Block puzzles, dating sims, horror elements – not really things one would associate together when thinking of them. I have a taste for quirky Japanese games and anything with horror themes, so a game combining those instantly grabbed my attention. Catherine looked like such a bizarre combination that I was intrigued as to how they all came together. I’ve been following this game since Atlus announced it, so when the demo for it because available I eagerly downloaded it and gave it a whirl.
When you start up the demo, the intro immediately sets the tone for the rest of the game. with a sheep falling onto a black and white card and splattering blood on it, all amid a bright pink background. It then cuts to Vincent strung up on a block tower with barbed wire yelling the game’s title, with blood where the wire’s cutting into him, which drove the point home of the amount of disturbing content to come. As you peruse the menu, sheep fall periodically in the background, and the voice reading the mode descriptions aloud is a nice touch. Only Easy mode for the story mode (called “Golden Theater” here) is available to play, though considering a patch was released to lower the difficulty that was likely done to keep people from being too put off by the difficulty. There’s also a “Babel” mode that promises “harder puzzles to ruin your life”, but it’s inaccessible in the demo. There’s no option for multiplayer at all, even a crossed out one, which is a bit strange but I’m sure the full version has it.
Upon starting up “Golden Theater” mode, a scene shows up that has references to movies like Godzilla and The Ring. After that the first Nightmare stage starts up, which serves as a tutorial to help players familiarize themselves with the controls. The goal is to ascend the giant staircase as it collapses without dying horribly from either a nightmarish creature or a long fall. In Easy mode, you can press the select button to take back a move, which comes in handy if you push or pull a block the wrong way. As you ascend, you can pick up pillows that grant you additional retries in the event you fail the stage (which the game informs you of with a “Love is over”) and blocks you can place anywhere. There were times when I was climbing around the blocks and I had a hard time seeing where he was moving him to where I wanted to go. In one case this led to him losing his grip and landing with a blood splatter on a pile of blocks, which was obviously an undesired outcome. Some practice and adjusting to the way Vincent moves cuts down on such incidents.
The cutscenes alternate between animated and in-game cel shading, and the transition between them is fairly smooth. There’s some neat attention to details, such as a closeup of an ant or the nail polish on Katherine’s hands, which later shows up on a nightmare boss (Vincent even recognizes it). Vincent’s expressions are amusing, particularly in the scene where he finds Catherine in bed with him, where he stares with a gapemouth expression and sweat starts raining down his face. You get a feel for the characters’ general attitudes, such as Katherine’s ambitiousness and desire to settle down, Vincent’s friends eschewing the idea of marriage, and Vincent vacillating between the two views.
There’s one part in the demo where you’re able to adjust your morality – your response to Katherine’s text. You can keep pressing X to see a line of a possible response, then press circle to erase it and see another one. Depending on how you replay, you can trigger further responses and events, and your morality adjusts accordingly. Given that the demo ends after the second puzzle, this doesn’t have any effect, though in the full game you’ll be able to shift your alignment with your choices and have them impact the direction the story goes, like in the Shin Megami Tensei series.
Overall, the demo left me wanting more, and it gave a good sample of what the full game had to offer. The puzzles were enjoyable, and while it did seem like they could get repetitive over time, the teaser at the end seemed to indicate that there would be some variety to them. Vincent was also shown playing an arcade game that looked much like the puzzles he faces in his nightmares (poor guy can’t get a break, it seems), so the arcade games seem to be ways to while away the time with if you want to take a break from the Nightmare stages and Vincent’s troubled love life. The story promised to have plenty of twists, including a confrontation between Katherine and Catherine (dun dun dun). Catherine likely won’t appeal to everyone, so I recommend trying the demo before deciding on whether to get the game or not.