Catherine: Full Body (Switch) Review
Catherine: Full Body is an experience that is going to be polarising for a lot of people. On its face, it’s a wonderful little puzzle game, dripping with style, charm, and fantastic game mechanics. But for many, its approach to storytelling and characterisation will undoubtedly fall flat. It’s a game on the precipice of greatness, held back by dated and tired writing that may just be enough to turn people away.
You’ll have to forgive me for a moment while I describe what kind of game Catherine: Full Body is, because it sounds like a bit of a word salad — it is, essentially, a psychological horror/romance puzzle platformer. I know, as I said, it’s a bit of a word salad, but let me explain. Catherine is split between two major aspects; during the day, our main character Vincent spends his time at a bar, chatting to bar goers and friends about the various problems they all have with women, answering texts from said women, and trying to figure out why they’re all having such terrifying nightmares. At night, well, our “hero” Vincent is pulled into said horrific nightmares, and forced to climb their way to the top of a crumbling tower, lest they fall and die — both in the dream, and in reality. It’s an interesting mix of gameplay and storytelling, but we’ll get into both of those things a little bit later. First, a little background.
Catherine originally released on the Xbox 360 and PS3 all the way back in 2011 (almost ten years ago now!) and was headed up by many of the folks who made Persona, including its director, character designer, and composer. In short, that means it looks stylish as heck, sounds incredible, and unfortunately, can be a little bit problematic. Full Body is a remaster of that game, rebuilt in the Persona 5 engine and prettied up for a new generation of consoles. Full Body launched on PS4, Vita (ha), and PC last year, and was hailed as the definitive version of the game, complete with new difficulty settings, new storylines to pursue, new game modes, and even a new woman to romance. It’s a pretty substantial upgrade over the original, and now, of course it’s on Switch. It also joins the ever-growing list of games released on the Switch featuring Joker before (or perhaps despite) a release of Persona 5 on the platform.
For now, let’s talk about the story and its characters, because this is where I’m the most conflicted, and it’s probably better to get the ugly stuff out of the way first. Catherine: Full Body follows a week in the life of our protagonist Vincent, a 30-something year-old man in a long-term relationship with a no-nonsense, work-focused woman named Katherine (with a K, that’ll be important). One morning, during a brunch meeting, Katherine tells Vincent that she’s pregnant with his child, and expects that he’ll marry her and help provide for the child. Vincent, a man who struggles with commitment and generally doesn’t seem to respect women all that much, freaks out a little bit over this, his internal monologue revealing that, despite a relationship that’s lasted a decade or so, he’s a little concerned about getting serious and settling down.
That night, after drinking heavily at the bar, he’s thrown into a ghoulish nightmare, transformed into a sheep-like creature, and forced to climb a terrifying tower. If he doesn’t climb, the tower falls, and he dies — both in the dream, and in real life. It’s a little bit cliched, but it’s an enchanting enough setup for what’s to follow. The next evening, after chatting with his similarly casually sexist friends at the bar, he drinks a little longer, and meets a mysterious and attractive young woman named, surprise, Catherine (with a C). Vincent returns home after talking with this woman a short time, but wakes up to a shocking development — right next to him, completely nude in his futon bed, is a sleeping Catherine, who quickly wakes and talks about the ravenous night of lovemaking they’d partaken in the night before. Vincent’s internal monologue reveals that he doesn’t remember a thing, that he never intended to cheat on Katherine, and then… he has sex with Catherine again, because, I dunno, she’s attractive and nude already so why not?
What follows is a series of bad decisions by Vincent, mostly involving cheating on Katherine with Catherine, lying to Katherine about cheating, and then lamenting over this horrible situation that could stop at any time but doesn’t. Oh, and there’s also a third love interest, Qatherine (yes, really), who’s mostly just sort of there for much of the game.
And here’s where we get to the prickly part; Catherine: Fully Body is steeped in misogyny, transphobia, and a good old dash of “boys will be boys.” While it’s a game with many paths, each of which can change the story drastically, few (if any) of those paths do anything to even remotely attempt anything approaching respect for women. Vincent is, at his very core, an absolute piece of shit, as are most of his friends and fellow bar goers, and that’s fine, honestly. This is a game about shitty men getting their comeuppance, being forced to face their infidelity and lack of respect in relationships in the dream world. That alone would make for an interesting enough scenario, provided there was adequate character growth along the way, but there isn’t — in almost all scenarios, Vincent continues to be shit, his friends continue to encourage that, and Vince gets rewarded for it in the end anyway.
