My Love/Hate Relationship With Catherine
Written Tuesday, February 14, 2012 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Never have I loved and loathed a game as much as I do Catherine. In a way, the game’s protagonist and his love interests are a metaphor for the game itself. On the one hand, Vincent’s girlfriend, Katherine – with a K – is boring, serious, dull and a little intense, while on the other hand, Catherine – with a C – is vibrant, fun, engaging, playful and a little crazy. Obviously that wasn’t Altus’ intention from the get go – or at least I hope it wasn’t – but if I had to sum it all up in a nutshell, that’d be how I’d do it.
Rather than write a review for a game that us Europeans have only just gotten our hands on last week, but the rest of the world has had for what seems like an eternity (since July last year, in reality), I thought I’d write more of an opinion piece on it instead... You know, because I’m full of opinions.
Understanding Catherine in terms of a game is probably more complex than it should be, especially with our fascination to pigeonhole everything into specific genres these days. At its core, it’s a clumsy puzzle game that unintentionally frustrates with its difficulty levels and finicky controls, but dig a little deeper and you’ve got one of the more deep and powerful tales we’ve seen spun in video games in quite some time.
It’s easy to write-off Catherine if you’ve only spent a few hours with it, as the game’s sharp difficulty curve in its puzzle arenas is rather brutal. Heck, after stage two I was already threatening to embed the controller in the dry wall and go to town on the nearest cushion with the sharpest blade I could lay my hands-on. It’s not just about the difficulty of the puzzles though; the controls can often be as finicky and awkward, especially in the “boss” sequences that constantly sees the camera pan out to inconvenient camera angles while showering random dangers down upon the player. In fact, it’s the first game in what must be ten years in which I’ve had to drop the difficulty down to easy just to get through it. Ah, good ol’ Japan. Sure, as you play it more and learn new techniques and so on, it becomes easier, but as you near the conclusion, you’re tasked with unforgiving puzzle sections that punish every misstep. I like a challenge, but I value my sanity more. Sure, there is a game to master here, but you’re effectively on your own for long periods of time trying to hone your skills.
That said, should you get to grips with the game’s puzzle aspects, Catherine is one of the most rewarding games that you’re likely to play in recent years. It’s a clever little title as well, littered with imagery, metaphors and humorous one-liners all relating to the wonderful journey that is life. The game’s puzzle stages – which take the form of Vincent’s nightmares – are delivered in typical Japanese style with some crazy over-the-top story justification, and littered with shrewd metaphors that could very well pass most players by. Whether you’re talking about the constant sheep references – the nightmare sequences are littered with them – being a metaphor for the rat race, conformity and being a blind follower of the “herd;” or even the block climbing puzzles being a metaphor for our constant growth as people; it’s all one wonderfully written affair.
It’s as deep as games get in the 21st century too; tackling real-life problems, dilemmas and for once it’s not about saving the world. It’s about one man, his problems and his inability to settle down. It’s a game that tackles real-life issues, allowing you to put yourself in the shoes of the lead character, if only for a minute, and gives you a stark – and frankly honest – look at relationships, commitment, fidelity and the weakness and vulnerability of men. It’s one of few games in recent years that has me compelled to play through it multiple times just to see the numerous different outcomes – of which there are eight. In the space of the weekend, I’ve seen all 8 of those already, and hardly any of them disappoint.
The problem with Catherine though is that the barrier to entry is so exceedingly high that unless you feel compelled by the plot early on – which is unlikely as it takes a while to set the scene – you’re likely to put the pad down and never play it again. That right there, is a shame, because beneath its brutal and clumsy core beats the heart of a game that tackles more of life’s issues than all of this generation’s games put together. With a fresh art style, plenty of creativity and trademark Japan zaniness, Catherine is a Japanese game that could easily resonate with a Western gamer. How far you get down the rabbit hole though depends on your tolerance for pain and frustration. Again, it's another metaphor for life, albeit another rather unintentional one.
Have you played it yet? How did you get on with it? Or did the frustrating puzzles and finicky controls get too much before you put down the pad indefinitely. Sound off in the comments.