Have you ever played a video game that was so different in theme from what you're used to that it mildly messes with you acceptance of popular trends in gaming? That happened to me a few weeks ago when I played the demo for Catherine, a very Japanese puzzle game with a mature theme that pretty much sold me after about five minutes. After spending some quality time with the full game, I can honestly say that Catherine is probably the most original thing on the shelf at your local Gamestop. Oh yeah, Catherine is a lot of fun as well.
In Catherine, the player assumes the role of Vincent, a man at a crossroads in his life. You see, Vincent has been dating a woman named Katherine for 5 years and she's pressuring him to take that next step, he's having cold feet though. One night at his local bar, Stray Sheep, he is approached by a younger woman named Catherine (yeah, things get weird really quick), and he wakes up next to her in his bed. Somehow, Vincent doesn't remember anything, and he is plagued with thoughts of how he should get this new woman out of his life. While this is going on in Vincent's daily life, he is having nightmares that will kill him in real life if he dies during them.
These Nightmares are what make up the meat of Catherine's gameplay. Each Nightmare is separated into a series of tower puzzles that require the player to maneuver blocks to climb to higher points. there are several hazards besides gravity to contend with, like sheep that are climbing the tower seeking the same freedom you are, trap blocks and ice blocks that will send a player crashing to the ground below. at the end of every Nightmare, or series of levels, players have to evade a boss that is in pursuit of Vincent. these can range from a giant baby, to the mutated "lady parts" of some woman.
There are a total of 8 stages or "Nightmares" in the game, and combining this with the story elements between them, the game can be pretty long. The gameplay between levels takes place at The Stray Sheep, the neighborhood bar where Vincent meets Catherine for the first time. Players can talk to bar patrons, play and arcade game called "Rapunzel" that serves as a practice mode for the Nightmare stages, and gain interesting information the can give clues to the identities of the other sheep in the Nightmares. I can't go into a lot of detail on the story, but it takes an incredible turn towards the end.
Over the years, we've gotten a lot of games that tried to act as interactive movies, and sometimes these games take very peculiar turns , but Catherine is very consistent. It starts strange, and ends strange, and it all feels well written and executed. Catherine has proven how great storytelling can advance a puzzle game of all things. I was highly impressed, and highly recommend Catherine to anybody wanting something a little off the beaten path of current gen gaming.