What turns the experience sour is that, even though the men are awful, and supposed to be awful, each and every woman in Catherine is presented as little more than a glamourised stereotype. Catherine herself is a “crazy but hot” stereotype, Qatherine is a “quirky and innocent” stereotype, and even Katherine — Vincent’s long-running, potentially pregnant girlfriend — is portrayed as crazy and irrational for… wanting to focus on her career and also expecting Vincent to care for his baby instead of shafting it off entirely onto her. One could argue that the way we see these characters is a reflection of how Vincent sees them, and I might have agreed with that argument at one point. But when you throw in the fact that the game also trivialises and mistreats not one, but two trans women throughout its story, one with a gross deadnaming played for laughs and another in a truly disgusting trans panic scene, it’s hard to give Catherine: Full Body the benefit of the doubt.
Again, some of these scenarios and endings approach things a little bit better, but having played through four of the ending scenarios (and having looked up quite a few more on YouTube), very few of them offer any sort of meaningful character growth for Vincent, with most seeming to rely on a last-minute revelations and unearned happy endings. In all but a few endings, Vincent’s cheating is either celebrated, ignored, or straight up swept under the rug over the course of a single conversation. These kinds of things won’t bother everyone, and they may even be enjoyable for many, but it was difficult for me to look past it — especially when everything else in the game is so damn good.
And so we’ve come to the gameplay, the shining glory of the game and in my opinion, more than reason enough to put up with anything else that might frustrate you. Each night, you’ll be thrust into the dream world and forced to climb a crumbling tower. This tower is made up of hundreds of cubic blocks that can be pushed and pulled, and to climb them, you’ll have to strategise. While early levels are fairly straightforward, and mostly consist of building a staircase and climbing on up, late levels really put your brain to the test. The edges of blocks cling to other blocks, but you can also make them fall — either into a more favourable place, or off into the void; throw in hazard blocks that crumble when you step on them or make you slip and slide like ice, plus enemies that chase you relentlessly, and you have one heck of a puzzling experience.
It’s hard to overstate just how much I enjoyed the puzzling side of things compared to the rest of the game. Initially, I found it to be a little bit overwhelming, but the game does make an effort to try and teach you techniques as you progress through the story. By the time the credits rolled, each tower had pushed my brain into a crazy fervour, calculating and recalculating every move a dozen times at lightspeed, wanting to climb faster and faster. It’s a genuinely addictive experience, and something I could easily find myself getting lost in for days, months, or even years. The best part is that you don’t even have to play the story to enjoy these puzzles; Atlus saw fit to include three (and maybe technically four) entire game modes just for puzzling.
Two of these are competitive game modes, with Colosseum and Online Arena modes offering the ability to play against local and online players, respectively, challenging each player to race against the other to reach the top first. The Online Arena mode even has a co-op feature, to let you and a friend climb towers together, though unfortunately I was not able to test this out. And for those looking for an extra challenge, there’s the Babel game mode, in which incredibly challenging stages are unlocked as you progress through the game’s story, but stay unlocked as soon as you have a completed game file. To cut things short, if you’re a fan of the puzzles in Catherine, there is plenty here to keep you busy.
As for how the Switch port itself holds up, there’s really nothing at all to complain about. Visually, it looks virtually identical to other versions of the game, the load times are reasonably quick, and the UI is clear and readable, even on the Switch Lite — most likely due to a prior port of the game popping up on Vita. What few performance issues I experienced were incredibly fleeting; a momentary stumble in frame rate here and there, a menu pausing for just a second when selecting an option. Truly, nothing here gets in the way of the experience, and due to the heavy stylisation of the game’s graphics, it’s pretty much always going to look great, both in handheld mode and docked mode. I think that might make this the definitive version of the game — helped by the fact that all DLC is included here — since being able to take the game on the go really makes it easy to dig in to a puzzle wherever you like.
As a puzzle game, Catherine: Full Body is nothing short of excellent, providing a challenging, stimulating experience that is sure to get the synapses firing. As a story, it falls short, offering a dated, tired, and often gross outlook on the world, that fails to invest in the growth of its characters. For many, the former will easily outweigh the latter, but for some, its poor characterisation of women and minorities will be a step too far to really enjoy.
+ Fantastic puzzle mechanics
+ Looks and plays perfectly on Switch
+ Lots of different game modes and online play
- Storytelling leaves a lot to be desired
- More than a few gross moments
- Lack of clear pathways for some scenarios