Friday, September 2, 2011

Catherine Puzzle Lover's Paradise Or Hell

 First of all, let me say that while I know a lot of you love Atlus games as much as I do, Catherine is not a typical video game. In fact, it is a sliding block puzzle game with a great story woven in. If you're not big on puzzle games, Catherine may not be the video game for you. However, if you genuinely enjoy challenging puzzles and are a puzzle game addict like myself, Catherine definitely gives you your money's worth.

 Catherine is much more than a puzzle game however. The story is definitely what brings everything together. It addresses adult situations, things that people go through or suffer such as, fear of commitment, infidelity, and about how some people are childish and won't take responsibility for their actions. It's a unique title and simply an adult video game because it involves adult situations and the issues we have as we get older.
 The story centers around Vincent Brooks who has a girlfriend by the name of Katherine. They're both in their early thirties and Katherine's biological clock is ticking which she hints at to him by telling him her mother has asked where the relationship is going. Vincent isn't sure he's ready for that level of commitment yet and says as much to his buddies he hangs out with at the local bar.
 One night while hanging out at the bar mulling over a sliding block nightmare he had the night before, he runs into a beautiful blonde bombshell by the name of Catherine. Apparently after blacking out, he wakes up after another nightmare to find that she has spent the night. Of course, Vincent freaks out completely. Now, Vincent has to make a choice between lust and love, have good times with Catherine or finally make a commitment to Katherine.
 Vincent's nightmares continue and even worse, people actually seem to be dying in them.Healthy men in their twenties and thirties are found dead in their beds and there seems to be no reason for it. A rumor goes around that it is a woman cursing all these men for being unfaithful. Is the rumor true? Vincent has to find out, climbing for his life one nightmare at a time.
Vincent Brooks In His Nightmare

 Vincent's nightmares are the heart and soul of the puzzle sections. Every night, he wakes up surrounded by sheep, with horns growing out of his head and a voice taunting him to come up. There are items along the way that help you with the puzzles, but many obstacles as well involving sheep that are trying to climb also as the world crumbles behind them. You have a reason to climb, survival and the inner demons Vincent is struggling with. If you don't climb, you die. One example of this is, there's a giant monster version of Vincent's girlfriend Katherine, trying to grab him and smash the heck out of him. If Vincent's not quick enough to climb all those blocks to the top, he will surely die. 
 Every night, there's a different puzzle with each nightmare and depending on how quickly you get to the top and how many points you get, you can win gold, silver, or bronze trophies. The complexity of the puzzles is very interesting and the story is well written and captures your attention perfectly. It sounds silly, but you actually feel a sense of accomplishment when you have figured out a rather difficult puzzle. 

Solve The Puzzle Or Die Trying

 This brings up the next point. Some of the puzzles in Catherine will make you want to punch every living thing in your path. The difficulty level is excruciatingly high on a variety of them. There's no shame in playing a game on the Easy level. I know I will try a game on Easy first, to get a feel for the controls, to see how well the game plays, and to have a chance to genuinely enjoy the story that is being told. Then I will play again working on all the achievements and trophies, and improving my game scores. This is what I did with Catherine and some of those puzzles made me want to punch whoever designed it right in the face. A challenge is all well and good and definitely in a puzzle game, but when the game is on the Easy setting and it's still making you weep bitter tears of defeat, that is a big problem.  Don't believe me? Apparently the difficulty level was such a destroyer of worlds, that the Japanese gamers complained about it. Frankly, that said quite a lot to me about how high Atlus raised the bar on these puzzles. The complaints were so many, that Atlus promised to put a patch in that would make the game much less difficult  on Easy. I do understand their reasoning that they wanted the game to be challenging, so that players could reap huge rewards when they solved a puzzle, but the Easy setting in a game should be just that, easy and not throw people into the deep end with a sink or swim attitude. That's what the Hard and Nightmare settings are for. 
 However, there is hope! There is a secret trick to get to a Very Easy mode. It's a secret that Atlus put in to make the game a cake walk for players. When you access the main menu of the game, highlight Golden Playhouse and hold the back or select button for a few seconds. The screen will flash with a prompt telling you Very Easy mode has been activated. From there, the puzzles are much easier, and you can actually enjoy the story without those resentful feelings and frustration. It is a nice touch, and I give kudos to Atlus for caring enough about fans of their games to put it in there, because they do want people to enjoy the game. 
 Overalll, the game is great. The story is well thought out and acted out well with a great voice cast. There are also interesting characters that Vincent meets in the bar and can talk to, even help them with their issues. There is also a fun mini game in Catherine, called Rapunzel that is a sliding block puzzle game also that gives you pretty good rewards when you beat all the levels, along with opportunities to unlock music from various Atlus games and the Catherine game to play on the jukebox in the bar. 
 I have always loved the artwork in Atlus video games and Catherine is no exception. Right down to the animated short cut scenes, everything is colorful, seamless, and you really appreciate how everything ties together. The music, the voice cast, and the game play all mesh into a fantastic video game. Catherine is definitely a game worth having in any gaming enthusiast's collection and absolutely worth playing more than once.