by Keaton Arksey, reviewed on
Love Is A Battlefield
Love is a popular topic for our culture. Romeo and Juliet remains one of the most popular works of literature hundreds of years after it was written. Movies about love and relationships are as common as a pigeon, bringing in millions of dollars whenever they’re released. Poets from as far back as the Ancient Greeks have mused on love. Love is commonly expressed through music. As Huey Lewis & the News sang, “make one man weep, make another man sing”. One of Pat Benetar’s greatest hits, Love is a Battlefield, remains a classic. But as it turns out, love is not a battlefield, but a puzzle game, and a damn hard one at that.
Catherine is the first game on the current generation of platforms by Atlus’ Persona team, who (if the title wasn’t already a dead giveaway) developed the Shin Megami Tensai: Persona games. Character designer Shigenori Soejima described it as “adult-oriented” and he was certainly correct. Looking at images of the games’ titular character with the concept of “adult-oriented”, your mind may lead to certain conclusions, but not so. While Catherine does have its fair share of risqué (though never on the verge of hentai) images, Catherine also gives a surprisingly deep and mature tale of love.
Vincent has been dating his current girlfriend, Katherine, for several years now, and she begins to ask questions about marriage. Vincent would like to keep things simple and isn’t 100% sure he’s ready for marriage, but he does care about Katherine. Unfortunately for him, one drunken night at the bar leads to him going home with a blonde bombshell who also happens to be named Catherine, who doesn’t believe in marriage and tells Vincent he should do as he pleases. If the fact that Vincent cheated on his girlfriend wasn’t enough, a string of mysterious deaths involving young men reporting strange dreams has spread throughout the city. Gameplay occurs primarily throughout these dream sequences. Vince finds himself clad only in boxers, sprouting horns out of his head and forced to climb upwards to escape falling. Along with Vincent are other anthropomorphic sheep, who in reality are other people who are just perceived as Vincent as sheep. Should Vincent or a sheep die in the dream, they die in real life. As it turns out, everyone who is forced into these nightmares has the connection of being unfaithful to women, but other than that mysteries abound as to why exactly they’ve been put there.
During these gameplay segments Catherine is a puzzle game. Vincent must use blocks to create a path so he can climb upward, all while the bottom sections are falling into the abyss. Vincent can only climb one block at a time under normal circumstances, so creating stairs is the most basic of techniques. That may sound simple but when you add in Dark Blocks that Vincent can’t pull out, Ice Blocks that can cause you to slip off the edge resulting in an instant death, and Bomb Blocks that will explode several seconds after being stepped on damaging nearby blocks and possibly destroying them in the process; the game quickly becomes strategic. Fellow sheep will become obstacles, as two people cannot stand on the same block at once, and some will even actively go out of their way to stop you from climbing up. Thankfully there are some items that can help you out, like pillow cases that give you more retries should you die, bells that turn all the blocks into normal ones, and books that can destroy all other sheep (just ignore the fact that you’re basically killing other people). While you don’t unlock new techniques, throughout the game you can discuss with other sheep between levels and learn new techniques that you may have been unaware of before. The little sections between levels also serve as an opportunity to save, talk to your fellow sheep, and purchase items with coins you have collected. What seems like a simple puzzle game actually has a surprising amount of depth to it, and you’ll need to make use of almost every technique if you hope to survive. While it might not seem like it, the puzzle gameplay is surprisingly addictive. Don’t be surprised that when you close your eyes to go to sleep at night, all you can think about is pulling out blocks to climb higher.
Catherine, essentially based on a grid, controls well. For every time you press right, Vincent will move one block right. There may be times you do something you didn’t want to, but that’s usually the result of panicking and moving too fast. When you are given free control of Vincent during the between-floor segments and during his time at the Stray Sheep, things can seem a bit loose, but it’s never a problem given how you have all the time in the world to do as you please.
Mature and thought provoking story, addictive and deep puzzles, great characters, utterly unique
Can be unforgiving with its difficulty