Catherine Classic Review – Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice

    Title: Catherine Classic
    Developer: Atlus
    Release Date: January 10, 2019
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: SEGA
    Genre: Puzzle Platformer

8 long years ago, back in 2011, I was just a sophomore in college who didn’t have much of a clue what the world really was like — especially the “dating world”. Yes, I did have a bit of relationship experience, so it’s not that I didn’t know what it was like to be in a relationship, but college and dating mixed together made for a pretty interesting combination — to say the least.

Freshman year of college was like a “Dating as a College Student 101” crash course where many students learned the concepts of “hooking up”, “flings”, and “one-night stands”. Sophomore year, on the other hand, was a different crash course, “Dating as a College Student 201”, that was more about the aftermath of freshman year of college, focusing more on whether one continues to go down the path of being a slick, serial dater who enjoys the company of many — not being tied down — or changing routes and being in a loving, committed, and long-term relationship with someone.

The 2011 surreal puzzle platformer, real-life relationship simulator hybrid game Catherine, from the minds of Atlus’ Persona Team, went deeper into the ups and the downs, the good, bad, and the ugly of relationships and just being an adult, overall — and it was unlike anything anyone, including myself, had experienced before. Having played Catherine from beginning to end when it first released — Catherine is back, looking and feeling better than ever — and its story of love, lust, and commitment is still remarkably relatable — in the upgraded and unexpected PC via Steam release, Catherine Classic.

Catherine’s unusual, twisting relationship-focused story is left unchanged in Catherine Classic. The story revolves around a 32-year-old man named Vincent Brooks who’s, at first, content with how life is, as he spends his days working in a tech industry job and his nights pounding down rum and cokes, getting hammered with his good friends at a local dive bar called the Stray Sheep. However, with a caring but type-A long-time girlfriend, named Katherine, who’s been pushing plans for marriage, Vincent has been struggling with deciding whether or not to truly settle down.

Making the decision gets even more difficult to make when another girl, Catherine, unexpectedly enters his life after a drunken, hot-and-heavy night. The next morning, Vincent wakes up in his bed and spots this cute, pig-tailed blonde girl next to him, and instantly realizes the trouble he’s in. The rest of the game has you dealing with the sticky situation Vincent has found himself in, but to make matters worse, though, the whole ordeal causes Vincent to have on-going and strange sheep-filled nightmares that force him to climb up towers of collapsing blocks in which falling of the tower results in Vincent staying asleep forever.

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Going through Vincent’s wild story is downright hilarious at times, but it’s also hard-hitting and deep as it addresses serious subjects like love, lust, and commitment. Whether you personally like them or not, it’s hard not to be interested in every single character in Vincent’s story as each character is full of personality and life. Atlus has always excelled at bringing characters to life, and the same is true with Vincent and the gang. Even after seeing the story play out during my time with the original Catherine, I still loved spending time with every single character and watching the story unfold, once again, in Catherine Classic. Having the option to change the voice over audio to Japanese, which was absent in the original Catherine in the west, was also a nice plus during my Catherine Classic playthrough. On the topic of options, gameplay is split into two parts: there’s the leisure, life sim gameplay that occurs when Vincent is awake, and then there’s the hardcore and quick puzzle platforming gameplay that happens when Vincent falls into a deep slumber and enters a nightmare.

When Vincent is awake, you can have him wander about in the Stray Sheep, the game’s activity hub, where you can chat with folks around the bar, respond to text messages from Catherine and Katherine and talk in-person with the two of them, pound down some drinks, and play the “Rapunzel” arcade machine. The conversations with Catherine and Katherine have you pick dialogue options that can either build or damper your relationship with either of Vincent’s love interests.

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There’s a morality meter that isn’t necessarily the usual good-or-evil meter, but it’s instead referred to as “law-or-chaos” — “law” being Katherine and “chaos” being Catherine. Depending on what you choose to say and do throughout the game, the meter veers over to the “law” side or “chaos” side. This meter plays a key role in Vincent’s story as it can have him go on many different paths, and the outcome of his story can go to unbelievable places. Much like the original Catherine, Catherine Classic has immense replayability simply due to its morality system that changes how the game, and Vincent’s story, ends. Even after you’re finished with your first playthrough, you’ll be left wondering how the story would’ve played out if you had Vincent go down another path.

While the times when Vincent is awake are leisurely, the times when he’s asleep are intense. When Vincent sleeps, you go into a nightmare, entering the “Nightmare mode” that has you completing punishing and fast-paced, stacked-up-block-tower puzzles. The puzzles are basically identically to the next, however, they get head-bangingly difficult as the game goes on.

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For each block tower puzzle, your goal is to make it the top of the tower (the top is the exit), thus being able to continue on with Vincent’s story. To achieve this goal, you’ll need to push and pull blocks along the way to create a path that gets you to the exit. Achieving this goal is simple enough at first since for the beginning puzzles in the game, it is just a matter of moving a few blocks here and there and keeping in mind that the lowest levels of blocks fall as time passes.

However, once heavier blocks, blocks that crumble underneath you, ice blocks, exploding blocks, and other hazards are thrown into the mix, a good chunk of Catherine’s puzzles will, without a doubt, have you banging your head as you try to figure them out. Pulling or pushing even just one single block can lead to your downfall. Along the way, you can chat with sheep guys to get hints, though, and there are some items that can help you out. But, grotesque bosses make an appearance on the final floor of every nightmare stage that makes the game even more malevolently difficult. Reaching the end of each level had me cheering out in joy because of all the brainpower it took me to complete them. The puzzles in each level are utterly cruel but once you figure out what to do, once you have that “lightbulb moment”, and get to the top — you’ll feel like you’re the king or queen of the world. I loved tackling all of the game’s puzzles, and playing with friends in the local co-op “Babel” tower puzzles or competing, speedrunner style, against friends in the local multiplayer “Colosseum” mode always is a good time.

After successfully completing each single-player campaign level you enter an unusual confessional, where you’re forced to answer a question in order to leave Vincent’s nightmare (wake up). These questions are a mixed bag — some are simply love-related questions like “Is romance annoying?”, while other questions are pretty unusual, for example: “Do you have to carefully choose which underwear to wear each day?”. Each question affects the law-or-chaos meter, however, since there isn’t really a right or wrong answer, it’s best to just go with your gut and see what happens. The confessional questions had me laughing out loud, but also had me think deeply about things going on in my life, so I liked how they added to the game’s choice-driven style.

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As far what makes Catherine Classic look and feel fresh and new, it does have a couple of little improvements that can enhance your experience. Improvements like 4K resolution, which make the game’s beautiful anime art style pop, even more, control remapping options, and an unlockable framerate. I found it best to play the game using a plug-in controller, but that’s just because I have a hard time using mouse and keyboard for games. There could’ve been more added to Catherine Classic, but given that Catherine: Full Body, a robust remake of the original, will be releasing sometime soon (as of now, it’s planned to be a PS4 exclusive), it’s understandable that Atlus decided not to include multiple new features.

All in all, Catherine Classic is a fantastic rerelease of an unusually deep, beautiful game that is an absolute must-play. Even after all these years, Catherine has aged so well as its fast-paced puzzle platforming gameplay is still as challengingly fun as before, and its enjoyable yet deeply twisted story is still relevant today. Go ahead and play Catherine Classic to find out what I mean — you’ll be happy you did.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Brad Crespo

Editor-in-Chief - On a quest to play as many new games as possible while trying to finish an endless backlog.