It’s Catherine on Katherine crime!
Back in 2011, Atlus released a quirky little title called Catherine, which blended puzzle elements with a dating simulator. The unique experience gained a bit of a cult following, and now Atlus is looking to expand that (and/or entice existing fans to take another dip) with the release of Catherine: Full Body on the PlayStation 4. Time to climb…
As noted, there are two primary elements in Catherine. First, there’s a dating sim in which you drink, talk to people, respond to texts and try to make sense of your unusual circumstances. Second, there’s a number of climbing puzzles that require you to manipulate blocks in order to ascend and reach the exit. For those that don’t want to deal with the puzzles, a Safety Mode has been added that allows you to skip them and focus entirely on the story.
We hold a love/hate relationship with the puzzle side. On one hand, they’re well designed and can really challenge you to come up with viable solutions — a remix mode has even been added for those that can readily clear the original versions. On the other, the touchy controls still make us want to hurl our controller across the room when a false step or accidentally pushed box leads to our demise. It’s not really an issue when you’re not under the gun, but when you’re being chased it can become a frustrating problem.
There are a few different graphical styles at work here, including fully animated cut scenes, some of which have been added in the Full Body version to facilitate the inclusion of a third potential love interest. The standard game sequences have been overhauled as well, and it makes for a very colourful and visually interesting presentation.
Industry veteran Troy Baker (Last of Us, BioShock Infinite, Batman) handles the lead role, and he’s joined by a strong cast that includes Critical Role‘s Laura Bailey and Michelle Ruff. Collectively they do a great job of breathing life into the story. The music is decent enough, but if we have to hear the word “edge” one more time we might lose it.
In Catherine, you play as Vincent, an affable guy with a good heart that finds himself in a tight spot after one morning waking up next to Catherine, a beautiful young woman. He has no memory of their encounter. This wouldn’t be a huge problem except that Vincent is in a long-term relationship with Katherine, who further complicates the situation by informing him that she’s late and believes she’s pregnant.
As Vincent tries to sort out this dilemma, he also has a chance encounter with Rin, who suffers from amnesia and believes she’s being pursued when she bumps into Vincent. With nowhere to go, she moves in next door to Vincent and starts playing piano at his favourite bar. What was once a potential love triangle becomes a square in Full Body, and it provides another storyline for you to explore. It’s well implemented and doesn’t feel tacked on.
While things are confusing for Vincent when he’s awake, they get much worse when he goes to sleep as each night he’s transported to a dream world populated by sheep. There he’s forced to climb increasingly difficult towers and answer pointed questions by an unseen entity. Each day he sets out with the intention of setting things right, but each subsequent morning he wakes up with Catherine in his bed and no idea how she got there.
It’s definitely an unusual marriage of gameplay styles, but it works, though we’ve always found the narrative portion more interesting. There are numerous endings based on how you deal with the situation and the answers you provide. What’s unique about that is there are no binary choices about the women themselves. The game is reading how you play and determining the path forward that fits rather than winding to an eventual “Catherine, Katherine or Rin”? choice that renders all previous decisions moot.
Although the narrative is the game’s highlight, there are some shortcomings. The first deals with Vincent extricating himself from, shall we say, problematic situations in unexplained ways. For instance, something will come up, and you’ll think, “How is he going to get out of this?” And instead of the scenario playing out it just abruptly ends, and then there’s no follow up. It ends up feeling like the writers knew how to create drama but not resolve it.
How you walk away from Catherine may also depend a lot on the game’s supernatural twist in the final act as it can get pretty far out there based on what path you go down. While we preferred the earlier, more grounded sections, the later stages didn’t ruin it for us. Still, it feels like a “your mileage may vary” scenario.
On the puzzle front, the game can be very challenging, constantly introducing new types of blocks with unique properties as well as a litany of “techniques” to help make your climb. There are multiple difficulty settings, along with the aforementioned option to skip them entirely, but we’d recommend plowing through any issues you might have with the puzzles as there’s a level of satisfaction that goes with successfully navigating Vincent’s nightmares.
If you’re looking for something outside the box and didn’t play the previous release, Catherine: Full Body is the version to get thanks to the added content and upgraded presentation. If you’ve played it previously it’s debatable if the changes warrant a return trip.