Holiday Revisit: Catherine

As the holidays approach, Leviathyn is here to help you remember some of the great games of 2011 with some mini-reviews. Jot these titles down on your shopping list and enjoy some quality gaming. Happy holidays!

When Ron and Stephen told me about the Holiday Revisits, there was one game that popped into my mind: Catherine. This is a game that took me completely by surprise. This time last year, if you had said to me: “Jason, in December 2011, one of your favorite games from the previous 12 months will be Catherine,” I’d have laughed in your face. An off-the wall puzzle game with a love triangle, a soundtrack of remixed classical music, and anthropomorphic sheep-men running around? No thanks, I thought. After a while, I started to do some research, and I thought “well, maybe I’ll give it a shot, see what it’s like. Can’t hurt, right?”

Holy sweet merciful crap, was I blown away. Catherine is excellent in every way, from that classical-remix soundtrack to the outstanding puzzle gameplay. This is a must-play.

Even though the graphics look like they’d only cater to the Anime Kiosk crowd, the look is a great mix of hand-drawn anime beauty and full 3D models in the anime look. While most of the game is in the 3D-model style, the main scenes look like they belong in an otaku’s prized DVD collection. It’s like playing an anime, and what’s wrong with that? Also, I know I keep talking about the soundtrack, but it’s EXCELLENT, from the Chopin Funeral March to Bizet’s Farandole. These are tunes you’ve heard before, especially if you’re a Looney Tunes fan, but you’ve NEVER heard them like this. Incredible stuff.

The story is a love triangle for the ages, yet it is a tale told (and lived, I’m sure) many times before. You play as Vincent Brooks, a man who lives a pointless life. Every day is the game: go to work, meet his friends at the local watering hole, go to bed, and do it again. He does has a steady girlfriend of 5 years, Katherine (notice the K), but she’s a successful, driven woman with big plans for the future. Vincent thinks he’s being forced into commitment, but his life is soon turned upside down by Catherine (yup, there’s the C), a blonde bombshell who ends up in Vincent’s bed the first time they meet. Now he’s torn between two lives: the married, mundane life or the carefree, live-free-or-die attitude. Tough choice, that, and one that the player will decide through decisions made in the game. Prefer Katherine and keeping the commitment you began with? Make the right decisions and be a good guy. Want to give the crazy life a try with Catherine? Make not-so-nice decisions. It’s all up to you player, and what a wonderful position to be in.

The gameplay has two major parts: the “nightmare” puzzle stages and the scenes at the bar. While at the bar, players can talk to other characters, order drinks, play music in the jukebox, and even play an arcade game styled just like the “nightmares.” All of this sounds plain, but these scenes are crucial in building the story of the game, as well as setting up the forthcoming nightmare scenes. The puzzles are half-genius and half-maddening, making players move blocks around in order to climb a tower. The game will teach you a number of techniques to use while climbing, and some of them will really bail you out so long as you remember them. If you forget any, one of the sheep-men will be glad to remind you.

Look, I know it sounds crazy, climbing a nightmare tower while sheep run around on two legs and try to climb with you, but believe me when I say that Catherine is simply a wonderful game. The graphics and music will be a treat to your eyes and ears. The puzzles will keep you wanting more. Most importantly, the choice-based story progression begs for multiple playthroughs. Catherine is one of the biggest surprises of the year, and in a good way. I’d be willing to bet your face will look like Vincent’s below when you’re done.