Puzzles, nightmares, and … erotic fantasies. These are the elements of Atlus’s first game developed for an HD console. It sounds weird, doesn’t it? Thankfully, a demo for Catherine was released in Japan for both the PSN and XBL last week. After playing through it a few times, I can safely say that Catherine’s insanity brings about some of the most intense puzzle gameplay I’ve ever experienced.
Based on the demo, it becomes quite obvious that this is a story driven game. Since my knowledge of Japanese is pretty minimal, I’ll refrain from discussing much about anything outside of the gameplay. There’s one aspect in particular that I found interesting, though, and it involves using a cellphone. I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, but I was able to send messages to Vincent’s girlfriend, Katherine. If I wanted, I could send simple texts, long messages, or just nothing at all. I’m very curious to see how these interactions influence the story.
The main portion of the game seems to be centered around Vincent’s nightmares; night-terrors he started having shortly after meeting the seductive Catherine. During these dream sequences, Vincent has to quickly maneuver stacked blocks and form stairs while being chased by some sort of giant creature with large hands. The first puzzle in the demo is pretty straight forward and serves as a tutorial. It’s a shame I couldn’t understand all of the screen prompts but I do think I have a pretty good idea on how the game works.
Basically, you need to form stairs out of the blocks so you can make your way to the top and reach the exit. You can push blocks in, pull them out, and move them from side to side. If you do this fast enough, you’ll receive more points in the end. Despite being set on easy mode, the second stage will most likely leave you stumped your first time through. From my experience, it seems pointless to push blocks inward unless there’s some sort of reward along the way. Every time I pushed in a block, the foundations of the puzzle changed, usually resulting in making things far more difficult than they have to be.
There are some properties to the blocks that makes creating stairs easier and more interesting. For instance, blocks are joined together as long as their edges touch. As a result, you can create stairs by sliding a stacked block to the side even without there being anything underneath to hold it up. It’s a weird design mechanic but it’s definitely one that you’ll use frequently. Since the demo is set on easy mode, you are even able to rewind to a previous step and fix any mistakes. This gives you room for some exploration since you don’t have to worry about permanent mishaps. That said, being chased by giant hands trying to stab you with a fork is quite the adrenaline building experience. I can’t even imagine how much crazier the game gets later on.
At the end of the demo there is a video sequence that gives us more of an idea of what to expect from the game. It looks like puzzles will be far more intricate and will require the player to make clever moves rather spontaneously. It also seems like there will be some exploration in the real world, although to what extent remains to be seen.
Overall, Catherine’s incredible visuals and interesting gameplay mechanics only make me want this game even more. Hopefully, Atlus brings the game to North America and Europe sometime soon. For those that can’t wait, Catherine releases on February 17th in Japan for the PS3 and 360. This doesn’t seem like an import friendly game outside of the puzzles, so be cautious if you don’t understand Japanese.
You’ll find gameplay videos from the two puzzles available in the demo below. I highly recommend watching the ending to the second video since it shows aspects of the game beyond solving puzzles.