Demo Report: Catherine (Xbox 360)

It's ok, Vincent, action-puzzle games give us nightmares, too

"What, you don't want to marry your girlfriend?" Vincent has been with Katherine so long he can't even remember how many years, but when she starts putting on some pressure to take what to her is the natural next step (shhh, 'M word'), things get tense. And then, things get complicated with a capital C—or maybe that C is for Catherine, the girl Vincent ends up spending the night with after an evening fretting with friends at his stand-by bar, Stray Sheep. 

 

This is about as far as the demo to Catherine, Atlus' first in-house developed title for HD consoles, takes you. Babel, the challenge/puzzle mode is locked, but you can play on Easy through two nightmareish nights and a day in Golden Theater, the story mode. 

 

 

Vincent's first bad dream is just a warm-up tutorial—it's best to learn how to push blocks and create a stairway to your escape before some monstrous version of… your girlfriend (?) is trying to stab you with a giant… fork (!?) while you're at it. Nice boxers, by the way!

 

The blocks you're shoving around this nightmare world are special, since they don't need to rest on anything to remain suspended above Vincent's mental pit of doom as long as they are connected at the edges. To remind players of this fact, anytime you form a new connection, a voice shouts, "Edge!" Being a puzzle game, Catherine requires watching your step to make sure you don't work yourself into an impossible situation. Easy mode provides a button to undo your previous move, but could you live with yourself for relying on that? Just make sure you grab enough Mystic Pillows (acting as 1-UPs) and Vincent will hopefully live to see another day.

 

 

Another day at the bar, that is. 2-D anime gives way to in-game 3-D graphics during cut-scenes, but it's not as jarring as you might think. The daytime gameplay featured in the demo is mainly txting with your girlfriend, but this is surprisingly compelling. 

 

Depending on how players paint Vincent's mental state, the story will change. You can't compose your messages totally freestyle, but the txts in the demo run around 4 lines, where each line has two or even more prefab options. If you're a concerned and understanding guy, and appear open to discussion, you'll get another txt, and maybe even a phone call, but if you are dismissive or unavailable (in one message he claims "insufficient brainpower" to continue having the conversation) she'll leave you alone. You can even lie and say you're not out drinking, if that's the kind of jerk you want to be.

 

 

I love that many game demos seem to drop you either at the beginning or maybe the end of a boss battle, but this one drops you off in bed with a hot chick. Catherine the demo is available now on Xbox 360 and PS3, but you'll be able to catch the full game July 26. 

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