By Darnell Henriquez
After attending a video game-themed burlesque show at a bar in Jamaica Plains, Boston last month, I managed to acquire a copy of the game “Catherine: Full Body” from the event organizer as part of a prize for winning an online contest which also paid for my cover fee to the show in the first place. The original 2011 game, “Catherine”, was one I’ve always been interested in but never seemed to find the time and money to pick up and now that its next-generation re-release came into my possession, I can finally play it and give my full thoughts on the manner.
“Catherine” is a puzzle game made by Atlas, the same developers behind the Persona Franchise which this game is a loose spin-off of. In it, you play as Vincent Brooks, an average guy in his 30s with a long-time girlfriend named Katherine who can be best described as the one who “wears the pants” in the relationship and questions Vincent on when they’re finally going to settle down and start a family. Then Vincent has an affair with a free-spirited girl named Catherine and starts having nightmares of climbing a tower full of sheep in which he’ll die in real life if he dies in the dream, much like “Nightmare on Elm Street.” More on the premise in the gameplay and personal perception sections of the review.
“Catherine” has a very unique gameplay style. The best way I can describe the first main gameplay section (the tower puzzle) is that it’s what I imagined what would happen if someone placed “Q-Bert” and “Tetris” into a blender and then had a bunch of sheep cries playing as background music. Your main goal is to survive the nightmare by climbing to the top of a tower as it is collapes by pushing and climbing over blocks much like in “Q-Bert.” The gameplay then changes to a lot like “Tetris” when you cause a sequence of events that can cause a single block or even an entire column of them to collapse and thus potentially making it harder for you to climb further up.
The game takes a lot of strategies as each action can have unforeseen consequences that can help or hinder you. As you progress the through the tower, it becomes harder to climb and you encounter new block types and even enemies that might have you want to undo your last move or just reset the whole stage (the full-body edition even comes with a whole new remix mode which adds even more new block types, some of whom takes the “Tetris” influence a little too literal).
At the end of each tower stage, you’re in a confessional-like box where you are questioned on your views on relationships and other personal matters such as “Does life begin or end at marriage?” and “What are your thoughts on underpants?” These questions are set to a Chaos/order scale which will influence how Vincent will view life, interact with others and which C/Katherine he’ll fall in love with aka which ending you’ll more likely to get.
The second gameplay section is what I would call the dating simulator portion, which is more close to the Persona franchise. You spend a lot of time in the real world having conversations with regular people that can add in some of the blanks when it comes to the exposition and general world-building.
Whereas “Persona” oftentimes takes place in a high school, “Catherine” takes place in a bar called the Stray Sheep and you can interact with your friends about the nightmares you’ve been having as well as receive advice and friendly banter about your cheating. Some of the other bar patrons are men who also are facing similar situations and you can give advice to them that can affect their progression in the story as well as yours. There is also an arcade machine which is just the tower climbing game redone to a medieval-style based on the Rapunzel fairy tale. It’s a great way to practice your skills of the puzzle section in a relatively risk-free environment (for you the player and Vincent).
Normally, I’m not really that into puzzle games or anime style romantic dramas. However, “Catherine” is one of those interesting exceptions.
For a first-time player, the puzzles can be mind-numbingly brutal, but it gets better once you practice and can get into the proper mindset. That first time when you finally manage to build a 5 block path that gets you to the near top of the tower and finish the stage with a gold score is such a fantastic moment and as the game gets harder it also teaches you new techniques that you can use even on the earlier levels you’ve beat before.
The main story is well written with interesting characters that you’d be bound to end up liking. It also has the standard twists and turns you’d expect in a romantic drama as you have to pick between the responsible and order based Katherine or the happy-go-lucky and chaotic Catherine (or you can pick the third option and leave both of them for the newly introduced love interest of Qatherine or Rin, who I deliberately chose to omit until now to avoid spoilers).
Overall, an average playthrough of Catherine will take you about 12 hours, depending on how well your puzzle skills are and how much you focus on the smaller side stories and cutscenes. If you enjoy puzzle games, I highly recommend this game even if you dislike the story as it is skippable and there are different game modes that focus solely on the puzzle aspects, with some of them being unlocked when you begin the game.
There’s also a local and online multiplayer mode in which you can compete with friends and strangers to see who can reach the top of the tower first. And If you’re on the opposite end and just want more of the anime-style stories or just want to reach all the endings, then the easier settings have an autoplay button that will play the game for you in each nightmare stage.
When should you pay for this? For first time players, I’d say it is worth full price, however, if you bought the original and played it all the way through, maybe wait for a sale. If you really yearn for the new features and endings right away then go ahead but otherwise, maybe wait for it to drop to $20-$30.