“Catherine” is weird and puzzling

Welcome to the Golden Playhouse, where tonight’s show, is hosted by an afro-wearing host. So begins the video game “Catherine,” a game I can only truly describe as weird and puzzling.

Once the Golden Playhouse begins and the host introduces us to the main character, Vincent, we see the world that Vincent lives in. He is a young man in a long-term relationship with a young woman named Katherine. Katherine has just started dropping hints that perhaps their relationship should go a step further. She never quite comes out and mentions marriage, but the intent is there. And just when Vincent is trying to deal with this particular change in their status, Katherine tells him that she thinks she’s pregnant.

Obviously, Vincent goes into freak-out mode. Vincent ends up meeting another woman, Catherine, and ends up having an affair (although he never remembers most of his time with her). Meanwhile, men all over the city are having strange nightmares where they are being forced to climb walls made of blocks. And some of these men are dying.

You know, like that dream where you’re falling and if you hit the ground, you die? “Catherine” is exactly like that.

This video game is a hard one to describe because it both an RPG and a puzzle game. During the RPG elements, you are forced to make decisions that affects the outcome. As there are eight possible endings to the game, you have to make each decision carefully. And I found it very hard to attempt to make what I thought would be the “right” decisions, because, I swear, there were times the game knew I was just outright lying.

But therein lies the beauty of “Catherine.” You never quite really know what’s going on. Or what’s real, for that matter.

Vincent is haunted every night by nightmares. In these nightmares, he is forced to play this weird Qbert sort of game where he has to move blocks to climb up a high wall. Each night consists of several levels and each level grows consistently harder.

But these puzzles turn out to be extremely addictive, if not frustrating, at times. I started on the normal gameplay mode, but about halfway through, had to switch to easy mode. And I’ll admit of using the Xbox 360 cheat of forcing the game into “Very Easy Mode.” (For those of you curious, once you’re at the screen to choose “Golden Theater,” press the back button on your controller until you see “Very Easy Mode Enabled.”)

However frustrating these puzzles get, though, they are a lot of fun to figure out. And I found myself feeling particularly satisfied when I’d beaten the final one.

The one true drawback of the game is that it is extremely chatty. As full of extraneous dialogue. I understand the necessity of telling a story, and perhaps this is a Japanese thing, but there is so much exposition in some scenes that my XBox controller powered down because I had not actually played the game during the long and drawn out cut scenes. The longest, if I estimated correctly, was 45 minutes! Which is, especially when playing something interactive like a video game, downright stupid. If I wanted to watch a movie, I would have put in a movie, right?

The animation of “Catherine” is stylish and is done in that it could equally rival any quality anime series or film. The dubbing was a little off, but I’m assuming that’s because it’s difficult to dub English over what started out as Japanese. With all the dialogue, it can be distracting. The concepts were pretty interesting and I especially liked how the men in the nightmares all appeared as sheep.

Gameplay is straight-forward, although I found myself a little annoyed at camera angles, at times. This is particularly frustrating when you need to look behind the wall of blocks (as blocks are stacked in three dimensions), which is supposedly doable (although I could never really get a good angle to see it).

But I forgive the game for its faults, as well as for the long cut scenes and occasional frustration of trying to move blocks around when a gigantic monster of a baby is chasing Vincent. Because this game was one thing I have not seen in quite some time: different. And in my world, that’s always a good thing.

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