Will Catherine’s ass-man win in the end?

, | Game reviews

I keep getting licked — literally — by a giant butt with a tongue coming out of a toothy maw where the genitals should be.

This is Catherine’s main claim to gameplay. Not specifically the be-tongued butt, but this timed puzzle sequence in which I have to climb a wall of sliding cubes. It’s a clever enough concept, but you have to play it for a while to wrap your head around it. Unfortunately, Catherine affords me no such opportunity. It gives me tutorial tips and occasional videos suggesting strategies for pushing, pulling, and re-arranging blocks. Think of Catherine as an exponentially complicated crate puzzle, dropped infrequently into a drawn-out series of JRPG dialogues. If you just play normally, like a game that’s telling a story, you might find that you haven’t quite wrapped your head around these puzzles. At which point a butt tongue has just licked you for the tenth time.

I could practice. But I don’t like the game enough to practice it. There are very few games I’ll practice. Personally, if I’m going play something over and over to get better at it, it’s got to offer…well, more than what Catherine offers.

After the jump, how I beat the butt

So here I am getting repeatedly licked by a puzzle that I don’t really have any desire to beat. I’m playing on easy so I can’t crank down the difficulty any further. I can regularly progress past the save point in the middle of the puzzle, but I’m getting stuck in a certain area where I can’t quite see the solution. I don’t have time to puzzle it out because the butt is hot on my tail and I can’t pause time to consider my options. I have about 30 retries build up at this point, which means a long tedious sequence of playing the same bits over and over again. And if I want to stop for the night — which I do! — I have to revert to an earlier save and lose all my progress on this butt tongue level so far. So where do I go from here?

To a game I enjoy. Three nights into Catherine’s eight-night story arc and I’ve seen all I’m going to see of this game. Which is fine by me. I went in hoping that the bits of story between the puzzles would keep me interested, but no such thing was happening. It was getting to be a slog reaching the parts of the game where I could get stuck. Talking to characters one line at a time and assembling text messages one line at a time is nearly as tedious as choosing options from a Bioware dialogue tree and having them paraphrased back at me.

I could bear with it if I liked the characters. But so far, I don’t like any of the characters in Catherine. They’re mostly exaggerated dumb kids, which is less a creative choice than a staple of the medium. Catherine is obviously the creation of a JRPG developer, with the emphasis on the J. The reactions are all pop-eyed and goofy, with grimacing and mugging and sweat drops springing from foreheads. It’s as over-the-top and relatable as a sitcom. I’m surprised one of them doesn’t have a pet monkey.

The lead character is an idiot. I’m not sure where Catherine is going, but so far, it’s a story about a guy who gets drunk, cheats on his girlfriend, and wonders what he should do. A Life Moment for a dumb twentysomething coming to terms with his selfishness, insecurity, and fear of commitment. Which is already more interesting and relevant than 90% of the other videogame stories I’ve ever seen, but some of us have been there, done that, written the poems, and safely stowed them with the journals we kept when we were in high school.

In addition to the dreams he has — this is where you have to play the tedious cube puzzles — there are inklings that something supernatural is going on. The girl with whom he cheated might be some sort of avenging succubus responsible for murders around the city. I actually like this part of the story and I’m curious where it will go. As you play, you make choices for the idiot lead character that move the dial on a morality meter. I presume the ending is determined by where the needle rests once you’ve played the last cube puzzle. Does Catherine turn into an interesting story about selfishness, sex, and responsibility by the time it’s over? Thanks to the butt tongue, I’ll never know.

I’m glad to see videogames address sexuality in the way that Catherine seems to try to attempt to address sexuality. I just wish they’d do it in some context other than the JRPG-shaped gaps between a bunch of pointless crate pushing puzzles. Because at this point, it’s kind of embarrassing that the most mature expression of sexuality in a mainstream videogame comes from a dual class fighter/magic-user in a D&D campaign translated from the Polish.

2 stars
Playstation 3

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