Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: Catherine Demo

I'm going to start out by saying that I'm quite divided in my opinion of demos. While, on one hand, I think demos are a great way to introduce your product to the public and generate excitement, I also think they can  underwhelm and be poorly representative of the finished game. The demo for the original Infamous was such a demo, making me think the full game might be kind of dull. The Mortal Kombat 9 demo, on the other hand, ensured an early purchase by me. I'm very happy to report that Catherine was that kind of experience.

Play the demo. It's pretty great.

Catherine had my attention since being announced and previewed, almost exclusively for its subject matter, which was and is ridiculously refreshing among the sea of military shooters and, well, other shooters. I also have a tremendous amount of love and respect for Atlus, the developer of this risqué puzzler. Upon completing the demo, I was not disappointed.

First off, if you don't like narrative heavy games filled with block puzzles, this one is probably not for you. That said, the brief amount of plot introduced in the demo was witty and well executed. The presentation is top notch, mixing anime, anime-inspired graphics, and anime-inspired cel-shaded gameplay graphics. It all moves and looks slick and clean. The voice acting is convincing; it won't blow you away, but three guys in a bar sound like three guys in a bar, complete with swearing and typical guy talk. The gameplay graphics are merely a cut above serviceable, that is until the one boss you face during the demo shows up for lunch (you'll see), as she looks genuinely creepy.

This is usually what my dreams look like too.

But back to the narrative! I can give no better compliment than to say that the demo made me want to buy the game...I honestly want to follow that story. I would probably lay down $20 just to watch the story play out. It seems to have been pushed as the game's strong point, and I can clearly see why; it's just really mature and different from what's out there, even at first glance.

The bit of music in the demo has me excited to hear more. While it feels very familiar of the Persona series, that's certainly not a bad thing. It fits the atmosphere well, and adds tension to the falling block gameplay.

And the gameplay is really interesting and engaging...if you like block puzzles. Personally, I love a good puzzler. Apparently so does Atlus, because these "nightmares" compose almost all of the gameplay, other than some text-based decision making (that apparently determines which ending you get). In its simplest form, you are pulling and pushing blocks to make staircases, so that you may ascend the tower of blocks as the bottom falls out. Throw in a variety of rules and items, and even the occasional boss to mess you up, and you have a puzzler that becomes quite challenging. Although I've only read about the challenge Catherine presents, I had to retry a few times on the end of just the second puzzle, so I can see how the difficulty apparently spikes rapidly. There are only two puzzles in the demo, but by the end of them, you should have a good feel for whether it's your cup of tea or not. It sets the foundation, and I like it a great deal.

The demo is only a sample, and as such, I can't immediately recommend the game. But I must admit, for a guy who is somewhat cynical about demos, color me impressed. This demo really made me want more...more puzzles, and definitely more of the wonderful narrative that has you bouncing between the two lovely ladies, (K)Catherine. This game just looks really promising, if you walk in wearing the right expectations. I hope to play this one in the future.

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