I rarely come across a game that doesn't tote a muscle-toned guy going against an alien race, an elf in need of assistance in an enchanted forest, or a soldier and his team of highly-trained soldiers taking on terrorism all over the world. In comes Catherine, one of the most unique experiences I have ever got my hands on. Much like the seductive in-game Catherine, the game sticks out of the crowd by telling a mature and sexy story with dark undertones, and gives a puzzle experience that will put even the most hardcore of puzzle players to the test.
You play the game as Vincent Brooks, an easy going guy with a new job, a steady girlfriend, and not much excitement; which happens to be just the way he likes it. His world gets turned upside down when his girlfriend Katherine hints at taking that next step in their relationship, which is getting married. His freakout leads him to his favorite bar to get wasted, where he ultimately meets and beds the exotic and lustful Catherine. Every night following, he gets thrust into the world of Nightmares where everyone is turned into a sheep. His only way to survive is to climb levels comprised of blocks that must be pushed and pulled in order to make a clear way up. It's a crazy story to wrap your head around, but ultimately makes you want to keep pushing forward to see Vincent through.
The game is comprised of two very distinct parts: The bar scene and climbing the nightmare towers. Before each night, you spend your time in the Stray Sheep bar, conversing with your fellow buddies, learning about the strange deaths of men during their sleep, receiving and sending text messages to both Katherine and Catherine, playing the arcade game, and getting drunk. The best part is that everything has a purpose. Talking to your friends lets you get some more insight into Vincent as they reminisce about their past and talk about where they are in life. Talking to the random bar attendees gives you more insight into the workings of the Nightmare world when you realize a lot of the patrons also share this same nightmare. Text messaging each girl tips your morality meter (which has an effect on how the game ends), playing the arcade game will brush up your tower climbing skills as the game is the same (only now you're a prince climbing the tower to save Rapunzel), and getting wasted actually gives you a speed boost in climbing the stages during each nightmare.
Once you leave the bar, you're left to fight for your life as you scale tower after tower of movable blocks. The principle is simple: push or pull blocks to make stairways that Vincent can keep climbing to get to the top. That simplicity get's thrown out the window when you actually have to adjust these blocks in a level where it's either slowly crumbling beneath you, or a giant boss that resembles Vincent's current fears is trying to chase and mutilate you. It's an exhilarating experience that is hard to explain in words just how awesome it really is. It will have your heart pumping and your hands sweating, but it's worth all of that every time you make that successful leap out of danger.
Separating each tower are small floating islands where the various "sheep" seek refuge and catch a breath before scaling the next tower. This is a great place to find out new strategies for block placement from the other sheep, as well as find out how these sheep parallel the people you meet in the Stray Sheep bar. Right before you set off to climb the next tower, you get asked a question such as "Does life begin, or end at Marriage?" Depending on your answer, your morality meter will shift towards the appropriate side, Catherine or Katherine.
The only problem—which happens to be one that cost me many retries—is the controls. They're generally responsive when actually scaling the tower, but they are very confusing when hanging off the ledges of blocks. Pressing left will move Vincent left behind the block, but continuing to hit left will then move him back to the right for some reason. Even when shifting the camera to be able to see either the side of each level, the controls stay the same, which means you're then pressing left to shimmy to the right. It's a slight annoyance that had me falling to my doom more times than I would like, but doesn't at all break the overall experience.
The game has amazing replay value, as the morality meter and your final answers will give you various endings. Not only that, but you can also access the Colosseum after beating the main story; it is a competitive multiplayer mode that pits two sheep against each other in a race to scale the tower the fastest. Babel mode is a series of even harder challenges that will truly test your puzzle solving skills to the max.
The fact is, there isn't a game out that can be compared to Catherine. With its crazy and mature storyline and intense, fast-paced, puzzle gameplay, it belongs in everyone's collection.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]
Parent's Spin Do not...I repeat, DO NOT let any child under 17 play Catherine. The game drops the f-bomb continuously, and the sexually explicit plot and accompanying scenes don't leave much to the imagination. The violence isn't a deal-breaker, as it's mostly just blood splatters from blocks crushing you, but with partial nudity, strong language, and use of alcohol, this game deserves its M (Mature) rating. Granted, there are parents that will buy it for their young teens that can handle mature themes, but if you're asking if the game is appropriate for someone not about to graduate high school, then then answer is no.