A door opens as you regain your consciousness. All around you, bipedal sheep shuffle towards its light. You look down – you’re naked except for your underwear – you know, the boxer shorts with hearts on that you always wear. Your eyes adjust as you walk through the door. You find yourself at the foot of a tower constructed in layers from cubes each as tall as you are. A friendly voice shouts down from above. He tells you you’ll have to climb. The only way out is up. Welcome to the nightmare.
Catherine: Full Body is the expanded re-release of Catherine, first released for PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2011. This original version saw a PC release shortly before the release of this new, bigger, better version launched for PS4 and now – the reason we’re here today – for Nintendo Switch.
It’s a game that warrants being seen by a new audience. Love and care has gone into the making of this game, and if you don’t read any further than this, my recommendation is that you play it. If you aren’t a Switch owner, pick it up on PS4 – in practice, the two versions offer all the same core benefits with only slight differences between them.
For the newcomers to the game, its core gameplay loop revolves around the tower of blocks I mentioned above. Mysterious forces seize your nightmares each day as you’re forced to tackle an increasingly complicated series of challenges. You’ll push and pull blocks around in three dimensions, locking them together using their edges to build paths that don’t rely on blocks being supported from underneath. Not all blocks are made equal – some are benign but immovable, others represent an active threat to your mobility, your path or your life. And if you die in the nightmare, you die in real life.
Outside the nightmare, your waking time is spent in cutscenes, whether animated or in the game engine itself and, each evening, in the Stray Sheep – your local bar – where you can drink and socialise with a cast of characters from your close-knit set of friends to strangers who come in to relax and unwind.
Your character, Vincent, has a long-term partner, Katherine. She’s headstrong, confident and – in contrast to Vincent – knows what she wants from her future, and your future together. As Vincent, you’ll spend your first night in the bar reflecting on the nature of commitment, while the TV news in the background sets out the grim picture of the latest in a series of mysterious deaths of young men in their sleep. The victim’s face is fixed in a permanent state of terror – his body desiccated, as if all the life force was somehow sucked out. And just what was with that weird dream you had last night?
What will follow is an exploration of love, commitment and morality where your values will be tested just as much as your mental skills in finding a path up the tower. By the end, you’ll have made your choice as to who you’ll give your love to, what kind of a man you’ll be and the legacy you’ll leave behind.
This new version of the game includes over 500 puzzle stages across its various modes. While for me the biggest appeal is the campaign stages and the story that goes with them, the majority of challenges available here are outside the main quest line. Rapunzel is an arcade cabinet within the game world which offers similar gameplay across a wide gamut of additional stages. Babel is a set of particularly challenging stages separated from the main story which can be climbed alone or in co-op. Finally, the Colosseum offers competitive play, which has led to the game having a small but dedicated e-sports following over the years.
Visually, the game offers you colourful environments packed with detail. The biggest stars here are the nightmare stages, which are suitably, well…nightmarish. Your fellow climbers, the sheep, appear in various unique forms connected to their real-life selves. Over time, the adversaries you face become more twisted as the fears of your waking life begin to permeate the nightmare.
If you’re looking for a game with excellent graphical fidelity or performance, you’ve come to the wrong place. As you’d expect, the Switch version is a slight visual downgrade from last year’s PS4 release, but neither quality or performance comes at a detriment to the experience overall – particularly if you’ll be playing in handheld mode, when the smaller screen masks imperfections.
An expanded score is provided by Atlus composer-in-residence Shogi Meguro. While you’re awake, things are pretty jazzy and a jukebox at the bar gives you access to a wide selection from across the Atlus portfolio. Want to shoot the sh*t with your virtual friends to Last Surprise from Persona 5? This game has you covered. However, much of what you’ll be hearing are his reworks of classic orchestral pieces which will back your attempts to tackle the nightmare.
And there will be many such attempts. The original version of the game was really not interested in holding your hand through your ordeal. Things are a bit different this time round, with a host of additional options allowing players to set their own challenge level and help them along the way. To be clear though, once you get to playing at a high level, this game will kick your ass. I’ll admit that some of the game’s hardest challenges in Babel have always got the better of me, and I’ve never finished that mode in the seven years I’ve played this game on and off. There is no shame in playing the campaign on its easier modes the first time over.
The sheer replay value here though means you won’t feel fatigued by running through more than once on different modes. At one extreme, you have safety mode, which drastically reduces the challenge for those who primarily want to experience the story. At the other, the hard difficulty will give all but the world’s best players pause for thought at times, especially in later stages. As well as the difficulty options, all the campaign stages have remixed versions that introduce new concepts and challenge you to think differently about moving blocks.
While the game’s story and cutscenes play out in the same way for much of the game, your choices will lead you to one of 13 different endings each time you play. Additional content unlocks scenes that meaningfully explains the backstory of this world, its mysterious characters and their motivations. You’ll learn more about who is who they say they are, who’s lying, and their motivations for torturing you and your fellow sheep throughout all the game’s single-player content, even when that content is separated from the main story. (Note: this version of the game does include the controversial transgender storyline).
Anyone who enjoys a puzzle will enjoy this game. The simple rules of blocks lead to exceptionally complex possibilities, and there isn’t a single right answer to climbing each step. I find myself relying on some tactics that my brain recognises the set-up for intuitively. That can come at a cost, as I was often reminded to my embarrassment when trying out the feature that climbs the optimal route to the level you previously reached following a death. But that kind of freedom is valuable – this isn’t like, say, Portal, which despite being an outstanding game, is broadly about finding the solution, not using the established rules of the world to determine a solution.
As mentioned, the Switch version is functionally identical to the PS4 version but includes the extra content that was paid DLC on that console. This gives you access to different character models and voiceover options across the various modes. The big selling point of a Switch version, of course, is the ability to play on the go. This is the first chance you’ll have had to play this way, unless you live in Japan where there was a PS Vita release because people actually bought those over there. The way the game is split makes it perfect for pick-up-and-go play, and the suspend feature of the console removes one of the minor annoyances from the original, where a long run of cutscenes could risk you spending a long time waiting for a save point if you had somewhere else to be IRL.
If you’ve only played the original release and have yet to experience this full-bodied edition, there’s definitely enough here to justify the purchase – especially if you’re looking to play it on the go. Aside from the many new gameplay challenges available, there are quality expansions to every element of the game that will tell you plenty that you don’t already know, as well as giving you that chance to achieve an outcome for Vincent that you couldn’t have all those years ago.
If you’ve never played a Catherine game in any form, you should play this version. If you enjoyed the original on PC, 360 or PS3, it’s definitely worth the money to grab this expanded release.
Catherine: Full Body releases on Nintendo Switch, July 7. Check it out on the eShop here.
This copy of Catherine: Full Body was reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
Featured Image Credit: Atlus/Nintendo