by Sean Martin
reviewed on PC
AND ALL THE MEN AND WOMEN MERELY PLAYERS
I have a confession to make… I haven’t played Persona 5. But from what I’ve been told, one of the game’s best qualities, is its ability to mix the everyday with the supernatural, mixing day-to-day jobs and obligations with crazy midnight fantasies. So I wasn’t surprised that Atlus’ new reboot of their classic Catherine, approaches the subject matter in a similar way. In Catherine Classic, you play as the hapless Vincent, a guy who’s getting cold feet about marrying his current girlfriend of many years, Katherine. To top it off, bachelors around the town are being found mysteriously dead in their beds, and he keeps having the same dream every night, where he must climb a tower of blocks, or face a similar fate. The overall result feels somewhat like part visual novel about dating, part puzzler.
While there are a number of decisions and conversations to be had as part of the daily life of Vincent, the central urgency of play comes from the puzzle sections. Vincent has to climb a tower of blocks, pulling and pushing them to form different structures, allowing him to climb higher —and all the while, blocks gradually drop out from under him. If you fall, you die, losing a life from your pool of lives (though you can grab more in game). This is the essence of the puzzler sections, though they are spiced up a bit with different types of blocks, traps, other climbers, and even boss sections, where a pair of hands will try to grab you as you climb.
I enjoyed the puzzles a lot — they really do have a surprising degree of depth for something that appears very simple on the surface. My only problems with it are the fact that it doesn’t cater well to improvisation, and if you push blocks around willy nilly, you can quite easily end up in a situation with no return. Also, while the camera angle allows you to spin around the tower, it is severely limited, meaning that often you will lose sight of Vincent.
The central discussion being had in Catherine Classic is one about marriage and fidelity, prompted by Vincent meeting and sleeping with another girl called Catherine. At the end of each nightmarish tower climb, you end up in a confession booth, in which you are asked a question about relationships. These questions range from attitudes towards cheating to feelings around marriage, but I felt they were invariably flawed. These are questions like “Is marriage the beginning of your life, or the end of it?” which is entirely relative, or “If you cheat, is it your fault, or the person you cheated with?” which is an utterly absurd question. After each question you are given a poll showing how people answered online, as if it somehow legitimizes the randomness of the questioning. But a lot of Catherine Classic feels pretty random.
Don’t get me wrong, the puzzles are fun, and so are the dating decisions, plus the art-work and animation style that it flits between is beautiful. But I would’ve expected a game like this to have a discussion about the differences and viability of monogamy vs. polyamory, but the game comes at the subject matter from such a monogamous perspective that the discussion is impossible. It casts Vincent as the cheater, who is judged by his friends, and we watch as he bumbles around, trying to keep the girls away from each other. Plus none of the characters have anything particularly insightful to say, instead regurgitating tired cliches about the drudgery of marriage vs. the frivolity of being single.
Catherine Classic is a fun puzzler, with a great art-style and a fairly catchy narrative. But Vincent lacks appeal as a protagonist, he’s just so bumbling and incompetent and irritatingly unsure of himself. If nothing else hooks you, the puzzles will — but I’m questioning why this game is a classic, I just don’t think I got it. The game claims to be about freedom vs. order, but from a relationship perspective, that does mean monogamy vs. polyamory (i.e, being with one person or being with multiple) but the game fails to make any important or original observations on those accounts. They should be the games’ central subject, but the monogamous perspective the game is cast in prevents any meaningful dialogue on the value of a polyamorous mindset. Catherine Classic is an ‘adult’ game, but I can’t help feeling that the perspectives it represents in regards to relationships actually come across as fairly childish.
Good challenging puzzles, great art style
A missed opportunity for a discussion of mono vs. poly