Catherine is a puzzle-platformer game with elements of horror through the twisted and terrifying symbolism of its level and enemy designs. You play as Vincent Brooks, a thirty-something man who feels guilty over his affair with a seductive young woman.
Pro Challenging puzzles that constantly make you think on the spot
Catherine is uniquely challenging in the way it blends puzzle-platforming with horror elements. Each stage you encounter is a visualization of the main protagonist Vincent's "nightmare": they're a series of connecting blocks that you push and pull in order to reach the very top and escape from the madness. There are all sorts of different blocks, like ice blocks that cause you to slip and fall, bomb blocks that explore after a short time, spike blocks that shoot out traps to kill you if you stand on top of them for too long, and many more.
And the kicker is that you have limited time, since the blocks gradually fall away to an abyss, keeping you scrambling to stay ahead of the puzzles. You have to be quick on your toes in order to figure out a way forward without letting the ground fall from underneath you. This chasing dynamic adds to the nightmarish quality of the stages, giving you an extra push to think strategically in the shortest amount of time possible.
Pro Your choices lead to multiple different endings
Playing as Vincent Brooks, a hopeless thirty-something man who's unhappy with his life, your decisions throughout the game determine how he turns out in the end. The main drama centers around his indecision to marry his steady, by-the-books girlfriend, Katherine, and his affair with the spontaneous and sexy young woman named Catherine. You can choose if Vincent stays with Katherine or Catherine, or if he goes off on his own way and leaves them both behind. The ways each of these endings play out are all unique and vastly different from each other, so it can be pretty fun to do multiple playthroughs in order to see them all.
Pro Horrifying boss designs with symbolism relevant to the story
The boss designs are clever in how accurate they are. Since they're part of Vincent's nightmares that plague him about his guilt over Katherine and Catherine, the symbolism fits right in with this theme. The boss "fights" themselves involve the boss at the very bottom of the stage chasing you and manipulating certain blocks to slow you down.
One of the bosses is a mutated version of Katherine in a wedding dress, another is a disfigured toddler representing Katherine's desire to have kids with Vincent, and others are certain NSFW depictions of body parts. They're over-the-top on purpose, instilling a shocking fear that makes you want to get away from the boss chasing you and reach the end as soon as possible.
Pro Stylized, artful cutscenes, menus, and imagery
The art style in Catherine is really cool in all the ways it pops out at you. The black and pink motifs are a clear running theme, showing up everywhere from the game's logo, to the menus, and the UI. Cutscenes have a neat anime aesthetic that help them stand out more. You can also find the game's ample imagery and symbolism everywhere, both obvious and subtle, such as the male and female signs, and the puns on "counting sheep in your sleep" with the characters who become sheep in Vincent's dreams as well as the bar named the Stray Sheep. The visuals are all creative with a lot of love and care that went into them.
Pro Great cast of characters that deal with real-life struggles
You can get to know a colorful cast of characters aside from Katherine and Catherine. Every day, Vincent hangs out at a bar called the Stray Sheep where he and his friends drink together and commiserate about their uneventful lives. He can also go talk to other patrons of the bar who have their own problems, and possibly motivate them to change, like two different womanizers who had abusive pasts, a journalist who helped drive a celebrity to commit suicide, and a rich man whose parents won't let him marry his lower class lover. They all deal with some pretty mature and serious issues, but if you choose to help them out, there's usually a light at the end of the tunnel.
Pro Unique soundtrack with rock songs and remixes of classical music
The game's music is a special blend of sounds that all work well together. Fast-paced, frantic stages have rock music with catchy electronica influences. The more serious stages and story moments have cool modern-day remixes of old classics, like the familiar third movement of "Funeral March", and William Tell's Overtures, "The Storm" and "The Ranz des Vaches". Even if you can't remember the songs by name, hearing their renditions in Catherine will probably jog your memory. These tracks really heighten the energy and the drama as you play.
Con A lot of your choices boil down to binary decisions
In the end, the decisions you make aren't all that robust. Most of the choices you make happen in between stages where a narrator asks you certain questions, like whether you personally think it's okay to cheat in relationships. Your responses are usually just yes or no options, which is pretty black-and-white. These choices affect a morality meter that determines which ending you get, but because of how binary your decisions are, you never really get a sense that the system is accurate or insightful. The meter and the questions themselves are just okay, though your mileage will vary on how you feel about them.
Con Might be too hard for players who don't normally play puzzle games
If you're thinking of getting Catherine as your first puzzle game, then you may want to reconsider. Even on the easiest difficulty setting, the game is really tough and tricky to figure out. The hardest part is that you don't have the luxury of time to observe things and find a way forward: you have to keep making snap decisions, one after the other, for several minutes at a time, otherwise you'll fall to your death. The most difficult optional content is also pretty grueling even for the most seasoned veterans. This is definitely one of those games that you play when you want to push yourself with new challenges.
Con Repetitive sound effects can get annoying
There's one small nitpick that can grow to be incredibly irritating as you play. Every time you move a block and connect it to another one by one of its edges, a female announcer says the word "EDGE" in a robotic way. This would be fine every once in a while, except this happens constantly as you situate blocks so that their edges connect for you to climb on top of them. Playing every single stage forces you to hear the same "EDGE" spam from the announcer over and over again. It's prolific enough to have turned into a running joke within the Catherine community online, but it's still really annoying.