|Platforms||PlayStation 3, Xbox 360|
|MtAMinutes to Action||7|
|Buy from Amazon|
We’ve played our share of unique games here at First Hour, but Catherine is in a league of its own. With adult-oriented anime scenes about love, marriage, and infidelity splitting time between fast-paced, psychological horror block puzzles, Catherine is... different. The game opens with a television show framing device, dives into our hero’s nightmares, and is apparently pursued by two women named Katherine and Catherine.
Developed by Atlus and released a year ago for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, Catherine was well received by the press but noted for its oddities. These types of games often are not seen outside of Japan, but Atlus made a gamble which reportedly has paid off, with Catherine being their best North American launch ever.
As we move beyond our fifth birthday, I’ll be making some changes to my first hour review format. I’m going to cut most of the big “minute by minute” section which (sometimes tediously) detailed the happenings of the game. Instead I’ll call out the game’s strengths and weaknesses section by section much like Nate does. So without further ado, here’s the first hour of Catherine for the PlayStation 3.
01 - The game starts with a full minute of loading, off to a great start.
03 - Pretty flashy cutscene to open things, various parodies of famous movies including The Ring. Then a woman with a huge afro introduces the story of Catherine and the main character Vincent. Cutscenes of the show/game are on a TV next to her.
07 - Get control in Vincent’s dream. Two different voices tell me what to do, but if I don’t climb, I’ll die. I just push on the D-pad to move around and climb, I need to push the boxes I’m ascending to create giant stairs and walkways. The boxes below me collapse to the abyss a few levels below me.
12 - I’m near the top when I fall to my death. “Love is over.” … And I’m back at the beginning.
15 - Make it to the top and head through a door. Giant hands appear and freak Vincent out. I get some score calculated with how much level hadn’t collapsed below me. More cutscenes start that flip between anime scenes and 3D scenes. Vincent meets with Katherine for lunch, some bros for dinner, and a blonde at the bar.
28 - Time for more climbing... and falling to my death.
38 - I’ve made it to some mid-level where a bunch of sheep are milling about. The sheep tell me that everyone here is human but we all look like sheep to each other. Odd. I enter a confessional that asks me whether marriage is the beginning or the end. After that it’s time to climb more, this time competing with other sheep who I can knock off.
58 - After more climbing, more falling, another confessional, and an intense chase by a woman’s hand wielding a fork, I make it to the top of stage 2. The Hallelujah Chorus starts playing.
60 - Vincent wakes up in bed next to the girl who joined him at the bar, oh oh.
Minutes to Action: 7
Catherine is a weird combination of anime and box climbing puzzles, if you don’t like either of them, then this game is not for you. But since most of us have never played a strict box climbing game, well, it’s a frantic puzzler where death, experimentation, and frustration is a common occurrence.
The climbing aspects of Catherine are odd, you’re encouraged to think multiple steps ahead but are often limited in what you can see above and below you. Backtracking is a requirement, and an annoyance as the level falls out below you. Catherine is pretty generous in explaining new strategies though, but the videos make them look way too obvious and simple. I wouldn’t have minded for some very basic tutorial setups to help me grasp some of the stair building techniques.
I was actually expecting quite a few more anime scenes to fill the hour, and was relieved at first when the focus switched back to the gameplay, but after a solid 30 minutes of climbing and struggling, I really wanted to see more of the story. Thanks to a lot of puzzling and the opening frame story that cut into 10% of the hour, we’re left with a scant 12 minutes of Vincent’s plot. Couple this with my initial confusion between Katherine and Catherine, and I feel like I know nothing about the man whose dreams I played in for an hour.
I really like Catherine’s art style, and it manages to maintain it consistently between the real anime scenes, the 3D anime-based cutscenes, and the climbing gameplay, which is kind of a cool feat that is only possible with this generation of hardware.
Bias: Going in I felt I would have a bias against the amount of anime scenes, but that actually wasn’t a problem in the end. And while I didn’t have a bias against box climbing games in the past, can’t say I’m the biggest fan of the them now.
Would I Keep Playing? No, but I wouldn’t mind watching more. I feel a little weird admitting I’m more interested in the game’s story than any of the gameplay, especially since I really enjoyed Heavy Rain, but at least in that case the gameplay and story were well integrated. But with the such seemingly disparate romance plot and cube climbing, I’m having a hard time rationalizing playing on when I could watch the rest on YouTube.
Ugh, I honestly feel dirty saying that, it’s not a precedence I stand totally behind, but I suppose in some cases it’s okay. Convince me otherwise down below!