The puzzle game returns, but will it give you nightmares?
Remaking games is a contentious topic of late, as the last generation of games for the PS3 and Xbox 360 era become “classics”, and the current generation of games on PS4 and such seem to be heading for their own sunset. What, exactly, does a remake need to be successful? Is it just updated graphics and better controls, or do remakes require more time and investment? Will adding an online feature make a game better, or superfluous?
One of the more oddball games of the last ten years, Catherine seemed like an unlikely title to enter into this discussion, but the continued popularity and unique nature of the relationship simulator / arcade puzzle game, especially on the competitive scene at places like CEOtaku and EVO, have made Catherine an enduring cult classic. When Catherine Full Body was first announced, players wondered what was in store—the game already seemed fairly complete—and what we got far outpaced what was expected. But is it a good remake, and is it worth revisiting the world of Catherine, or jumping in for the first time? Let’s try and find the answer to this puzzle!
In Catherine, players take on the role of Vincent, a man who is, let’s just say, not perfect. Vincent is listless and drifting through adulthood, and although he seems moderately successful in life, he can’t seem to commit to his relationship with Katherine, his longtime girlfriend. Things are exacerbated even more by the sudden arrival of Catherine, a young woman who seems to put Vincent in a tough spot. In Catherine Full Body, this is further complicated by the addition of Rin, a mysterious woman who further forces the uncertain Vincent to try and confront his most dreaded enemy: actual choices and their consequences. Vincent, as the player character, is a far from perfect man and a fairly frustrating one at that, and while players are able to make choices that they think they (or Vincent) would make, the story changes based around those decisions. In many ways, the real heart of Catherine as a game is the story that unfolds as players make choices and seeing what outcomes develop; Catherine is as much a game about relationships as it is a puzzle game.
But oh, what a puzzle game it is. The key to Catherine’s enduring popularity is the fast-paced and frantic puzzle solving action that players are thrust into as Vincent begins to have nightmares… only to discover that these nightmares and his inability to decide things might be linked! Players guide Vincent along shifting puzzle landscapes, boss battles, and more as he fights to survive inside the Tower, and the puzzle action is the major gameplay draw here. While Vincent’s story is generally interesting, the real meat of this game comes from the puzzles; everything else feels secondary, and in many cases you’ll likely find yourself wanting to just get back to solving puzzles after a while. Catherine Full Body seems to recognize this, as it has far more puzzles (500, according to Sega, way more than twice the original) for players to engage with this time around, and returning players will find various changes and tweaks to the original game to keep them on their toes, as well as a “Remix” function that alters every puzzle, allowing you to continually challenge yourself after you’ve mastered a stage.
But really, puzzles aside, Catherine is a game about relationships, adult relationships, and it is perhaps one of the most unique games on the market because of that. While many dating sims and the like tend to feature characters in overly fantastical locations, time settings, and circumstances, if you were to remove the puzzle aspect from Catherine, you’d still have an intriguing character drama that can feel relatable at times. Vincent, ironically, is perhaps the least relatable protagonist there is, but that seems to help sell the core concepts of the story: that life, and relationships, are about choices, trust, communication, and solving “puzzles” together. The romance aspects aren’t the focus here, instead, it's the interaction between humans that makes up the core of relationships that players will be asked to tangle with as the plot unfolds, giving you the ability to control what Vincent says, does, and what outcomes he’ll encounter because of it; in Full Body, that means an additional set of endings as well, with 3 for Rin and 1 new ending each for the other two characters. Honestly, I didn’t care much for Catherine or Katherine’s new endings (they felt pretty similar to other endings they had already), but Rin fits into the game well and has some really unique aspects to the story that do make Full Body feel like a more complete game this time around, narratively.
There are plenty of reasons to play through the game again, as each ending requires various choices and actions taken by the player during the more RPG segments of the game, and do give very different narrative outcomes. While some sections do repeat, the way the story shifts over time is interesting and unique, and helps make it feel less repetitious to keep replaying parts of the game over and over again; the new variances and addition of more puzzles also helps in this regard, especially if you’ve played the original game to full completion. There is also a secret ending to unlock for the entire game that revolves around the extra missions in Babel, which puts a lot of the game into perspective and is a very interesting reward for completing some of the hardest puzzle challenges in the entire game.
As the newest character and biggest change to the game overall, Rin needs to be front and center in terms of what septs Catherine Full Body apart from its original incarnation. To that end, the results are pretty successful. Rin has enough interesting personality and storyline to help define them as a character in the story, and the way Rin interacts with Vincent is a unique change from the much more forceful relationships he has with the C/Katherines.
