Created by Atlus, the makers of the Persona series, 2012′s Catherine is a puzzle game with surreal psychological horror elements. Vincent Brooks is an office worker going through a mid-life crisis. With his girlfriend Katherine pressuring him into settling down, he dreads losing his freedom. Enter Catherine, a mysterious beauty who seduces Vincent. After meeting Catherine, Vincent has bizarre nightmares connected to several mysterious deaths. Thus, he must survive his horrific dreams while trying to sort out his relationships with Catherine and Katherine.
While Catherine’s dull real world segments have Vincent talk and text with his friends, the dream segments offer truly intuitive climbing puzzles, having the protagonist push and pull blocks to create routes up to the top of a tower. Over time, gameplay becomes frantic as lower levels detach. While these pseudo-3D puzzles work well, the camera hampers any attempts to climb behind blocks. At the end of a zone, Vincent faces embodiments of his darkest fears and insecurities, making the puzzles even more difficult. For practice, the player can also play a retro arcade game where a knight must climb a tower to save a princess. Sound familiar?
Atlus usually maintains high quality visuals for their games and Catherine is no exception. The graphics switch between anime and CGI cutscenes, which are pleasing to the eye for any Japanese culture junkie, but may be jarring for those with different aesthetic tastes.
As with most puzzle games, the music during nightmare sequences is an addicting earworm. Also, a cast of well-versed anime voice acting veterans do an excellent job with a somewhat flat script and poor characterization, especially with Vincent.
Catherine delves heavily into love, sexuality, and relationships with its arbitrary morality system. While it does capture wisps of the ambiguous moral nature of relationships, at times it comes off as too black and white. Overall, Catherine falls short on making a treatise on relationships, but completely triumphs in creating an addicting, challenging, and unique experience for casual puzzler fans.