Xbox 360
4 stars
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Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Game Itself
4 Stars
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
4 Stars
The Audio: Rating the Sound
4.5 Stars
Replay Factor
3 Stars


Street Date:
July 26th, 2011
Reviewed by:
Chad Goodmurphy
Review Date:1
December 18th, 2011
Game Release Year:
Xbox 360
Atlus / Deep Silver
ESRB Rating:
M (Mature)


Certain pieces of horror fiction present this interesting idea: if one dies while in an unconscious dream state, he or she will not awake. This rather creepy premise has been carried over into video game form, with Atlus’ Catherine. A mixture between a romantic love triangle RPG and a puzzle game, it doesn’t skimp on the nightmarish idea whatsoever. That’s exactly where its, “Climb or Die!” tagline comes from.

The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

This rather unique game follows Vincent, a young man who seems unsure about where his life is headed. He’s been with a very stable, traditional and independent woman named Katherine, for years. As a result, their relationship has come to a point where its strength must be measured. She wants marriage and children, but he’s not sure. It’s a big step, so the apprehension is understandable.

Our playable avatar spends a lot of his after work time at a local bar, with colourful friends. There, they openly discuss relationship issues, along with popular daily topics. It’s at this bar where Vincent meets a beautiful seductress conveniently named Catherine (with a ‘C’.) Having consumed a few drinks beforehand, our digital pal is left in a cloudy state of mind. Alone, with a beautiful, flirtatious and confusing woman, he does his best to get out of any sexual implication. Does it work? It doesn’t seem to.

The next morning, a hung over Vincent awakens to find Catherine laying in bed next to him. She somehow came back to his apartment and the two seem to have made drunken love. This idea establishes a terrible predicament, which is made worse when Katherine stops by to apologize for an argument. Since telling Katherine would be a death wish, the decision is made to not tell her. Instead, the young man hopes to forget about the situation. He makes up a lie and gets her to leave, hoping she won’t find out.

Unfortunately for Vincent, his memory-blocking plan doesn’t work out very well. Catherine constantly sends him text messages and sexy pictures, in an attempt to get him to meet up and hang out. All the while, stable Katherine is pressuring him to commit. This leaves the player in a unique situation, with the chance to pick dialogue and text message wordings, which convey their decided message. In the end, one girl must be chosen.

The way that you word your questions and responses will end up affecting the way that the campaign plays out. An angel and devil meter is present at the bottom of the screen, fluctuating based on your choices. This plays on the main character’s mental state, which isn’t surprising.

Amidst all of this relationship turmoil is news that young men in the area have been found dead in their bedrooms. Each seemingly healthy male, has somehow fallen victim to something in his sleep. Rumors of deadly nightmares circulate, although the bar’s patrons have no idea of what to think.

After meeting Catherine for the first time, Vincent starts to suffer from these advanced night terrors. In his dreams, monsters are chasing him up block pyramids. As he climbs upwards, lower block tiers crumble to the darkened and unknown depths below. Failure to move fast enough means certain death, as falling blocks can take our main man with them. Climb or die, indeed.

While climbing a block mountain sounds rather simple and straightforward, it’s actually very difficult in this game. You see; the path isn’t direct. Gamers must push, pull and manipulate blocks in order to create upward pathways. It’s incredibly challenging on easy, let alone the game’s two tougher difficulties. Some occasionally frustrating control issues make things more difficult than need be, although you get used to their intricacies. However, I wouldn’t say they’re game breaking by any means.

Unique blocks will appear on occasion, changing the way that things pan out. Some are slippery, making Vincent slide in one direction. Others can be explosive, turning close-by cubes into ash. Conversely, steel ones also factor in, becoming an immobile annoyance. Special blocks introduced on a progression basis, ramping up the difficulty a bit each time.

During their nightmarish travels, players will come across sheep. Some will act as teachers, promoting new climbing and block-manipulating maneuvers, while others will provide some social commentary. Each one has its own unique visual asset, making them easy to decipher in real life. Yes, the sheep you meet in your dreams are actually patrons who frequent the bar.

At the conclusion of each night terror (some of which include terribly disturbing bosses who chase Vincent upwards,) a new bar sequence is introduced. During those segments, those aforementioned patrons can be talked to, in order to learn more information or gauge public interest. Drinks can also be consumed, allowing block puzzle stat increases, alongside some discoverable momentary assists. This is all in addition to a one hundred level long arcade game that can also be challenged.

When it was released in Japan, Catherine was accused of being too difficult. As mentioned previously, it is a very tough game, meaning that casual gamers will perhaps become overwhelmed by its included challenge. However, those who do give this creative game a chance, will witness one of the most unique video games ever made. While its puzzle mechanics are somewhat basic, the game’s mixture of innovative relationship simulation and puzzle game play, happens to be quite a trip.

Despite not being much of a fan of puzzle games, I was quite impressed with this game. The included content found on this disc is too creative and interesting to dislike. In fact, the game actually stands out amongst the sea of game released this year, as one of the best. Not only does it feature a quality and lengthy campaign, but Atlus has also included a secondary challenge mode, which takes the form of a cooperative block climbing game show.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Catherine’s emotional angst and terrifying imagery is presented using an anime visual style. Hand-drawn to near-perfection, the game has a great look that stands out amidst the current generation library. It’s colourful yet somewhat realistic, with characters who feature a pretty good visual range of emotions. Some of them are a bit absurd, including a strange female host with furry red sideburns.

The featured block puzzles you’ve heard so much about, are shown as a floating cubic staircase, over top of an eerie black backdrop. Although their look can become a bit bland after a while, it’s necessary to mention how this game’s puzzles are at least interactive with moving characters. That isn’t the case with a lot of other puzzle genre releases.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Thankfully, Catherine’s characters are voiced by a quality cast. It was a good idea to include this feature, as the game’s storyline wouldn’t have been as impactful if it only used text-based dialogue. That’s especially true when it comes to the nightmarish sequences, where characters such as a crying baby and a heinous female character, can be heard making tormenting vocal sounds. You can still read subtitles if you’re having trouble following along, or happen to be hearing-impaired.

It’s hard to find faults with the presented audio, which includes original music, impressive writing, creepy sound effects and the aforementioned voice acting. However, the titular character’s voice acting can become a bit grating, due to how aloof she sounds. It’s a minor complaint, which really doesn’t affect the audio department’s overall quality.

Replay Factor

The amount of replay value found within this title is really up to the individual player, and whether or not they like the game enough to play through it more than once. There are achievements and trophies, which focus on acts performed during each in-game day, so you may need to go back and re-play the game to get those that were missed. Otherwise, it’s the secondary co-op mode that adds the most extra value. Though, you’ll probably want to show this one off to visiting friends and relatives, just to see their facial expressions.

Final Thoughts

If you’re a connoisseur of innovative video games, then Catherine should definitely be a part of your collection. While it’s not for everyone and is perhaps too challenging for many, it’s a high-quality game that begs for a try. Although quite a few great games were released this year, it stands out more than most, due to incredibly unique content and circumstance.

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 720p

Audio Formats

  • Dolby Digital 5.1

Multiplayer Mode(s)

  • Online Versus

Motion Controls

  • No

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