The Good: Beautiful art style, engaging and gripping story, replying to text messages is actually fun!, decent voice acting, interesting choice system
The Bad: Infuriating puzzle levels, not much gameplay outside of that, a little on the short side, control issues
I usually regret playing Atlus games because they are frustrating and difficult experiences. The games are usually excellent, but the difficulty always leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I have only been able to complete a couple of Atlus games due to this. Catherine is no different, but shouldn't be taken lightly. RPG fans stay away. If you just want to experience the story go on YouTube. This is for hardcore puzzle fans only. I mean the hardest of core puzzle gamers. This game will leave you infuriated, angry, full of rage, and probably with a few smashed controllers. The game is plagued with issues, but for some reason there's the story that makes you want to see the end. Thankfully the game isn't very long. Just prepare the video walkthroughs because you will need them.
This experience is coming from someone who hates these kind of puzzles. This game is completely to taste. I hate block pushing puzzles, but here we are with a very deep game that includes these. The first three stages aren't that bad. Starting at stage 4 things get frustrating and forget about progressive difficulty. First off, the story is very engaging and it's a love story. A man named Vincent Brooks is in love with a girl named Katherine and she wants him to marry her. Suddenly a sultry seductress named Catherine comes along and somehow Vincent wakes up with her naked next to him. The rest of the game is him trying to hide each Katherine from each other.
The story gets tense in spots like any well written drama. When you are in the Stray Sheep bar you will receive text messages on your phone that you can reply to. Be careful because this will affect your morality meter which will impact the way Vincent handles inner conflict. I had a lot of fun replying to these texts because it's almost like you are actually doing it and in this relationship yourself. Atlus did a great job bringing you into this problem. Of course every night when Vincent dreams you are brought to an area where you climb an endless tower of blocks with other sheep, and that's where you start to hate or love the game.
I can't really explain the methods of all the block pushing because there are over a dozen that you learn throughout the game. You can push blocks horizontally, but it's not so simple. There are other types of blocks like heavy ones, ice, traps, randomly changing, and other blocks that will make your life hell. It was nigh impossible to figure most of these out without a video walkthrough because otherwise you will be restarting dozens of times due to trial and error. To make things harder the stage is crumbling underneath you. To make things even tougher you are awarded medals at the end. The only way to get gold is to keep your step multiplier up throughout the whole level and never mess up. Sure, there are checkpoints every so often, but I had such a tough time that even the video walkthroughs didn't help some times.
There are items you can pick up that help that create one extra block, allow you to jump 2 blocks, kill enemies, and turn all blocks to normal. You can pick up coins along the way to increase your score as well. At the end of each stage there is a boss that you must run from and tries to kill you. These changed up the pace, but just made things even more frustrating. You just can't catch a break during these puzzle levels. Even the controls are terrible with reversed control when crawling around behind the blocks, delays, and strange quirks that will make you die just because of control problems.
I really felt like this was a puzzle game with a love story wrapped around it. The game is tough, and I highly suggest a rental first because most people won't even finish this game. Don't think this is something like Pushmo with a reset button. Some levels take over ten minutes to complete. There is a co-op mode you can unlock, but all you will do is lose friendships. The best parts are the story in between and questions that you answer that even make you question the way you view romanticism and maybe even your own relationship. I even liked how you could see how other people answered. Besides these puzzles and answering text messages, there is no other gameplay apart from talking to people.
Overall, Catherine is a love/hate thing. Puzzle fans will fall in love with this, but RPG and other genre fans will hate it. I only hated the puzzle stages, but loved the story. With the puzzle levels being 90% of the game I can't really give this a higher score even if I wanted to. It is gripping, exciting, steamy, and can go any way. The anime cut scenes are beautifully done, and even the English voice acting is tolerable, but I would have preferred the Japanese voices with English subtitles. If you insist on wanting to know the story and characters, rent this and keep a video walkthrough handy, and maybe a spare controller or three.