Find out what our Neale thought of this cult classic’s Switch port!
It’s not often you see developers try to fuse two genres that seem completely incompatible and make it work. Risks of that nature definitely, if anywhere, tend to breed within indie game circles, where developers take chances on new and controversial formulas based on passion rather than profit. Though that’s not to say it’s entirely avoided in the AAA games industry, as Catherine can attest.
It’s not like Catherine is new; the game is pushing a decade in age at the moment, and in some respect it shows, but Catherine: Full Body at least develops its range, if only a little, for its rerelease on the current gen platforms. The combination of puzzle and visual novel-esque elements still work together well, and even another 10 years down the line I can only imagine that they’ll still gel effectively.
The puzzle aspect is the only real ‘gameplay’ that you’ll experience, dropping you into a Qbert-like platformer puzzle, in which pulling and pushing blocks allows you to climb a stairway that you intuitively end up building yourself in order to reach your goal at the very top. All of these puzzles are set within a dreamworld, aptly named the ‘Nightmare’. The game feels very much like a test of logic, and unfortunately if your logic is anything like mine you’ll be tested fairly regularly, sometimes to the point of complete bewilderment and frustration. That’s not to say the game is unfair, the game often offers you visual demos of new techniques you can use to maneuver blocks to your advantage, pushing them out to cause blocks above to fall, or pulling them to allow you to hang over ledges and shimmy your way to a seemingly inaccessible area. But often in the heat of the moment it’s easy to forget the context of those clues, and you’ll be left scratching your head at walls of blocks filled with holes that you aren’t quite sure how to tackle, and no matter how you try to shift the blocks you’ll always end up a block short of climbing.
There were two particular instances where the Nightmare lived up to its name, and they were both resolved by moving blocks at random instead of careful process, which honestly removed any satisfaction out of those moments. For the most part solutions are relatively clear, and the game even offers you an undo function which is a completely necessary evil in a game like this, as one block in the wrong place can entirely cut you off from ascending further. It’s a function I abused to death, but without it the puzzles would be near impenetrable.
With all that said, the puzzles only make up around half the game. The other half is spent with the central characters, the most central being Vincent. You’re in control of Vincent’s actions within the nightmare, and in his waking nightmare where most of his time is spent at a bar named ‘The Stray Sheep’. Vincent’s very much the too-laid-back type, and finds himself caught between his girlfriend Katherine, and a stranger also named Catherine whom he happens to unknowingly begin to have an affair with. If it wasn’t obvious from their names, Vincent has a lot of slip-ups with their names, accidentally bringing up ‘the other [K/C]atherine’ around the respective one that he’s trying to hide his infidelity from, causing him all kinds of problems.
Your time with Vincent is primarily spent making decisions; what to drink and how much of it, replying carefully to texts, accepting or declining phone calls, and talking to other patrons at the bar, most of which are men that also appear within the Nightmares. It’s a very character driven game, and in most cases the characters are at least endearing. Your choices decide Vincent’s ultimate fate and who, if anyone, he’ll be with at the end of the game.
The only let down in this respect is the writing and voice acting, which isn’t to say they’re bad! They just feel very much a product of 10 years ago. Even now, I’m still grinding my teeth at the puzzle narrator reminding me “you can always go back, and undo some of your moves” every 15 seconds as I struggled to clamber my way up the tower. I’d have appreciated an option to turn this off, as elegant as the gentleman’s voice is.
The last generation pushed acting performance in video games to a degree that we hadn’t seen previously, and unfortunately the writing in particular feels very much of the era. For a character driven title, it’d be wrong to say that the representation of some characters feels dated – Erica is mistreated by some characters, and the implication is it’s because she’s transgender. This isn’t really a surprise from developers Atlus, who have a bit of a history not writing LGBTQ characters with much finesse, but you’d think after 10 years they’d maybe have made some changes for the better? Well, one of the new characters to the game for the Full Body edition is Rin, and for spoilers sake I won’t dive into their arc here, but suffice to say the handling of said character is once again a little tonedeaf, but it feels like Atlus made some steps to try and be progressive in their handling of said subject. It’s honestly hard to say whether this is a step forward for the developers, or whether they’re not moving anywhere at all, but regardless it caused controversy even before it’s release.
It took me roughly 12 hours to get my first ending, and that honestly felt like a reasonable length for the game. The option of interacting with Rin as well as the other two love interests hits the pacing a little compared to the original, with a love triangle now becoming a love quadrangle (square? rectangle? rhombus?), but my main point of contention would be with the amount of puzzle stages. About 10 hours in the game hits a natural ending point, but with certain plot beats left hanging it keeps going for a couple more hours. Considering the overall length of one playthrough, this probably isn’t a problem for most players who are willing to sit down and just enjoy the story once over, but the original had 8 possible endings, and there are another 5 potential endings in Full Body. That means if you haven’t played the game before there’s 13 total endings to invest your time into, and though not all of them are probably worth your time, it’s still a huge time sink regardless. The ‘true’ endings are the hardest to achieve, and you’ll likely need a guide or walkthrough to get your morality meter to the maximum of either side of the spectrum. It’s worth noting that you’ll probably be faster at the game and be able to skip cutscenes on subsequent playthroughs, but it’s a question of how invested in the other Katherines you are.
Full Body has given the title a handful of other quality of life improvements including updated multiplayer, more animated cutscenes courtesy of Studio 4°C, a new ‘safety’ level of difficulty, an autoplay feature, a remix mode, and brings the visuals up to the current gen standard. Even in 2011 Catherine looked fantastic, which is certainly why Atlus likely stuck with a similar visual style for Persona 5 half a decade later, but even on the Switch (which isn’t exactly a powerhouse) the game retains its sheer vibrance. Performance on the Switch was for the most part pretty solid, and the only time I ever experienced any slowdown was rather ironically in the bar, and not in a puzzle segment. A quick reset of the game fixed this, and the only other instance of things being not quite right was once again at the bar where random flashes of colour would throw themselves through the room. This didn’t diminish the experience for me, but it might help to bear it in mind if you’re deciding between the Switch and PS4 versions.
Catherine: Full Body reprises what was so fantastic about the original release and breathes some life into what was one of Atlus’ more interesting and inspired titles. The characters are still dynamic and engaging, and the Full Body upgrade has certainly provided both new challenges for old players, and toned the difficulty to a more accessible level for new players. Atlus’ history with JRPGs shines through brightly, delivering something completely unlike anything they’ve done before, and is only hampered by their erratic writing. Time might not have been favourable to Catherine’s story, and perhaps it should have been left in the past. It’s impossible to say, but if Atlus just took more risks like this, they might be unstoppable.
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