Also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 01/03/2020 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
With Catherine getting an expanded and enhanced port for PS4 and Xbox One, I was sorely tempted to pick up this definitive edition and finally see what all the fuss is about with Atlus’s tower climbing puzzle adventure. Then I remembered that I’m poor and already have the original release on 360, so I figured I’d just play that version instead of spending more money I don’t have. From what I’ve read, the re-release has another character that adds some pretty major points to the story, but whatever; beggars can’t be choosers, and public teachers in North Carolina are definitely beggars.
You play as Vincent, a guy in his early 30s who is, by all accounts, a pretty good dude but with a serious complacency problem. He’s in a long term relationship with Katerine, but while she clearly wants marriage, Vincent fits the stereotype of guy-who’s-terrified-of-commitment. Every night, Vincent meets up with his friends at the Stray Sheep bar, but one night he meets this young, flirtatious blonde named Catherine. Then, night after night, he starts having dreams about being trapped in his world full of talking sheep and being forced to climb a massive tower or die. What could this all mean? Who is Catherine? Why is everyone a sheep?
The underlying theme in Catherine is order vs chaos. Most games that introduce choice mechanics are on a good vs bad dichotomy, but Catherine’s choices aren’t so cut and dry. Sometimes the choice that seems “good” will swing you towards the chaos alignment, and the choices that swing you towards the order alignment sometimes seem kind of harsh. I don’t see this as a flaw so much as a commentary that life isn’t as easily discernible as black and white as a lot of us sometimes make it out to be.
For the first three quarters or so of the game, the story is fantastic. It’s got a solid romantic drama vibe going that really hooks the player and keeps them coming back to find out what happens next. The last part of the game, however, starts to weaken quickly. Once the secrets behind the game’s goings-on are revealed, it gets kind of disappointing. Not bad, per se, but much less intriguing and captivating than it had previously been.
The actual gameplay starts off pretty simple to ease you into the puzzle-solving, but after the first nights, it gets downright brutal. The bosses especially can be exceptionally challenging. What I have to note, however, is that the game never feels unfair. There are enough continues that it never feels insurmountable provided that you have the perseverance to keep trying until you figure it out. You’ll need quick reflexes to solve some of the later puzzles, but it’s totally doable.
Catherine was a frustrating experience at times, but it was an extremely rewarding experience. The puzzles really make you work your spatial reasoning skills, but they do so in a way that encourages you to keep trying rather than getting frustrated and giving up through checkpoints and retries. I can’t speak for the improvements and additions that were added in the PS4 and Xbox One remasters, but the original releases on PS3 and Xbox 360 are still totally worth playing in 2020, so I can only imagine that the polished and enhanced ports are even better.