Giant Bomb Review

621 Comments

Catherine Review

2
  • X360
  • PS3

You won't find another game on the market that's quite like Catherine, but it fumbles too frequently to work.

The alignment meter pops up to let you know that the story is considering your decisions.

There aren't a lot of games out there like Catherine, and even fewer of them exist in English-speaking territories. That's probably one of the best things going for Atlus' boys-to-men tale about a love triangle with a supernatural twist. It seems that unfaithful men are dying in their sleep, and you'll quickly find yourself caught among their ranks as you figure out what to do with the two girls in your life by day and climbing a seemingly endless supply of block towers in your sleep. You'll need to be adept at both if you want things to end your way, but Catherine's limited character interaction, shallow characters, and monotonous puzzles combine to form a unique experience that feels frustratingly limited in every respect.

In the game you'll play as Vincent, a weak, wishy-washy sort of guy who's always getting admonished or outright bossed around by his longtime girlfriend, Katherine. Just as he's lamenting that he's not sure he's ready to commit further in this relationship, a younger woman named Catherine stumbles into his life, and before long, he's cheating on his girlfriend with Catherine, who, by comparison, seems completely carefree and indifferent about, well, everything. Being faced with a choice between carefree youth and the increasing responsibilities of adulthood only intensifies as the story proceeds. Before long, things get decidedly supernatural as rumors start of nightmares that are killing traitorous men in their sleep and, sure enough, cheating Vincent finds himself in a nightly fight for survival against endless block-filled towers and his own worst fears.

The interactive parts of Catherine are broken into two separate chunks. When awake, you'll watch a lot of cutscenes and hear a lot of dialogue, but you'll eventually find yourself turned loose in a bar, where your friends gather at the end of every night. In the bar you can walk around and talk to the various patrons, many of whom are also enduring the same nightly ordeals that you are, but no one can really remember their dreams all that clearly. Most of the dialogue has you sitting and listening to their stories, but you'll occasionally get to make a dialogue choice that might just give them the encouragement they need to survive the night's trials. You'll also receive text messages from the two ladies in your life, and how you respond to them--or, in fact, if you respond to them--helps determine how the story unfolds by swinging an alignment meter one way or the other. Generally speaking, it'll shift to the blue side if you're choosing the responsible options that Katherine might agree with or red if your decisions are more in line with something that free-wheeling Catherine might do. The interactions feel incredibly limited, and there isn't that much to do in the bar before heading home and starting the next action stage unless you're interested in playing a retro-styled arcade version of the block puzzles that make up the rest to the game or working over the jukebox, which slowly gives you access to Catherine's soundtrack, as well as select cuts from Persona 4 and other Atlus releases.

Catherine's just kind of annoying.

At night, the action begins, as Vincent finds himself surrounded by sheep at the foot of a large tower of blocks. You can push or pull the blocks around, and the goal is to quickly climb the tower. The game starts out slowly to show you the basic logic behind the blocks' properties. For example, blocks will attach at diagonal edges, so you don't always need to have a block directly underneath another block for support. Once you've got the basics, later levels start introducing special blocks, like ones that crumble when you step on them, or trampoline-style blocks that let you jump up and grab onto ledges you wouldn't be able to reach otherwise, or ice blocks that cause you (and the blocks you're pushing) to slip and keep moving. Once you get the logic behind how the blocks move and start to see solutions in the puzzles instead of just a mountain of blocks, it isn't impossibly difficult. Unfortunately, that moment didn't happen for me until I was most of the way through the game. But the difficulty of the individual puzzles isn't what brings Catherine down. It's their repetitive nature. It feels like there are tons of levels in the game, and they're all roughly the same. The special blocks change things up a bit, and you'll have to climb towers while running away from a large boss-style monster during the last puzzle of every night, but the act of pulling and pushing blocks around to form staircases and create paths doesn't hold up for the entire game, and by night three or four (which is a little before the game's halfway point), I found myself not wanting to play anymore.

The big issues with Catherine are that the gameplay of block puzzles gets old fast and the way the characters develop in the story isn't engaging enough to pick up the slack. Despite being able to make choices that sway the alignment meter and alter the outcome of the story, Vincent's behavior usually doesn't line up with the choices you've made. Even if you're very clearly steering him in one direction, the story beats essentially force him to remain mostly indecisive right up until the final set of challenges. In my case, this resulted in a Vincent who was constantly saying that he was looking to remain true to Katherine, yet kept having nervous breakdowns about Catherine and her feelings. Considering how pushy and psycho Catherine acts, it's hard to imagine anyone feeling the need to "let her down gently." With the characters written that way, it's hard to care about the story very much, especially when you consider that most of your choices are made in-between action stages, where a confessional booth acts as some sort of personality test, asking this-or-that questions about how you'd act in specific situations and so on. It feels like the decisions you're making are almost completely detached from the story itself.

Big bosses will try to trip you up as you climb the tower.

