Japanese company Atlus is no stranger to both developing and publishing unusual games – they are, after all, the creators of the Persona series. Their latest game, Catherine, has been dubbed an infidelity simulator, and fits right into their niche of the weird and wonderful. Even after everything we’ve written about Catherine, I still wasn’t sure what to expect from the demo. I tried not to have high expectations, but even as elevated as they were, I was definitely not disappointed with what the demo had to offer.
Platforms: PS3 (Version Played), Xbox 360
Developer: Atlus Persona Team
Genre: Terrifying Infidelity Simulator
Release Date: July 26, 2011
ESRB Rating: Mature
From the very beginning, it’s clear that Atlus means business. Even the title screen is disturbing – a sheep flies into the air and falls back down again, splattering on the Catherine/Katherine logo, and the logo spins and reveals Vincent trussed up to it by barbed wire. Catherine – a beautiful sexy blonde – is the temptress in the game, while Katherine is his more sensibly-dressed, glasses-wearing girlfriend. He’s got his boxers on, as well as his horns, and Katherine sits above him. The only option you have for the demo is the Golden Playhouse single-player, and the only mode is Easy, which is probably for the best.
After a quick glance at the control scheme – which looks complicated, but isn’t bad once you start playing – there’s the famous Shakespeare quote, “All the world’s stage. And all the men and women merely players.” Following that is a mashup of live-action movies in one long animated trailer, ending with the “Golden Playhouse” logo.
The demo begins with Vincent mid-nightmare, wearing his boxers and his horns and carrying around his pillow. This first one is “Stage 1: Underground Cemetery.” In the nightmare sequences – which take up most of the playtime in the demo – you’re climbing up blocks, as well as maneuvering the blocks around to make them into steps. The steps below you are disappearing, so you have to move rather quickly. You get some tips from the sheep around you, but mostly there’s just panic as you realize the thing below you is catching up to you. It’s also important to plan out how you’re going to maneuver the blocks, because if you pull one out from another, the original might fall, depending on what kind of block it is. Some of the blocks can be held up by just their edges, so take note of those blocks and utilize them accordingly. If you make a mistake, though, have no fear – you can also undo your moves by hitting Select, which is only an option on Easy Mode. You use the directional buttons or the left stick to move yourself on the blocks, and X moves the blocks.
If you die, you go to a screen that says “Love is Over!” In this demo version, you start with 10 retries. Collecting Mystic Pillows gives you extra lives, and you can also collect piles of money that are around on the blocks as well. As you get closer to the top, a bell starts to ring, giving you hope to help you through those last few steps. Once you get to the door, there’s a quick cutscene, where you can see the giant, horrible hands of the monster chasing after you. Creepy!
After that, there are several cutscenes that show much of what we’ve already seen in trailers. In this first part of the demo, “1st Day: Chrono Rabbit,” Vincent is in a café with his girlfriend, Katherine. The café is full of pink, heart-shaped pillows, and the cups they’re drinking out of are a Pepto-Bismol pink. He’s really out of it and says he’s been working late; she asks him questions about overtime and if he gets paid. He abruptly asks her if she ever has dreams where she dies – where someone is trying to kill her. Katherine replies that she’s the one who usually does the killing in her dreams. After that, she prods him about how long they’ve been together, and mentions her parents, and how they’re worried about her because she’s not married yet. She tries to push Vincent to discuss making a commitment to her, but he begs off.
The next section, “1st Day: Stray Sheep,” starts with the news report about a mysterious dead young man, and shows that the television it’s broadcasting on is in the Stray Sheep, the bar Vincent and his friends like to hang out in. He’s complaining about Katherine’s behavior, and one of his friends chastises him for not knowing what he wants. He won’t get married until he meets his soulmate, and he’s told his girlfriend he doesn’t want to marry her. But Vincent doesn’t seem convinced that his friend gets it, either. It’s also revealed here that the mysterious murdered man is Paul, someone they know, and that Vincent wet the bed when he had his crazy nightmare.
After all of this, his friends leave him, but he’s not ready to go home. He sits around, hangs out, and drinks some more. At this point in the demo, you’re introduced to the interesting text messaging system, in which you can read and reply to your text messages, as well as save your game. The first two texts explain how text messaging work, and the third is from Katherine. She sighs disgustedly when you open it up, which made me wonder why Vincent even puts up with her in the first place. So passive aggressive!
Anyway, Katherine’s text says that she’s hanging out with friends, and she says many of them are married, and that half of the married ones have kids. She tells Vincent that maybe it’s time to “get out of the comfort zone.” There are three reply options. Hitting X brings up the first sentence of the text message, and hitting X again brings up another sentence – some are longer than others. When all lines of text are revealed, you’re given an option to send the message. You can also hit Circle to back out and go to the next option. The three options were:
Does it bother you?
I worry about it too sometimes.
Maybe we should talk about this.
You’re overthinking it.
I think we’re okay as we are.
We don’t need to rush into this.
Let’s catch a movie sometime.
Sorry, can’t think right now.
My brain’s full of stuff.
–INSUFFICIENT BRAIN POWER TO CONTINUE CONVERSATION—
I wasn’t feeling like being a complete jerk, so I chose the “Does it bother you?” option. A red and blue meter pops up, with cherubs on each side, and the game explains it: “when certain words and actions change Vincent’s inner ideas, a meter will be shown. Vincent’s words and actions will affect the story. Remember it.” After that prompt, Vincent starts having conversation in his head with Katherine, talking about how long they’ve been together, and whether or not they should get married.
While Vincent is having this sympathetic conversation with her in his head – in which she is much nicer than she seems – she shoots back a snarky text to him, chastising him about drinking when he has work the next day. I chose the most polite response:
Guilty as charged.
I’ll make sure I don’t drink enough to get a hangover.
Take care of yourself.
It seems that Katherine walks all over Vincent, and it’s interesting to note that I was easily cowed into replying with the least confrontational responses. I’m looking forward to playing this situation out in several different ways. After that point, a sexy blonde – the game’s namesake, Catherine – comes in and sits down next to Vincent, which switches into a nightmare on the 2nd day.
In “Stage 2: Prison of Despair – Final Floor,” Vincent again has to maneuver the blocks into steps to make it to the top. This time, you can see that the monster is Katherine, and she’s got a fork she wants to stab him with. She did catch me once and stab me with it, and I can attest that it is an unpleasant experience. I made it to the top – the controls are easy to pick up, and very intuitive – and then Vincent was awake. “2nd Day: Vincent’s Room” has Vincent waking up in that scene we’ve all seen in the trailer – he sees Catherine in his bed and completely freaks out. After that, it’s a quick montage of gameplay and cutscenes, and then nothing but mystery.
Catherine promises to be yet another strange and innovative game from Atlus. With all the cookie cutter games out there, it’s difficult to find something that’s innovative and interesting. I think that Catherine will be the cure to the summer gaming doldrums. Pick it up on July 26, or splurge and pre-order the Deluxe Edition and wear Vincent’s boxers and t-shirt while you clutch the pillow to you as you play the game.