Release Date: July 26, 2011
Publisher: Atlus
ESRB Rating: Mature

Catherine is Atlus’s first internally developed game for the current console generation. Atlus, a Japanese developer probably best known for the Shin Megami Tensei series of games, has also been making a name for itself as a publisher of quirky titles and for localizing niche imports. Catherine definitely fits in with the majority of Atlus’s catalog, as the game oozes a style and charm not commonly found in games developed stateside. Oh, and it’s completely bizarre.

Our hero is Vincent, a 32-year-old in a dead end job, who is at a turning point in his life. His long-time girlfriend Katherine is starting to drop hints about marriage. Vincent hasn’t put much thought into the future and it’s obvious that he is conflicted about the idea of settling down. The anxiety gives him a nightmare in which he’s a sheep being chased by something, and he must climb a tower or die. But when he wakes up to reports of men his age dying in their sleep, he starts to wonder about the true nature of the nightmares.

As if that wasn’t enough, the waking world is no picnic either. After a night drowning his sorrows and another round of horrifying dreams, Vincent wakes up alongside a woman 10 years his junior who is oddly enough also named Catherine. Slowly a morality play unfolds as Vincent spends his days juggling the two women and sorting out what he truly wants in his life. Most of this is done at the local bar, Stray Sheep. Here Vincent will talk to his friends and fellow patrons about current events; mostly the mysterious deaths and what might be causing them. There are also a couple of diversions in the form of a jukebox loaded with tracks from other Atlus games and a surprisingly good arcade game called Rapunzel. Oh, you can also get your drink on, since for some reason the drunker you get while you’re awake, the faster you move in the dream.

No matter how you waste your time at the local bar though, Vincent inevitably ends up at home and asleep. Every night he finds himself in the nightmare realm, climbing as fast as he can and trying to outpace the monsters behind him. This is where the majority of the actual game’s play takes place and where Catherine reveals itself to be a solid and engaging puzzle-platformer. Vincent negotiates the towers that he’s forced to ascend by pulling and pushing the blocks that the tower is made of. There are several different block types, such as blocks that crumble away after being climbed on, immovable blocks and ice blocks-just to name a few, all of which will aid or impede Vincent in attaining his goal. He’s not alone in his dreams either as several talking sheep are all being put through similar trials. If you encounter them while climbing, they’re likely to get in your way or even try to knock you aside.

On the occasional resting area though, Vincent’s fellow sheep will talk to him to trade climbing techniques or to sell him items. Yes, talking sheep. I did say the game was bizarre. In any case, talking sheep wouldn’t be able to keep me from the truly addictive and sometimes frustratingly challenging action found here. In fact, I’d probably still play the game if it had disembodied voices asking you personal questions and awkward text message conversations with girls. Oh wait, it does.

There’s not really much I have to say that’s negative. Catherine was released in Japan about six months ago, so this is a localization. As such, there are the occasional lines that don’t quite hit the mark, or a gag that falls flat, but for the most part the translation is solid. The controls can be a little touchy sometimes (hint: try using the D-pad instead). Catherine is definitely aimed solely at the mature gamer. It’s fraught with strong language, sexual situations, some of the methods in which Vincent can die while climbing are spectacularly violent, and it has an obviously adult storyline revolving around relationships, marriage and infidelity. If you can wrap your head around all that though, you can expect puzzle-platforming that is as challenging and fun as anything out there since the hard-to-find Playstation gem Intelligent Qube. With three difficulty levels, about 20 hours of gameplay and half a dozen different endings, Catherine will keep you climbing for days.

Call your local Slackers location to snatch up a copy of this game! It’s available for the PS3 and Xbox 360! Online Phonics Reading Program