Catherine furnishes unique, refreshing adventure

There is a hotly-debated topic within the sphere of video gaming that pits the traits and qualities that define Western and Japanese games against one another, though this may often devolve to online flame wars or passionate debates among friends. While the general decline of quality in Japanese games published in the U.S should be noted, Catherine is a refreshing and unique exception to this trend. It is difficult to pin Catherine into any particular game category or genre, mixing parts from puzzle, dating simulations and adventure gaming into an entirely unforgettable experience.
Far removed from fantasy elves and space marines, the story of Catherine takes the peculiar narrative direction of being a play within a game. The player follows the unspectacular tale of Vincent Brooks, a 32 years old software engineer whose life becomes especially convoluted within the span of a week. He lives alone in a crummy apartment, hangs out nightly with his friends to drink and is suddenly finding himself pressured by his longtime girlfriend, a very mature and responsibility-driven woman named Katherine, into marriage.
While drinking on his own at a local watering hole to contemplate his situation, a mysterious, gorgeous girl arrives from out of his fantasies to sit down with him. One thing leads to another, though Vincent can’t remember what exactly happens, which ends up with him waking up in bed next to a very affectionate damsel named Catherine. As if things weren’t already troublesome enough however, Vincent also begins to have ghastly nightmares involving his personal anxieties, talking sheep and climbing inexplicably towers made out of magical blocks.
There is an odd mixture of the mundane and mysterious at work within Catherine that makes it such an engaging experience. Despite the risqué cover art and promotional material, the story is mostly mature in the sense that it that holds themes that many adults themselves can relate to. Yet there is a fantastical element at work here that compels the player to actually sit through the lengthy cut scenes and dialogue, as the wonderful voice acting work and sharp, stylish graphics also enhance the game’s presentation. Parts of the game are drawn in a fetching 2D animation style while the majority of the game’s graphics are rendered in an interesting cel-shaded style.
The decisions that Vincent makes during his waking hours have a crucial impact on the story as well as the nightmare stages. Not only do cut scenes tend to happen at this point, but Vincent can also talk to numerous characters to affect their actions and outcomes, play an arcade game, receive and send text messages and other seemingly minor details that flesh out the world.
The way the characters interact with Vincent, from being wistful and contemplative, to judgmental and harsh, along with their own troubles make the environments feel rich in character and detail.
Catherine also possesses challenge, competitive and co-op modes for players to further hone their skills and attempt for high scores in various stages, while also offering the option to skip stages that have been completed at a sufficiently high score in subsequent play through.
This makes the process of running through the game for the nine different endings far less of a chore if one is truly set on seeing every possibility.
On that note, the morality issue here isn’t as horribly black and white as it tends to be in other games where ethical choices are made. The impacts of these choices aren’t immediately apparent, but can result in some decisive changes through the story. Granted, most players will likely feel like taking the straight and faithful path in having Vincent stick with his long-time girlfriend, but situations and events arise that effectively call these decisions into question.
The puzzles can be frustrating even on the easy mode, but whet a player’s appetite for adversity. The cut scenes roll by, but keep the player interested enough to stop from skipping through them. Half of the game thrills the logical, ordered side of the mind while the other half evokes intrigue and drama, creating an unusual, enchanting balance unlike so many other games in the past years.

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