Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tech: Catherine review

Before fancy 3D graphics hit the scene, puzzle-platforming titles like Q*Bert and Lode Runner hooked gamers with a blend of action and problem-solving. In these types of games, you guided a character with certain limited abilities (jumping, digging, etc.) through a level filled with traps and enemies; success depended on your ability to think on your feet and manipulate the world around you.

As technology improved, puzzle-platformers fell out of vogue (apparently it's more satisfying to gun down an alien than it is to navigate block-filled mazes). Every so often, though, somebody is brave enough to release one:

"Catherine" (available for both the PS3 and Xbox 360) jazzes up the standard puzzle-platformer formula with next-generation graphics and adult humor. The game tells the story of Vincent, an underachiever who cheats on his longterm girlfriend with a sexy, mysterious blonde. His infidelity has dire consequences: Vincent soon finds himself trapped in a series of nightmares, and the only way to escape is to climb a wall of blocks to an exit.

These climbing sections are the heart of "Catherine," and they get more and more challenging as the game wears on. You'll encounter trapped blocks, immovable blocks, and seemingly unclimbable sections. And just when you think you've got the hang of things, the game throws you another curveball - like a giant mutant baby trying to skoosh you like a bug:

"Catherine" breaks up the climbing puzzles with adventure/dating sim interludes. I normally don't like these sections in Atlus games, but the relationship humor was really translated well here (apparently fear of commitment is a universal phenomenon). After awhile, these cutsenes become nice rewards for finishing a tough puzzle, giving the game the "one-more-try" appeal shared by all good puzzle-platformers.

And you will be "trying" levels over and over again thanks to the game's difficulty, which can be maddening. You're always under severe time pressure, and it's quite easy to screw up a puzzle so badly that it's impossible to finish a stage. Thankfully, the block layout and hazards are the same each time you play, so with enough trial and error, you should be able to navigate your way through the game. And really, couldn't you say the same about love?

Rating: 84/100


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