This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Catherine. Or is it Katherine? Yeah, that's not going to be confusing.
Video games seem to be a little bit frightened of relationships, in a curious reflection of their predominantly male and sweaty customer base. Oh, there are plenty of games that depict the commencement of a relationship, generally as a consequence of Party A rescuing Party B from a giant fire-breathing lizard thing or an evil general or their own virginity depending on the genre, but very few games are about a relationship that's already going on, except when one half of it exists solely to get murdered at one point so that the other half can seek revenge without someone constantly asking them how they think jumping over turtles, shooting mercenaries, or fucking each other all day in the butt is going to bring in enough money to raise a family.
Well, now the balance is being restored by Catherine, a Japanese game centrally about the difficulties of relationships, such as unexpected pregnancy, the impetus of commitment, and being chased up a infinite staircase by a giant, monstrous girlfriend trying to eat you with her butt. Did I mention it's Japanese? Catherine comes to us from the creators of the Persona games, which were about spending half the time battling monsters in a dream and the other half trapped in a high school anime and being unable to say which was the most nightmarish; Catherine, by contrast, is about spending half the time battling monsters in a dream and the other half trapped in a thirty-something romance anime, so fittingly enough for a game about monogamy, the developers certainly seemed to be married to a concept.
You play Vincent Brooks, a man-boy approaching maturity like it's a Bengal tiger, who is going out with a frumpy and controlling but stable lady called Katherine with a K, and just as he's feeling pressured to show more commitment, he's seduced by a free-spirited but obviously completely fucking psychotic bitch called Catherine with a C. "Won't that get confusing in spoken dialogue?” asked one Atlus employee. "Yes," replied his friend, "but on the upside, we won't have to re-record the voices depending on which one the player's going after." Ultimately, the game is about choosing between Katherine or Catherine, Catherine representing mature stability, and Katherine representing youthful freedom. I knew this would get confusing.
But what about that giant monster girlfriend butt I so intrigued you with earlier? Well, you can't base a game solely around a stupid bastard digging himself deeper with every single word that comes out of his fucking mouth, so Vincent has also been magically cursed so every night, he has a dream where he has to solve timed block-pushing puzzles or die; it's like A Nightmare on Elm Street meets Q*bert. I can't help thinking that Catherine is limiting its audience; it’s already limited to people interested in quirky love triangle dramas, then it's limited again to only the ones among those who also can't get enough sliding block puzzles, and of those, only the ones who like their sliding block puzzles to be obnoxiously difficult even when monster butt isn't chasing you, because you have limited lives, and autosaving is apparently an innovation that completely slipped us by.
Not helping at all is a camera that refuses to rotate more than ninety degrees, so if you're faffing about behind the front layer of blocks, then you're basically playing with a hessian sack on your head. "I know how to fix this issue!” announced that one Atlus employee. "We'll just straight-up reverse the controls when you're dangling off the far side of a block. Wait, I'm confused; what was I fixing again? Oh, look, a puppy!" But as frustrating as the block puzzles were, they were never the kind of frustrating that made me want to stop playing or bang all my expensive electronic goods together; they just made me grip the controller harder, clench my teeth, and be all the more determined to get just one more level. Which I guess is a plus? (For the gameplay, that is; not my teeth.)
What's less of a plus is that the non-nightmare half of the game is really insubstantial. There's only one location that isn't cutscene, and all you can really do is talk to random people, which isn't gameplay at all; it's a "man with no concept of personal space" simulation. There's a sort of sidequest concerning characters who've also been cursed, and who will lose all hope and die if you don't talk to them on a regular basis, because I guess inspiring words ooze from your mouth like Savlon of the soul. But all it takes is missing one opportunity to do so because you wanted to hide in the toilet to look at naughty pictures on your phone, and they're unavoidably doomed, you monster!
But since there's no benefit to that sidequest except to learn more about the characters involved, it'd be fair to call Catherine a story-driven game, and I guess the biggest problem I have with the story is that Vincent is such a fucking tool! Catherine - that's psycho Catherine, not frumpy Katherine - basically bullies him into getting seduced by her - yeah, maybe her running around in a net curtain might've helped, but still - and if the dude could take five seconds to just explain things rather than stammer out more lies while sweating like James Murdoch at a government hearing, then he could probably sort everything out. But no; he just accepts guilt and whines about it incessantly to his mates, every single one of whom would be well within their rights to power-bomb his face into the nearest bollard.
I think this is an anime thing, where they like their protagonists angsty and ineffectual and given to wanking off over unconscious women. I watched an anime once: dude pulled a gun at the start of the episode, fired it at the end, and everything in between was angst! I wouldn't mind, but he missed! Judge Dredd could have nuked a city in the fucking commercial break.
On the whole I'd say Catherine does feel very insubstantial, and it's not a game I'd play more than once. And there's something iffy about its whole outlook on gender politics; there’s a moral choice aspect where you answer questions based on your own substantial experience with relationships *snnnrk* to determine if you're after K Katherine stability or C Catherine freedom. And as is always the case, it's best to go for all one way or all the other, 'cos you'll just get a shit ending otherwise, but something about this central dichotomy feels misogynistic.
Oh, really? A game in which men are turned into helpless, innocent lambs and pursued by monstrous women with hungry butts is maybe misogynistic, is it? Well, truth be told, it's not got great things to say about either gender; the message seems to be that every man is an irresponsible cock who will eventually have to give up having any kind of fun and submit himself to the iron-fisted control of a humorless woman who will farm him for money and sperm, like men are all directionless tidal waves and women are all dykes built in the path of their raging floods. Blimey, what a badly worded metaphor.
"All women are dykes": Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Still, I liked that one bit in the Street Fighter anime where the tits came out
I'm not misogynist, I only hate the bitchy ones