This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Atlus' infidelity-themed puzzler Catherine, which reviewers describe as "the kind of thing for adults who aren't as into games as they used to be." Catherine currently earns a score of 83 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.
1UP's Jeremy Parish gives Catherinean A grade. "If you had to put a name on it, I suppose you'd call Catherine a puzzle game," he notes. "Ultimately this is a straight-up box-pushing game gussied up with stylish graphics and nightmarish hazards: Spike traps, slippery ice panels, explosives, terrified sheep, giant babies, vengeful zombie fiancees -- you know, the usual."
"As puzzle games go, Catherine is really good," Parish continues. "The challenges in the main game aren't completely limited to a single solution; there's room for plenty of improvisation and lateral thinking."
Catherine's story elements are especially compelling, however. "Puzzles in Catherine play the role of a collective nightmare shared by many of the men of its unnamed town," Parish explains. "Vincent, like the other men who share his collective nightmare, is guilty of sexual and emotional infidelity; he balks at committing to his long-term girlfriend, Katherine, and soon finds himself involved with a different Catherine altogether."
"Catherine surprised me," Parish praises. "Plastered with scantily clad ladies and come-hither artwork, Atlus' marketing materials make it look like yet another sleazy, pandering gal game from Japan. The reality of the game is far different, and considerably more nuanced. It's sometimes sexy, and it's often sexual, but it uses its 'adults only' tone in a genuinely adult way. "
Ray Barnholt at GamePro scores Catherine at 4 out of 5 stars. "Catherine is a game that suggests its themes are 'love' and 'loyalty' and that sort of stuff, but I think it's more about division," he begins. "The story is about a guy divided by his troubles with two different women, as well as being divided between too-real nightmares and the real world."
"Heck, even I was a bit divided by it: I kept playing and noticing things that made me wonder if maybe this game doesn't know what it wants to be. In the end, I don't think it's that. Rather than being unfocused, Catherine is probably too focused, with its binary split between light adventure gameplay and challenging puzzles. But it clicks."
Barnholt speculates that many will find issue with Catherine's difficulty level. "Yes, Catherine's difficulty was well-publicized when the Japanese version came out, and yes, even on Normal difficulty, it's probably going to hurt," he warns. "Compared to the typical idea of a puzzle game, Catherine is not the 'easy to grasp, hard to master' type. If anything, it's the other way around: You're shoved into the nightmare worlds with tips and techniques drip-fed to you in between them."
However: "The story is easily the more interesting part of Catherine. It's nice that it keeps moving, as each new 'day' in the tale takes a decent step forward, and by the end of my time with it, it was extra nice when what should have been the grand finale led up to some awesome tying-up of loose ends."
"Catherine is a game that's about, and made for, mature gamers," Barnholt summarizes. "Not necessarily because of the story, but more because it's a short, tight design with challenging puzzles that seem to want you to call it a night after finishing just one. It's the kind of thing for adults who aren't as into games as they used to be. They'd have to crank it down to Easy, but that's okay. Anybody else can like it just fine."
Game Informer's Phil Kollar rates Catherine at 7 out of 10, claiming that "This temptress broke my heart."
"Let me tell you about this girl I met at the bar the other night," he explains. "Just stunning, totally gorgeous, you know? And unique. She does things I’ve never seen another girl do. She’s deep, too.
"Sounds like a girl worth falling in love with, right? But despite all of these assets, Catherine is a killer. She’ll wreck you if you let her."
Kollar is not impressed with Catherine's puzzle mechanics. "Lengthy narrative sequences are broken up by 'Nightmare' levels where Vincent has to push blocks around in order to climb up an endless tower," he notes. "As you first learn the strange rules of this fast-paced, arcade gameplay, these portions seem inoffensive, though not particularly engaging. But with each new night that passes, Vincent is forced to confront more difficult and lengthier puzzles."
"Frustration and frequent deaths await as you desperately claw your way toward the next group of cutscenes and non-dream gameplay," Kollar says. "Finally figuring out how to survive a horrific boss encounter after 20-some deaths never grants you a sense of accomplishment, only relief at the temporary reprieve. The dialogue and character development are less fun when tinged with the dreadful knowledge that more block puzzles are in your future."
"My fleeting happy memories of Catherine will always be poisoned by soul-crushing thoughts of what could have been," Kollar concludes. "Like a relationship that’s going nowhere, Catherine has a few bright spots that will make you want to hold on, but it never quite gives back as much as you put into it."