Catherine Classic Review

January 23, 2019
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Relationships. They have their ups. They have their downs. Or in the case of Catherine Classic – a PC rerelease of the cult-hit console title – they have their hurtling upwards in a rocket-powered confessional, and they have their falling down into the slavering mouth hole of a murderously horny chicken-mouth-butt thing.

Hello, sexy.

I’ll admit. When I was asked to review this game, my initial response was lukewarm at best. A cursory Google search dredged up a host of images featuring the titular character, a scantily clad blonde, pink blush colouring her cherub-like cheeks as she slips out of her unmentionables.

Oh, great, I thought. One of those games.

Catherine Classic is also, ostensibly, a game about romance and relationships. I’ve been in the same relationship for ten years. I’m so far out of the game, the only swiping I do now is swiping down the kitchen splashback tiles. I’ll be honest, I’m relieved I don’t have to deal with it any more. Advertising, technology and porn have turned romance into a cattle auction, with dating apps reducing interaction with potential partners to something about as engaging as flicking through a book of carpet samples.

Don’t worry. Eventually we’ll all be dead.

But, while it might not be my first choice of game, if ten years with the same person has taught me anything it’s that, sometimes, you just have to do the things you don’t want to do. So I sat down, fired up the Steam Controller, and was immediately greeted by a semi-naked man wrapped in barbed wire, surrounded by falling sheep and sexy ladies. Colour me intrigued.

What’s immediately evident is the music. It’s fantastic. The soundtrack flips between funky Cowboy Bebop-esque jazz, swelling concertos, and hip-hop. While it might sound like a weird mix, it perfectly complements and elevates the game throughout.

You play as Vincent, a slovenly game developer (is there any other type?) who drifts through life in a vortex of booze, fast food, and cigarettes. He’s somehow ended up in a five-year (amateur) relationship with Katherine – distinction important – a driven, ambitious woman sporting the classic black tactical turtleneck. She wants Vincent to pull his finger out and take their relationship to the next level. Enter Catherine, a sexy-mysterious™ blonde who does sexy and mysterious things like bite her lip, and blush. She also straight up wears lingerie pretty much 24/7, which is an impractical choice at best, and raises questions like, “Where does she keep her purse?” and “What if she has to eat spaghetti?”

Way to commit, Vinnie-boy.

Vincent “accidentally” falls for Catherine, and ends up “accidentally” sleeping with her, while conveniently positioned computer monitors and beer cans “accidentally” get in the way of all the naughty bits. A lot of other players seemed to find Vincent haplessly charming. I think he is a weapons-grade douchebag. Instead, I sympathised with Katherine, and took her side constantly.

Speaking of women, the way they are portrayed is not good. They fall into two distinct camps: demanding lifelong commitment and babies, or threatening to murder you with a fork.

I know – it’s just a game. But games are physical manifestations of the ideas around us. I’m going to call it when I see it: this is not representative of what real relationships are like. Plus, if someone threatens to stab you to death with a fork – no matter how sexy-mysterious™ they are – if you hang around just because they are sexy, you are asking for the fork. And yes, I know: Catherine isn’t really who she seems. But I have no sympathy for Vincent. All he does is whine about what a terrible situation he’s “accidentally” ended up in. Take some goddamn responsibility, man.

I’ll concede that the whole point of the game is grey lines of morality. Characters don’t make right or wrong decisions, and there is a certain degree of agency in choices as you progress. What gives me pause is the many of the stereotypical views expressed by male characters throughout the narrative, which could be agreed with by some. It’s a bit like listening to Neo-Nazi Black Metal. Sure, Nazis might be pretty good at making Black Metal, and just because you listen to it once doesn’t mean you immediately press some crisp lines into your shirt and start uncontrollably goose-stepping around your living room. But should you have listened in the first place? There’s also the whole transphobia thing. You can make up your own mind about this one, but it’s another aspect worth calling out in any review.

Hey. It's your choice. I wouldn’t presume to tell you what you can and can’t play, but personally I find most of the narrative in Catherine Classic oversimplified and distorted.

A wild TRILBY-BRO appears. It uses MISTRUST ALL WOMEN. It’s not very effective...

Still, you know what? Underneath all this, Catherine Classic is a hugely inventive and compelling puzzler. After Vincent “accidentally” puts his penis into Catherine, he begins finding himself in an unwaking nightmare, where he is punished for his misdeeds by having to climb a crumbling tower towards a tolling bell, and salvation. It reminds me of Psychonauts at times, especially when you’re hanging out with all of the sheep between levels. Yeah. I’m not explaining that one further.

It’s also not an easy game. For something which is basically a bit like a post-modern Qbert, it’s fiendishly difficult, but immensely satisfying. There are no real tutorials as such. Instead, you learn ‘techniques’, different ways of moving combinations of blocks, as you go. These aren’t actually documented anywhere in game, so it’s down to you to remember and use the tips and tricks as you climb.

Where I found the greatest joy was the sheer looseness of climbing through the levels. There’s a free-form and chaotic nature to scaling each tower which rewards a calm head. You can reach a zen-like state of improvised flow where an unintended move accidentally opens up a whole new path you hadn’t seen before. However, in a game where any choice is a legitimate one, sometimes you make the wrong move. On one occasion, I pulled a block out of the stack, only to be rewarded with the sight of the finish block plunging into the abyss, rendering the level completely unfinishable. It’s strangely liberating to play a game which straight-up says, “You’ve made a huge mistake.”

Obligatory Stan Lee cameo. RIP.

I thought the boss fights were a tad obnoxious, especially given the controls are a bit wonky at times. As a console port, I’d highly recommend using a controller.

I have to admit, this isn’t my kind of game, but I’m happy I experienced Catherine Classic. The core gameplay loop is tight, and the mash-up of romance, horror, adventure and puzzling is a breath of fresh air compared to most.

But I still hate Vincent. #goteamKatherine

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As a puzzler, Catherine Classic delivers in spades. As a narrative, I’m not a fan. I don’t like the storytelling or the characters, but I can’t deny I had fun.
Shaun McHugh

In the winter of 1998, my father made a terrible mistake. He bought me a gift that would forever change my life. That gift? The DMG-01 Nintendo GameBoy. Since then, life has been a blur of consoles, gaming rigs, and modding it till it breaks.