I’m not sure why I did this to myself. Glutton for punishment maybe? Whatever the reason, there are times I regret picking up Catherine: Full Body, which has caused painful flashbacks to almost 10 years ago when I almost reverted back to 9 year old me – the kid who was totally fine with smashing controllers to the ground when things didn’t go his way.
As one of the most ingenious puzzle games of our time, Catherine’s time sensitive block-pushing action is both of a ball of stress and a sponge of relief, offering both fever dream visuals that unfold in entertaining, often hilarious, always disturbing ways, and cerebral towers of terror. You wouldn’t imagine that it’s all tied together by a narrative preaching the ills and anxiety of modern dating and infidelity, but nothing about Catherine is usual.
Catherine: Full Body is both a re-release and a remix of the 2011 game, which no doubt frustrated many PS3 users as much as it delighted them. It was acclaimed upon release, and that praise is only going to pick up now that the game has been reimagined into a much harder version with numerous extras like online versus mode, a new remix mode, a substantial stretch in the amount of endings available, and a huge narrative shift that turns a love triangle into a love square via a mysterious new character named Rin.
The addition of Rin not only gives us an interesting new character to spice up this twisted love story, but also fleshes Catherine’s protagonist, Vincent, in new ways that just weren’t possible before. For starters, the otherwise idiotic and helpless Vincent is much more sympathetic this time around, and it’s this deeper understanding of his character that in turn makes the entire game that much more enjoyable. Climbing blocks to get away from a chainsaw-wielding baby now has more meaning than it ever did before, which makes it more rewarding when you reach the top.
Although, it’s rewarding enough to pass one of these levels and achieve a gold medal. When I played in 2011, my idiot self could never get more than a silver. But trying harder, and thinking more laterally, because the story is better and more engaging, seems to be an organic result leading from Shigenori Soejima’s deeper and more empathetic approach.
Let’s back track a bit here. For those who aren’t familiar with Catherine just know that it’s as much a novel tale of dating woes as it is an increasingly difficult puzzle game, spanning several days and nights in which protagnist Vincent Brooks is tempted away from his otherwise stable relationship with high school sweetheart Katherine by another, incredibly dramatic woman, named Catherine. By the time Rin, who Vincent saves from a stalker, is added to the story – often to hilarious effect – you start to feel sorry for this conflicted mess of a human being, whose constant surreal nightmares and looming regret form the basis of these playable stages.
The engrossing story can be a bit little too indulgent at times, lengthening the space between stages and forcing you to play through dialogue-heavy scenes at a local bar that only serve to further flesh the story. Those who are impatient and want less interruptions to their gameplay during story mode may feel a bit frustrated, especially because these puzzles are quite addictive once you get the hang of it.
As for the puzzles. Some are almost identical to their counterparts in the original version, although finessed with substantial changes whether that be different block formations, or different block types, chosen from the numerous styles like slippery ice blocks, deadly spike blocks, bomb blocks (the worst), or degraded blocks you can only step on a few times. The mechanics are fairly simple from there, you push and pull blocks to ‘edge’ them with others and create a path upwards, collecting special items or gold, and shoving competitors off, along the way.
It gets hard, fast. But such is the fun of Catherine, a puzzler that can often make punishment feel so sweet.
FOUR STARS OUT OF FIVE
Highlights: Fun and engaging puzzles; stronger story that doubles down on the weirdness
Lowlights: Heavy dialogue can suck you out of the gameplay; some pointless interactions in the bar
Developer: Shigenori Soejima
Platforms: PS4, PS Vita.