Highbrow High Score

The Art of Gaming Intellectually

Catherine Review – Why Must I Be A Dead Dreamer in Love?

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Dreaming men are haunted men – Stephen Vincent Benet

Atlus‘ Romance Horror Puzzle Platformer mixes a lot of elements surprisingly well. A dash of “real world” fears and obligations here stirred vigorously with Jungian theory and punishing puzzle sequences made me read into this game a lot more than I probably should have. “Is that a womb image?” or “What archetype is a sheep?!”

These are not breasts

Ce ne sont pas des seins

Catherine is a unique experience I would recommend to gamers and psych students – if you’re right in the middle of that Venn diagram, I’d image this game would be like psychoanalyzing a wet dream… interesting, frustrating, but overall, mostly about sex.

Or at least the dynamics of our interpersonal relationships. What’s great about Catherine is it takes the subconscious fears of waking life and makes them tangible in a life-or-death surrealist nightmare-scape. While the story is obviously a work of fiction, the inner struggles our hero Vincent has throughout the game are relatable and the situations are at least somewhat familiar.

The basic premise of the story follows a young man who has been in a relationship with his girlfriend Katherine for a long time. It’s clear that she wants to take their relationship more seriously and hints at marriage, while Vincent seems to choke every time the subject is mentioned. And then…he wakes up one morning next to Catherine, a younger, hyper sexual woman he meets at a bar. Coincidentally, we are told there has been a rash of young men dying in their sleep…

We first meet Vincent in a dream. A skinny, dark-haired man in his boxers with what look like ram’s horns on his head, clutching a pillow is supposed to be our hero…

Our leading man

Not the most confidence inspiring...

Vincent’s nightmares are a world in which he and other dreamers that look like sheep to him are forced to climb blocks suspended in air by pushing them to form stairs to reach the end of the dream. The nightmare levels are usually in stages with landings in between each one. The landings are limbo for Vincent and the other sheep, where they can trade techniques for climbing and you can save your progress. After saving and getting tips for survival, there is a “confessional” in which Vincent is asked strange questions before proceeding to the next portion of the dream. As nights go on, the puzzles are more challenging and each nightmare ends with a race to the top against “creatures from below.” One wrong step can cause Vincent to plummet to his death and the gamer can choose to restart the puzzle while the words “Love is Over” are splattered across her screen like Vincent’s blood.

We are rewarded for completing Vincent’s nightmare puzzles with beautifully animated anime sequences as Vincent’s day. In his waking life, he is a normal, hornless man who seems to spend his time waking up next to Catherine (sadly, with little to no memory of what happened the night before), having lunch with Katherine, or having drinks with his boys at their favorite bar, “The Stray Sheep.” The conversations Vincent has and the interesting choices he can make during this time may not be as “active” as the nightmares, but are just as important for their subtext. There are characters Vincent encounters at The Stray Sheep including a group of three friends that appear to represent a wide range of morality and try to advise him in his dilemmas.

What I enjoyed the most in the game’s progression was the innocuous “meter” that appears when Vincent makes a decision or answers a question in the nightmare world’s confessional. Sometimes the decisions may seem inconsequential, but the meter ticks either towards the blue cherub or the pink cherub which are enigmas themselves. The meter also influences how Vincent reacts in certain situations in his waking life – a blue cherub will manipulate a cutscene with a different reaction.

Which choices are “good” or “bad”? If it wasn’t already titled Catherine, Moral Ambiguity would be the name of the game.

As far as gameplay goes – this game can be frustratingly hard. While I normally play games the first time through on “Normal” difficulty, I had to switch to “Easy” when the puzzles got more challenging. The lighter difficulty was still fun and I still managed to see the “Love is Over” screen more times than I would have liked especially as the game came closer to ending.

Love is Over

"Wait... NO NO! Awww Dammit!"

While I would recommend this game, I could see the puzzles becoming monotonous and the “day” scenes perceived as boring – this is unlike many games on the best-sellers list. It could be said that there is not a lot of “action” like that in Gears of War 3 compared to this game and I may not want to replay it as I will Gears; however, like a piece of literature with a compelling storyline, Catherine is a unique experience that makes one reflect on his or her own relationships and how we truly view the people in our lives.

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Written by highbrowhighscore

September 26, 2011 at 10:35 pm

One Response

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  1. Having only played the trial I can say a couple things about this game
    1. The style and art are really fun. Like really really fun.
    2. The controls are kind of annoying, but I’ll credit that to not getting much time on them.
    3. I was reminded of the game Crush.

    Are you always moving up by making stairs from blocks or is there some variety to it?

    D

    September 27, 2011 at 2:40 am


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