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Catherine: On July 12, Will You Climb or Die?

Company: Atlus

Next week, a demo for Atlus's bizarre puzzle/ adventure game, Catherine hits both PSN and the Live Marketplace. Ahead of the demo's release, we had the opportunity to participate in conference with Atlus and learn a little more about the game.

As you may have read in our E3 coverage, Catherine follows the story of Vincent, a 32 year-old comfortable with the status quo. He's been dating his girlfriend, Katherine, for five years and is perfectly happy with keeping things they way they are - simple and clean. Katherine, on the other hand, isn't as content and is constantly pushing Vincent to settle down. Things are really thrown into a tizzy when Vincent wakes up with the blonde Catherine, whom he met in a bar the previous night, next to him. Already anxious about the situation with Catherine, Vincent' s worries are amplified when rumors of people dying in their sleep begin to swirl.

Vincent's story is framed within a television show called "Golden Playhouse," a sort of a late night mystery show in the vein of Tales from the Darkside or Twilight Zone, hosted by Trisha. She introduces some of the characters to the player and even pops in with a few fourth wall-breaking texts to Vincent after each level.

During the hour-long demo, we had a chance to look at both of Catherine's play styles. Most of the gameplay takes place in Vincent's nightmares, which are sort of his anxiety over his problems in tower form. In his dreams, Vincent must continue to climb a tower as the bottom layers constantly fall off. We've all had the dream where we're falling, but in Vincent's case, if he falls off the tower in his dreams, he'll die in real life. It's literally a "Climb or Die" situation.

To ascend the tower, Vincent needs to push and pull blocks, creating staircases and other configurations. One of the lingering questions surrounding the North American release of Catherine is the difficulty. The Japanese version was notoriously hard, which I'm sure led to a few broken controllers overseas. The North American version is still a challenge (I can personally attest to this), though the challenge has been altered based on feedback from the community. For instance, break points were added in levels where players were routinely dying too much.

The North American includes a "redo" feature, allowing you to undo one move. There's also a "Very Easy" version, where you'll have a better chance to collect power-ups like Energy Drink, which let you vault over several blocks.

While in his Nightmares, Vincent will run into Ram-men, who are also trying to make it to the top of the tower. During the demo, we saw a few climbing, and falling off, towers in the background. Some will even show up on your tower. Early on they're just obstacles, but in later levels, they will actively try to push you off the tower or otherwise block your progress.

Your fleeced compatriots also show up between levels. You can use coins collected in each level to purchase power-ups, like a pillow that offers retries or a bell that can restore broken blocks. You can also pick up tips on how to make it up the tower, such as a Pyramid Technique. While at the top of the tower, you'll also have to enter a confessional, where you answer questions. Your responses feed into a personality meter, though it isn't an indication of "Morality." Instead, the meter shows your affinity to Law or Chaos. In other words, are you all about "You" or all about "Others." Your final "rating" affects the game's ending. There's also an online hook allowing you to see how other people voted.

Each of the Ram-men is actually a person from the real world. Between levels you'll spend time in a bar, where you'll run into a few of the Ram-men (only they don't know who you are) and interact with the different people in Vincent's life. Although you'll need to hit a few story points, you are given a few choices while in the bar. You can spend time playing "Rapunzel," an arcade game based around the same block-moving mechanics found in nightmares, or spend time texting both Katherine and Catherine. Your response to each of the girls' texts influences the aforementioned meter, affecting the ending.

You can also spend time drinking. The more you drink, the faster you are during levels, though it limits your time to do other things.

In addition to the single-player story, which should last between 8 - 14 hours, you can also tackle two multiplayer modes, Babel and Colosseum. Like "Rapunzel," both are built around the tower climbing mechanics. Babel is offers a co-op variant, while Colosseum offers competitive play that is sure to ruin a few friendships.

The demo will be available on both PSN and in the Live Marketplace on July, with the full game hitting on July 26. The demo sold me at E3 2011, so circle you calendar and make sure you give it a try.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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