It’s been eight years since the release of Catherine, a 2011 puzzle-platformer game developed by ATLUS, the storied studio responsible for the Persona series. Known for its adult/mature undertones, dark humor, and surprisingly good puzzle gameplay, Catherine was not just a breath of fresh air for gamers in search of something unique, it also catered to fans of competitive puzzle games.
Eight years later, we are now looking at Catherine: Full Body, a new release that is part remaster, part expansion. Does the remake version of this PS3/Xbox 360 puzzler warrant a revisit, even for those who’ve scaled its peaks? Let’s see if the updated campaign and all its mature, yet relatable themes, have aged like fine wine.
Welcome Back to the Golden Playhouse
In Catherine: Full Body, you control Vincent Brooks, a 32-year old software programmer who is dealing with relationship issues with his longtime girlfriend Katherine. Katherine is ready to settle and ring wedding bells, but Vincent just wants to live their mundane lives as is, albeit some job-related financial issues. One night at the Stray Sheep bar, he meets a mysterious woman named Catherine, who takes a liking to Vincent to the point of having an affair with him. Strangely enough, Vincent starts to have nightmares that involve himself and other men (shown to the player as anthropomorphic sheep) ascending a bizarre tower while running away from their own demons and horrors. It’s up to Vincent to stay alive and climb these gauntlets in his nightmares while trying to juggle and fix the mess he’s made in the real world.
Catherine: Full Body divides your in-game time between day and night: by day, the story will progress, you’ll get the occasional text and phone call from either Katherine or Catherine, and you’ll be getting to know fellow guests and friends in the Stray Sheep bar. By night, you’ll be immersed in a time-sensitive 3D platform-puzzle tower game tasking you with manipulating blocks to create stairways up. It’s as fun as it is stressful.
During the bar segments, you can drink alongside Vincent’s buddies. Drinking will let players learn what Vincent is thinking. Drinking a lot also hilariously affects Vincent’s speed during the game’s nightmare puzzles. There’s also a Jukebox present for playing some sweet tunes, and an arcade game called “Rapunzel”, which is a de-make of Catherine’s own platform-puzzle sections, where your limitations are based on total movements, not time.
Once Vincent goes home and falls asleep, the second part of Catherine kicks in. During Vincent’s nightmares, you’ll have to think and act fast as blocks below you will start falling; take too long, and Vincent will plummet to the dreaded Game Over screen. Later on, the game introduces different kinds of blocks and items that will further challenge you. Clearing a level in the tower brings Vincent to a sort of resting spot where you can talk to other sheep, learn tips and tricks on how to manipulate blocks when tackling the puzzles, and buy items that will readily be available from the start the next time you play a level. There's also the confessional booth that will let you proceed onward, but only once you’ve answered some questions related to Vincent’s and the player's moral compass. Your answers to these questions, as well as your replies to Katherine, Catherine, and certain other characters will affect the outcome of the game. With over thirteen different endings in the game's short but sweet story mode, Catherine: Full Body is just begging players to revisit its main campaign over and over. Giving players an option to actually skip some levels (provided you’ve already earned its Gold reward) is a godsend to anyone who wants to view all possible endings.
As someone who got to play Catherine for the first time, I can't help but reflect on how damn stylish this game is. If you are familiar with developer Studio Zero / ATLUS’ work when it comes to presentation, then you’re in for a treat. Studio Zero brings the rich visual flair and jazzy OST that are present in their Persona games to Catherine: Full Body. Every character was so well-designed and realized that I couldn’t help but be curious as to what they were all about. I actually dig how the main campaign is treated as some sort of ‘Twilight Zone’-esque TV show complete with a host that directly addresses the player.