That said, the story sequences themselves are pretty well-made. There are a handful of fully animated sequences, but even the in-engine stuff is sharp, colorful, and full of personality. Some of the characters you'll meet around the bar have interesting side stories that are told both in and out of the dream world, and the voice cast is solid enough to make those stories work. It's a shame that most of the game's strongest points are practically crammed into the margins to make room for more block pushing.

It's certainly not awful, but too many aspects of Catherine felt like they were actively trying to push me away. More variety in the gameplay would have helped, as would more meaningful interactions with the game's cast. As it stands, the coolest thing about Catherine is that there really isn't anything else out there like it. If that's enough for you, you'll probably have a better time with the game than I did.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
621 Comments
Edited by GaspoweR

@Gordo789: That's the reason why there are many reviewers and different web sites who review games for the very reason that they have different tastes and interests in certain genres. If Jeff would give this game a higher score just because he is conscious of the Giant Bomb community who watched the ER and loved Persona 4 because of it (I'm just using that as an example) and thought Catherine wasn't that good at all, then how could we trust his review in the first place? It would be wrong for him to give a game higher score if he himself thought he never really had a good time with the game, regardless of production value (i.e. the game being polished, etc.). I remember Patrick (Klepek) in one of the Bombcasts saying that he really liked the game more than Jeff did but he also said that all the points mentioned by Jeff were very valid.

If the review would always be targeted or framed in such a way for an intended audience, why call it a review in the first place? Wouldn't you rather just straight up call that a recommendation?

Well, obviously you do like the game a lot from the looks of your avatar but I hope you or anyone reading this for that matter understands the point I'm trying to make here.

Posted by Lyssie8590

I found it pretty hard to believe Vincent was 32. He seemed more like 22.

Edited by VinVoltage

I 100% agree with you Jeff. In the end game what it comes down to is that your spending 60$ on a puzzle game. You could be spending that on something that'll give you more time and fun, but your kind of wasting it on this. You play a douche character, that doesn't deserve either of those girls, and the gameplay is just lacking. The game play is repetitive and honestly there's not much of a learning curve here.  And if you feel like there is a learning curve, going through the level faster doesn't count, or on a hard difficulty.

Posted by W4TSON

I just started playing the game and I'm looking forward to it. I like anime and I'm a big puzzle game fan so I'm sure it's right down my alley.

Posted by Keeng

I love the game but I also think this review is fine. Jeff wasn't really digging a lot of it and I was. Difference of opinion.

Posted by KennyIsMe93

This is the only real negative review I've seen for Catherine. I'll look at some user reviews to see how the GB community likes it. 

Posted by Afroman269

Making my way through Catherine and I'm surprised at how much I agree with Jeff's review. I thought he was being harsh but the story and dialogue in this game reminds me of a shit anime. I'm not sure yet if it's 2 star quality but right now I'm feeling a solid 3 stars.

Posted by Smersh

Love that Jeff never loiters in the M.O.R. - your shit is either on the dope-side or the joke-side. Never boring, thanks Jeff

Posted by Wiipete

Completely spot-on review.   I'm glad I bought and experienced the game overall, but I'm also glad that someone out there is calling it out for it's bad points.
 
At the beginning of the game, I loved it and bought into the story, puzzles, etc.  The middle was euphoric.  Toward the end of playing it, though, I experienced every criticism Jeff had for it.  Characters that seemed interesting at first, disappointingly fell into shallow anime tropes by the end.  I also was under the impression that character choices influenced the story; nope, only the very very last cutscene.  If I read this review before buying it, I'd probably have waited until its price was cut in half, since I only enjoyed the first half anyway.  It's comparable to a high-production value DS Layton-esque type game.

Posted by Tarsier

im at chapter 4 right now and so far i disagree with everything jeff has said in this review.. i get the impression that he just didnt get the gameplay and got stuck and frustrated..

Posted by Puzzled

This is a serious critique of the game and most people playing won't notice a lot of the problems this person stated. I played the game and had a lot of fun and enjoyed the story immensely; and I think there are a lot of people who will fall in love with this game if they just play it.
P.S PLAY THE DEMO!

Edited by Sooty

Finished it today. Absolutely fantastic game and the game was longer than I expected it to be.
 
Top notch voice acting, especially for Vincent. 
 
My favourite part was Vincent ranting. "What is with those FUCKING shades. You are indoors."
 

@Giantstalker

said:

Thanks for saving me the money Jeff, block puzzles in 2011...

An original game in 2011! Oh god! Somebody call the sequel brigade, this cannot be allowed!
 
What's wrong with block puzzles? RPGs and FPS games are coming up to 20 years of age (RPGs are already past that) yet I don't see people complaining about those in 2011.
 

@VinVoltage

said:

I 100% agree with you Jeff. In the end game what it comes down to is that your spending 60$ on a puzzle game. You could be spending that on something that'll give you more time and fun, but your kind of wasting it on this. You play a douche character, that doesn't deserve either of those girls, and the gameplay is just lacking. The game play is repetitive and honestly there's not much of a learning curve here.  And if you feel like there is a learning curve, going through the level faster doesn't count, or on a hard difficulty.

