Catherine is a Persona series spin-off that throws out the school-crawling RPG gameplay and replaces it with unforgiving block pushing puzzles, an (un)healthy dose of sexual innuendo, and then caps that off with multiple story endings. Intrigued? Keep reading.
Catherine's strong point is its story. It's told through smooth CGI cut scenes and features from top voice acting talent, including Michelle Ruff (Etna - Disgaea series) voicing Katherine, Laura Bailey (Serah Farron - Final Fantasy XIII) voicing Catherine, and Troy Baker (Snow Villiers - Final Fantasy XIII) as Vincent.
The plot revolves around 32-year-old Vincent Brooks, who's struggling with a decision to marry his long-time girlfriend, Katherine. His dilemma is worsened when a busty young lady named Catherine (pronounced the same as Katherine) enters his life.
In addition to his love life problems, Vincent has begun having nightmares which could prove fatal if the player isn't successful - this is where the game begins.
Players must climb towers of blocks, pushing and pulling blocks in order to ascend. Said blocks have various attributes, such as attaching at the edges so they won't fall if there isn't one under them, while others will fall. There are heavy blocks which take little longer to move, costing valuable time. In addition to the block puzzle, Vincent has to compete with other men stuck in the same nightmare world. Bizarrely, they all appear to him as sheep - likewise, he does to them. They will push you off blocks, push blocks out from under you - sending you hurtling into the abyss, and collect pick-ups before you can.
Catherine is infamous for its high difficulty - even on the easiest mode you may not be able finish it. While the game drops hints and techniques to use, they are harder to pull off than they appear. In addition, the first boss battle happens just a couple of levels in - at the end of the second stage. It takes the form of a giant woman - who Vincent indentifies as Katherine - taking stabs at him while he ascends the tower. The attacks can not only kill him, they also make a number of blocks around your row heavy and difficult to shift, slowing your progress as Katherine closes in.
Pick-ups are scattered throughout the levels, including the enigma coins, with which the game determines your score (the faster you reach them, the more coins you'll pick up). The more immediately useful pick-ups include a spare block - which you can use when no other blocks are available, and a pillow which can be used to turn hardened blocks back to normal.
Another major issue with the difficulty is that you can't tweak it mid-game, so if you start on normal and find it too difficult you will have to begin again to play on easy. On the other hand, you might begin on easy only to discover you have to play on normal to unlock the Babel levels - thus making you begin again.
In between levels you can talk to the other sheep - who may threaten to kill you in the next level, visit a confessional, and save your game. In the confessional a mysterious voice asks you a question; your answers influence the karma gauge, which determines the story's ending. In addition, a poll shows which answer other players gave on their first run.
There are about eight endings split into six possible relationship outcomes - three for each girl - and a couple [Spoiler alert! - Ed.] where Vincent leaves both of them. The endings range from bad to good - bad generally means you die a horrible, soul-crushingly, gruesome death (without Mortal Kombat's Shao Khan proclaiming "Fatality!"), while good typically has you living happy ever after. [/end spoilers - Ed.]
Once you've gotten a firm grip on the gameplay - and fulfilled the necessary requirements - you can tackle the Babel trials. These can be played either solo, or in pairs - the second player uses Katherine. Playing co-op - although easier - means if one player dies, both will have to start again. The Babel tower is split into four stages, each one consisting of a randomly generated section of blocks. The randomness of each section also means they are harder to get through as you can't simply look up a play-through on YouTube.
As you may have figured out by now, Catherine is a different beast from series from which it was born. Although the story may draw you in, the puzzle gameplay isn't anywhere near as conducive to storytelling as an RPG, in the sense that you may give up in a violent rage before getting anywhere near the end.
Catherine has a niche market in fans of brutally difficult puzzle titles, RPG - Persona fans - may want to rent before buying it due to its high difficulty.