The concept of Catherine: Full Body's puzzle-platformer segments seemed disorienting to me at first. It combines simple platforming elements with space-limited block manipulation, similar to a sliding block puzzle. Unique physics rules such as limiting your climbing to a single block height, being able to prevent blocks from falling as long as it’s attached to another block's edge, and being able to shimmy along a block's ledges, make the game very interesting and fun to play. I’ll admit it took me a few hours (and a lot of death screens) to figure out the game's puzzle-platformer mechanics. But after a few levels and watching a couple of the useful technique videos the game generously offers, solving Catherine's puzzle levels became a real joy.
An Old Favorite in a New Bottle
So what’s new and what’s changed from the original version of Catherine? The most obvious and biggest addition to the game is the inclusion of a third love interest named Rin. Rin is introduced at the beginning of the game as amnesiac who Vincent rescued from a mysterious stalker. She can be found playing the piano in the Stray Sheep once the game properly starts. Gameplay-wise, she acts as a sort of support role and safety net during the Nightmare puzzle levels by preventing stages from collapsing whenever Vincent is in a tight spot. Plot-wise, Rin’s inclusion in the original story wasn’t problematic, since her content integrates well enough that it didn’t feel like an afterthought. However, later in the game, there’s an event that involves choosing between accepting her or leaving her. Having Vincent accept her will open up more of the story involving Rin, while choosing to leave her will just remove her from the game with little to no mention of her later on, which kind of feels lazy. Nonetheless, Rin’s content is a welcome addition to the original plot.
Catherine: Full Body also adds a new difficulty called Safety mode. Made for players who just wants to plow through the game’s campaign, Safety adds a ridiculous number of features that make Easy mode look like an older brother. No game overs, no time limits during the puzzle sections, the ability to activate “auto-play” when playing the puzzle segments (although this can be disabled at the click of a button any time). Heck, actually skipping entire puzzle segments is possible. For players thirsting for a challenge, or for returning veterans seeking something fresh, there's a Remix/Arrange mode which features new mechanics, gimmicks, and giant blocks resembling tetrominos (Tetris blocks) that are even trickier to manipulate. The Rapunzel game also gets the remix treatment.
Several other changes in the game are mostly quality of life changes such as being able to rotate the camera a bit during puzzle segments, being able to view techniques and strategies you’ve learned from the sheep you meet in Vincent’s nightmares, and a reworked Undo system (pillow items now give you additional undo points instead of lives, since you now have an unlimited amount of lives). Babel and Colosseum, the game’s arcade/challenge modes, are all automatically unlocked from the start and have also received new stages.
Two major delights were having Versus Mode unlocked from the start, as well as the inclusion of a new Online Battle mode. When Catherine originally launched, a surprising number of players got into the versus mode - enough that a serious competitive scene emerged. Catherine: Full Body’s Online Battle mode features both unranked and ranked match-making.
Catherine: Full Body is a complete package. It has something for everyone: a solid and replayable campaign mode; an arcade mode that features more puzzles; competitive and co-op modes, and most important of all, a surprisingly good puzzle game. Although there are some bits in the story that I found problematic, Catherine’s visuals, as well as the story’s mature themes dealing with commitment, relationships, and infidelity, are generally entertaining. After finishing the main campaign twice, I thought that I was done with it. But Catherine: Full Body got me totally hooked on its other game modes.
If you like a good and clever puzzle game, then Catherine: Full Body is something you can’t miss. It’s a game that’s soothing and sweet the first time you take it in, but ends up packing quite a good punch, even after you think you’ve got it figured out.
(+) Stylish visuals and presentation
(+) Unique and clever puzzle game mechanics
(+) Versus Mode unlocked from the start, and ranked and unranked Online Battle
(-) Some problematic story bits
(-) Difficulty regarding the game’s puzzle mechanics might frustrate new players
What I’ve Played
15 combined hours spent with two Story Mode playthroughs
5 combined hours spent in Babel, Colosseum, and Online Battle mode
Got to see two of the game’s endings
Played on: standard PS4
Catherine: Full Body is now available on the PS4 and is available on these select retailers in Asia.
[This review is based on a review code provided by Epicsoft.]