Sega has released Catherine Classic, Atlus's surreal cult puzzle-platformer, as an upgraded PC port on Steam today. The new version is optimised for PC, including 4K support, unlocked frame-rate and the Japanese voice-over work released for the first time in the West.
The surprise announcement comes ahead of the release of the remake of the game for PS4, Catherine: Full Body, which will feature significantly more content. As a spruced up version of the original game available now, here is an updated version of our review of the 2011 original.
Vincent Brooks is a chump. A 32 year old coaster who spends his evenings slurping rum and coke with his mates while his long-term girlfriend Katherine nags about marriage from the other side of a text message. A 21st century goof frightened of love, commitment and growing up.
After another hazy night in the Stray Sheep --the smoky local bar where all the patrons have something to say-- Vincent has an illicit liaison with another young woman, Catherine. It is then that the nightmares start. In his dreams, Vincent drops into a hellish realm of shifting, twisting building blocks. As the bottom stack of blocks falls beneath his feet, Vincent must climb the seemingly never ending tower, shuffling blocks to form staircases and handholds. If he falls, he dies, and he'll never wake up.
Atlus's Catherine defies easy classification. At its core it's a puzzle-action game, with you guiding Vincent through his nightmare. It's a surprisingly vicious master too, the tower's bottom layer is constantly crumbling and tumbling away, forcing you to think fast, yanking out blocks, avoiding traps and adhering to Catherine's skewed rules of gravity.
It's a game unquestionably designed to play through on Easy first, the learning curve steep and stretched across three different difficulties. The initial stages cause few problems, with you able to fumble your way to the top. But it's not long before relying on blind luck becomes a poor option. The intricate, devilish formation of the towers forces you to think carefully about your techniques, how the blocks will fall, and how one misplaced block can stop you dead in your tracks before flinging you to the spike pit below. Prepare to get very acquainted with Catherine's game over screen.
So it can be frustrating. However, there are few games as satisfying when you overcome a trial; a cathartic mixture of pride and relief. Catherine is crafted in such a way that every conquered stage is a triumph, a hard-won victory and another step to freedom. You begin to root for that chump Vincent, desperately giving him the leg up he needs to escape.
At full flow, with you shunting blocks in quick succession and Vincent dancing across them in his boxer shorts, Catherine is a rewarding beast. Though some control hiccups can interrupt your rhythm. When Vincent is clinging onto the back of a block, for instance, the controls are inexplicably reversed every time you stop, causing head-scratching aggravation.
There are also instances when you'll want to grab onto a block and end up tumbling off the edge as Vincent casually continues moving. With a bit of care this can be avoided, but will crop up in instances where speed is essential. Fortunately Atlus are aware of the quirks in their own system and provide an "undo" button which you will also want to get familiar with.
There are certainly occasions where the nightmare stages can feel a little too much like hard work, which is a wholly deliberate gambit by Atlus to get you into Vincent's head. In between nightmares, you will get the chance to visit the Stray Sheep, chat to your pals, drink and get to know the other weirdoes that frequent the bar.
Vincent will also be able to text Katherine and Catherine, a suitable nod to the overwhelming role technology plays in modern relationships. While Vincent provides the exact words, you will be able to influence his tone and attitude towards the two women.
Do you see Katherine as the end of your freedom, or the secure future and lasting love you've always wanted? Do you see Catherine as the exciting, free-living girl that sends you naughty pictures, or the slightly unhinged temptress? In truth Atlus, much like in its Persona games, struggles with its representation. It clearly wants to put the onus on childish men struggling with commitment issues, but portraying Katherine as an overbearing partner with a passive-aggressive push towards marriage is a typically clumsy approach. Similarly the barmaid at the Stray Sheep, Erica, is a trans woman who is, for the most part, smartly drawn but suffers from some ham-fisted faux-pas that the game could do without.
Catherine is certainly heavy-handed on the metaphors, and the denouement on the way to eight different endings splits opinion. But Catherine will mean different things to different people, a game that runs far deeper than its titillating surface might suggest. And the journey to finding out what it means to you is certainly one worth taking.