them again.
The game uses a nice mix of fully animated anime FMVs and it's in-game engine, which stylistically, are also anime. Of course, anime is not everyone's cup of tea so either you'll like them or you won't. Nonetheless, they are well done and suits the material. There is also a good distinction between the real world and the world of the nightmare, both in the use of color and environment. Characters look appropriately detailed and they move like they should. The user interface mesh well with the rest of the presentation as well.
Graphically, nothing will blow your mind but everything seems polished and artistically cohesive. There seems to be some slow downs in the more hectic levels and you might wish you had more control of the camera, particularly when you're behind blocks.
Like the visual presentation, your appreciation of the audio presentation will depend on your taste. Everything here fits well within the world and artistic style. The music provided, although too few, is good. The voice acting is well casted, even if not all the dialogue is well written. There are some nice sound effects and ambient noise as well.
The story can be completed in about 12 hours and there is certainly enough to keep you busy for that long. The block-puzzle, although entertaining, might wear thin for some people. Others, however, will defend it's brilliant simplicity. The bigger problem is probably the story, which Atlus promoted so heavy leading up to the games release. It's simply not satisfying in anyway. Not enough story, Not enough development, Just not enough.
What's disappointing about the game is that, what's there is good and with enough development, it could have been unique and special. I can't recommend it to everyone but if you're interested, pick it up for $25 or less.