Sounds like that's coming from someone that hasn't played the game. To say the game doesn't have a learning curve is absurd and yes it's repetitive in the sense that you have the same objective each level but it stays fairly fresh by changing the puzzles with different blocks and of course the bosses. The game is at least 12 hours long and has 8 different endings so I hardly see how that's bad value for money and at least it 's something different. If you're going to complain about something with Catherine don't make it the price because it just makes you look like a cretin. There's plenty of games with <5 hour campaigns at $60, yes some have multiplayer but just as many don't. 
 
I finished Dead Space 2 on hardcore in 5 hours and 25 minutes (exact) and thought the multiplayer was terrible. It was still a good experience though so I didn't mind the $60 price tag, my Catherine playthrough was almost 3 times as long and it was definitely more interesting than Dead Space is. (as good as Dead Space 2 was, it was just another shooter in a way) 
 
Dead Space 2 isn't the best example as I had to complete it once in order to unlock hardcore mode but if I was just playing that game on normal then hot damn I could have finished it even faster I bet. (I was actually taking it quite slow on my hardcore run)
 
Keep at it nuthuggers.
 

@vCOOKIE_MONSTAv

said:

the only reason this game got the attention it did is because it's about sex. you can use other adjectives to describe the sex, or justify the sex. but, when it comes down to it, the game got the attention it did because of sex. and sex sells... or at least appeals.


It's not about sex. There's no sex at all in the game nor is it even referenced. 
 
Try harder next time?
 
Wow that's enough idiocy for me. I think I'll stay clear of big review threads from here on out.
Posted by Little_Socrates

Sad that the score didn't grab Jeff like it has a lot of people. Just like Persona 4, one of the best things about this game is Shoji Meguro's amazing score.

Posted by Roger778

I played the demo for the game, and did not found it interesting at all.  The voice acting for the cutscenes was very dull, and I didn't enjoy the climbing up the tower levels.  It seemed to similar to Q-bert. 
 
Sorry, but I'm going to pass on this one.  I love originality, but a game like this needs to be fun to play, and I didn't find the demo for the game fun at all.
Posted by MagikGimp

Jeff seems to be the only reviewer not liking Catherine. Perhaps it's his also not so eager opinions of Anime (what with it being for jerks and all?)

Posted by TheVideoHustler

About 20 minutes into the game, I was looking for a button to let me watch it, instead of play it. After not finding that button, I just gave up and played Deus Ex again.

Posted by miva2

I just got the Stray Sheep Edition. now this is a cool special edition, especially with an extra artbook&soundtrack. I hope the game will be cool. I guess i'll play it in multiple shorter sessions, might get a better experience that way :)

@Sooty said:

@zameer said:

:( Was kinda expecting a 3 star review given what you said on the podcast. Guess I'll wait for this to go on sale then.

Interestingly, KVO gave an 8.5 for this game so I'm pretty sure it should appeal to some people.

The game's great and getting damn good scores everywhere else including user reviews. I'll just ignore this review as I do most these days.

I've seen many bad ones too :(

Posted by AthleticShark

lol

Posted by Athadam

I agree with Jeff 95% of the time and Catherine is the other 5%. I had an absolutely amazing time with it from beginning to end, I just never wanted to put down the controller until my body forced me to go to bed.

Seeing as how Jeff liked Persona 4 so much, I don't recognize why he doesn't seem to be into Catherine. They both have a similar appeal - if you like well-written stories in games and making tough decisions that result in multiple endings, this game is for you.

You can find this game now for 20 or so dollars - so there's little excuse to deprive yourself of Catherine. Don't like block puzzles? Well, Catherine's puzzle design is pretty unique and challenging. Catherine starts off quite simple, gets much harder, but eases off later in the game. If you're still intimidated, you can always play it on Easy or even find the secret Very Easy mode to basically skip the puzzle elements.

At its core, I enjoyed Catherine because of the characters, storyline, music, atmosphere, dialogue, and art/style. Although its the subject of much complaint, the puzzle difficulty is justified in the game through story sequences (other characters have a hard time solving them too and fall to their deaths). The game's biggest fault is in its repetitive nature, you go to the same bar and keep seeing the same set pieces again and again.

But as you progress, the animated cutscenes make the challenge well worth it.

Posted by davidh219

This review actually got me to ignore this game for quite awhile. Well, not just the review. I was interested, then I found out that it's a game about block puzzles, and then Jeff gave it two stars, and I was like, "I'll pass." But me and a buddy picked it up on PSN and took turns playing it over a long weekend and I thought it was pretty awesome. The cutscenes/story are decent, but I already knew they would be. But I was so surprised by how deep and interesting the block puzzle aspect of it actually was. It starts out pretty simple, but when they started adding in ice blocks I was 100% sold. It makes you do counter-intuitive things to get through. You can't walk on ice blocks without sliding off the edge, but you can shimmy along the side, or pull a block along the path instead of just walking. It's one of the best puzzle games I've ever played, and I don't understand how anyone can think different after playing through the first half of the game. To each his own.

Posted by DostoyevskysShamblingCorpse

Just finished Catherine. Amazing.

It's just a shame Jeff's family was killed by falling blocks!