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Three Hours with Catherine
Catherine has just launched in North America, and I deemed it only fitting that I give my initial thoughts on this highly anticipated title. First off, I had high hopes for this game when I first heard about it. The idea of a game with sexy themes by the team behind the Persona series seemed like an awesome prospect. Suffice it to say, I was intrigued when I first heard about Atlus' Catherine, and I was glad to finally play it when it launched.
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Playing the Demo
Before I get into my experience with the full release of Catherine, let me take you back to the game's demo, which was released on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network not too long ago. I was extremely excited to play the demo, and when I finally did, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed. The two puzzle levels in the game didn't exactly leave me with a good impression, and the second stage's difficulty left me wondering if I'd really enjoy the full game once it launched. That said, I was still pretty interested in the story, which was presented in amazing anime visuals. But I asked myself, "Like Puzzle Agent 2, is this going to be a game I only play and enjoy for its story? Or are the puzzles going to be so overwhelming that I can't even enjoy the narrative?"
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Launch Day Arrives
When Catherine launched, I made sure to get to my local GameStop bright and early so that I could pick up my copy of the game. I was still very wary about the puzzler, but I was really looking forward to seeing the story unfold. Sure, there was a possibility that I would hate the gameplay - a big possibility given my experience with the demo - but I was interested to see how Atlus would deliver the plot, and just how crazy the developer could get with its storytelling.
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Playing the Game
Depite my overall feelings for the Catherine demo, I decided to play the game in the hopes that the teaser I got to test out would be like so many other demos I've played. Often, you don't get a good feel with these quick downloads, and it takes the full game to really see what you're getting. A few puzzles in, and I realized that Catherine was a pretty solid game with some fun mechanics. Sure, the difficulty was still there (in full force!), but the puzzles were certainly fair. One thing I realized early on was that the narrator's instructions are not to be taken lightly. I had to listen to what he was telling me, because he was giving me pivotal information that could help in reducing my frustration with the game.
I learned the hard way that not listening to the narrator could lead to some pretty frustrating moments. During one stage, I wasn't really listening to what he had to say, and as a result, I spent far too much time failing repeatedly at the same puzzle. I turned the game off, returned to it after an hour, and when I started it up again and was forced to listen to the instructions once more, I realized what I was doing wrong. Catherine is not the type of game where you can rely on dumb luck or random moves to get ahead. No, this brutal puzzle platformer requires you to make calculated moves. Fail to do so, and suffer the consequences.
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Socializing Over Pizza and Drinks
The gameplay in Catherine isn't all puzzles, though. Another aspect of the game has you guiding the main character, Vincent, as he spends his nights at a local pizza joint, enjoying delicious food and having way too many beers for his own good. In these sequences, you must socialize with ol' Vinnie's buddies, text on your phone, and spend some time in the restroom. I was surprised at how enjoyable these sections were. The main reason they're so engaging is because they deliver a great change of pace from the game's difficult puzzles. After spending a good chunk of time playing through the fun, though daunting, stages, it's nice to have a little downtime. It's also really interesting hearing what Vincent's friends have to say as he reveals his conflicted and cheating ways.
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The Great Storytelling
Catherine is built on three foundations: puzzles, socializing and storytelling. It's surprising, but a big chunk of the game consists of anime sequences that further the plot. During my first few hours with Catherine, I found myself completely enthralled in the game's story. You'd think lengthy plot devices would break the overall experience, but that's certainly not the case here. After playing for a while, I found myself looking forward to seeing what stupid things Vincent would do next. Coupled with the social aspect of the game, the anime sections in the game provide a great break from the demanding puzzle gameplay.
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First Few Hours with Catherine
I was very pleased to discover that Catherine, though definitely brutal in its challenge, is an enjoyable puzzle platformer. I almost wish I hadn't played the demo, as all it did was worry me and make me fear playing the game. I've still got a good chunk of game to play through before I reach the end, but I can certainly say that I'm looking forward to it. Is Catherine for everyone? Definitely not. The challenging puzzle design may be enough to put off certain gamers, and it's a shame too, because the story in the game is so well-written that it deserves the attention of most gamers who like a solid plot. If you think you can stomach the difficulty, though, don't hesitate to give Atlus' Catherine a chance.
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All information and screenshots from Catherine.