A month or two ago my WRUP on the podcast was Atlus’ niche puzzle game, Catherine. This is part review, part news article because lately some people have taken this title to the next level: Catherine E-sport.
Essentially this is a game where you push and pull blocks to climb a tower whilst trying to avoid various physical manifestations of your deepest psychological fears.. And also sheep who try and push you to your doom at almost every possible turn. First things first: The story is brilliant. With artwork in the same style as Persona you’re onto an aesthetic winner. The gameplay is clunky is some places but it may have just been my poor reaction times (I am a self-confessed exceedingly average gamer). Overall though, it’s super enjoyable and surprisingly lengthy. Once you have unlocked competitive mode by playing through the story, you are granted access to a bunch of challenge levels which ramp up the difficulty.
So as you can imagine, some people have gotten a hold of this and are rushing to become the best in the world at pulling and shoving blocks. I’m not going to lie: even on the lowest difficulty I found the puzzles very challenging. I envy the guys with the ability to perform to that high a standard.
It was never intended that the competitive mode be the focus of this game; just playing through the story is testament enough to that, and if I asked you to form a list of potential competitive titles I expect the 6-year-old Catherine would be close to the bottom, if it appeared at all… The competitive mode isn’t even online, which makes it an even more unlikely choice.
Ready for an even more crazy idea? In some ways this game is considered an anime fighter. Colosseum mode allows 2 people to locally “build-off” vs one another. But it is tried and tested and seems that in most cases it is much easier to attack and KO opponents rather than to beat them to the top.
The very first streamer of Catherine as a competitive fighter was Finest KO and courtesy of the Catherine Wiki, here is a run down of the rules they have formulated for their tournaments:
- Best Of 3 Sets with Best Of 5 Sets for Grand Finals
- Banned Stages
- The Empireo, because a large wall of Dark Blocks creates an area where a knockdown will likely win the round unless the attacked player is very familiar with the game.
- Prison Of Despair, because it is possible for players to KO the other player by going down to the lowermost block and causing the other player’s entire side of the stage to collapse by pushing out the lowest block on that side (though it is possible for the stage to be played if both players agree to not use that tactic.)
- Inquisition for being too quick.
- The rest is up to players and organizers, although common practices include the first stage being random or agreed and allowing the loser to change the stage while prohibiting the loser from choosing a stage he or she has won on during the match (unless the winner agrees to it.)
Seems simple, but this game is choc-full off techniques (my other half said in summary of this game: “It has given me a new-found appreciation for the word technique.”) and the tide can turn at any moment. Competitive matches are actually highly tense to watch (see the below video from EVO 2015)
Competitive play aside….
….this game is so niche it hurts. I’ve tried to explain it to people and after I reel off my typical:
“Well you play this guy, and he has a girlfriend who’s pushing him to get married, but he isn’t sure, then another girl turns up and seduces him and then you have to climb towers in the night.”
I smile encouragingly and the person looks at me blankly, their expression giving me a sense of:
“well there’s no fucking way I’m playing that weeby piece of shit.”
Thing is, if you immediately decide you don’t want to play this based on the concept… You should at least give it a go and then decide it isn’t for you. While initially it may seem convoluted or even perverse, the story is told in such a way that you’re left hooked. Not to mention: some of the puzzles are so difficult that completion leaves you with a sense of satisfaction similar to that you feel when you conquer a particularly difficult enemy on something like Dark Souls.
All of this with likeable characters, pleasing visuals, and multiple endings?
It’s pretty much the perfect game… Get practising, I expect to see you all at the next tournament.