However, it’s a bit odd at times to reconcile the other two characters in relationship to Rin; where Vincent is certainly not a great character, I found Rin tended to highlight the negative aspects of the original two women in weird ways, making them somewhat more unlikeable and manipulative in certain lights. Rin’s presence in the game seems to be a calm alternative to the chaotic energies of the other two, and it does sort of feel like the game is steering you towards Rin as the healthier option between the three. At issue here is that while Rin’s storyline is interesting, it does feel a little… “Poochy”-esque, if you’re familiar with The Simpsons, in the way that Rin is either very important to the game’s new incarnation, and sort of steals the spotlight away from the original two.
There are some concerns about what, exactly, players will be getting if they’ve already sunk a lot of time into Catherine; while you get a lot of new puzzles, remixed modes, and a new route, there is not a lot else here to keep the game going beyond that. This certainly feels like the remaster of the game for sure, much like how some Persona games got an updated version, but the gap in time between versions means that if you already played and got your fill from the original, you may not find a lot in this new one that will entice you to bite on for full retail price.
That is, of course, unless we talk about multiplayer, which may be the major reason many players are looking to dive back in to game. Catherine Full Body contains a much more robust multiplayer mode than the original, and has online functional play as well, allowing you to take your competitive Catherine dreams to new heights. Aside from cosmetics such as new characters to play as and other tweaks, the overall multiplayer experience was quite solid and enjoyable. It was great to be able to play Catherine against someone else on PS3 locally, but the online multiplayer here works quite well in our trials of it, and feels like a great addition to the game. If you’re not interested in the story and just want to play the puzzle battle element, there is likely a good reason to pick this up… on sale, though.
The biggest reservation is that, even with a robust online mode (or, at least, far more multiplayer capability than before), there isn’t a lot to “do” in Catherine other than what we’ve already said. The core game was certainly updated in a lot of ways, but the main, core game remains the same: you talk to people, watch cutscenes, hang out at the Stray Sheep bar, and then go to the Nightmare realm and solve puzzles. There aren’t very many options in terms of other things to do, and one of the biggest, Super Rapunzel, is just a remixed demake of the main puzzle game aspect.
While choices do absolutely matter, you’re still branching off of very distinct and non-malleable paths, meaning that you can’t really do much but make choices and strap in for the ride you’ve set yourself up for. And if puzzle games, especially frantic ones, aren’t your style, then the story that Catherine holds might be one that’s hard for you to enjoy, as some of the special rules and twists to the gameplay over the course of the game will continue to up the ante on challenges.
There are also some issues content wise that haven’t been addressed since the original. While some of the more controversial and callously transphobic issues were smoothed over or reduced, the game still has latent transphobia and homophobia within its theming. Other issues that persist from the original is the game’s somewhat starkly binary portrayal of men and women, which feels like a callback to something like Men are from Mars, Women are From Venus, with characters acting out somewhat tired gender tropes: men are lazy, indecisive, cheaters, users, and liars, while women are manipulative, crazy, overly emotional, and harrowing.
While the main game’s crux of people in relationships is really interesting, some of the ways the game explores these ideas feels less than ideal. As mentioned earlier, while Vincent and most of the cast are never portrayed as ideal, flawless individuals, it can at times feel like all of the characters are fairly awful people and it can be hard to empathize with their plights, flaws and all, something that can be heightened further by the changes in how certain characters act in different story routes in the game, making it hard to get a good read on what the character’s innate personality is actually like.
By the time I had finished playing Catherine Full Body, I found myself in a puzzling position: I felt like Catherine had, once again, revealed itself to be an amazing experience and unique game that there really is no other like it out there, and puzzle fans will absolutely find tons of stuff to play in this game. As a returning Catherine player, though, I also found that the game really felt very similar to the one I initially played, with just slightly more than it had the first time. I’m thrilled by the addition of the multiplayer changes, as competitive Catherine is an amazing scene and I hope that it will continue to grow with these modern updates and ability to get newer players to chance it on, but I’m also a little reserved on the overall package. Like Vincent, I guess I’ve found myself at an odd impasse on what choice to make, but my gut tells me that if you like puzzle games or narratives about relationships, not romance, then there really is no game that can compare to Catherine, warts and all. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to try and finish those Golden Playhouse challenges once again...
+ Upgraded graphics and controls help this game feel modern and improved.
+ Rin’s additional story is unique and a great way to flesh out the Catherine narrative.
+ Multiplayer is vastly expanded and the online mode helps give this game a lot more life after the narrative ends.
+/- Multiple story paths mean lots of content, but a good amount of the game is the same each time, meaning save scumming is probably easiest.
- The game still has some issues of gender and sexual representation that didn’t change much.
- If you don’t like puzzles, there’s really not much else to look forward to in this game.
Is this your first or second time trying to conquer the Nightmare? Interested in competitive Catherine? Let us know what you think of the game in the comments!
Nicole is a features writer and editor for Crunchyroll. Known for punching dudes in Yakuza games on her Twitch channel while professing her love for Majima. She also has a blog, Figuratively Speaking. Follow her on Twitter: @ellyberries
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