If only all adult games were as smart as Catherine
The salacious adult games that permeate the gaming landscape are the digital equivalent of a sleazy drive-thru: cheap, shoddy, and likely to give you heartburn. Apologies. Came too hot. Let’s chill it for a second. In an attempt to alter complacency, there is nothing inherently Wrong spend your Friday night (or any weeknight) sinking hours into this type of game. But, ask yourself, do you really need those empty calories?
Atlus’ 2011 game Catherine, rated “M” but not for obvious reasons, was a novelty title that not only satisfied your thirst for flesh, but left you surprisingly guilt-free afterwards.
The ESRB and PEGI have been putting warning signs on games since the 90s, so we should be pretty familiar with adult themes by now. This could encompass situations with deep emotional themes, horrific tragedies, wanton violence, or simply liberal use of profanity. Perhaps sensing that there was a deficit, some game developers leaned even more into “other” adult themes. You know those. They are easy to spot. Just look for the heaviest woman with the bedroom eyes and the bathing suit on the cover and that should be a dead giveaway.
Take the developer request, for example. One look at their titles and you have their number. And, judging by the latest controversy of their titillating (again, apologies) rhythm game, Massage Freaks (now renamed ‘beat refle’), it looks like they might need to find a new angle.
Developer Big Way is another great example. So far this year, they’ve released two titles that both include the word “hentai” in the title. This latest game, Hentai Uni, is available on the Nintendo Switch website with the nudge and a wink claiming it “can be played with one hand”. As games, by definition, must have some type of objective as opposed to just ogling in slow motion, games like Hentai Uni are wrapped in a nonchalant problem-solving mechanic, mostly a 3D puzzle, or just a pointer RPG. -click (and not the cool nostalgic kind) in order to give the slightest impression of user interaction.
2011’s game Catherine, however, took a lot of those dirty game concepts and turned them on their head. The plot centers on the relationship(s) of Vincent, a programmer in his thirties who is caught in the middle of a love triangle between his longtime girlfriend Katherine and Catherine, a real feisty succubus whom he met at the Stray Sheep Bar which he frequents every evening.
We all know the habits of succubus, right? I’m just checking.
After being seduced and sleeping with Catherine, there is no rest for Vincent. Each night he is thrown into a nightmarish realm with talking sheep (Catherine’s former victims) where he must successfully climb to the top of a confusing tower, or die in real life. It’s the main mechanic of the game, in addition to interacting with a colorful cast of characters during the day. But this trailer though. You would think it was a horror game.
At this point, I like to think that perhaps Atlus was at a proverbial crossroads. Having already fulfilled the prerequisites with its visual novel/puzzle format, Catherine could have been just another “adult game” – a mediocre foray into risky territory devoid of depth. Indeed, this could have been the case in less expert hands. But not so, and that’s the point here. The creative minds at Atlus have flipped the adult genre on its head by looking sexy without showing the usual amount of skin.
Besides the surface story, Catherine also distinguished herself on several other levels. Vincent is assigned a type of mysterious meter that swings like a pendulum toward good and evil based on his choices and words, which ultimately affects the ending the player receives. Morality systems in games aren’t new, but the decisions around infidelity and how a relationship works out help humanize Vincent’s plight and bring things closer to home.
At the top of the meter are inescapable “confessional questions” that Vincent must answer once he has climbed to the top of the tower. Yeah, some of them are the mundane stuff of online quizzes, like “Do you get bored easily?”, or even better, “Is popping bubble wrap fun?” However, other questions really make you think about topics that wouldn’t belong in a sex therapist’s office: “Has being embarrassed ever turned you on? », « You have suddenly changed sex. Where are you going?” or “Could you have sex with an attractive ghost?” Look, if that makes you uncomfortable, you don’t have to answer it.
The endings ranged from heartbreaking to absurd. They swing between real, good, and bad Katherine and Catherine endings, with a distinct “Freedom” ending where Vincent bets and wins big on a wrestling match and heads to space instead of marrying one of his two love interests. let’s see what you do thisHentai Fantasy Puzzle Elves.
The slogan was “The love triangle is now a square”. Catherine: Full Body released in 2020 on Switch as a remake with a boatload of additional content. It opened to excellent reviews and is considered the conclusive version of the game due to improvements in the game’s aesthetics, a total of 13 possible endings, and new characters: the controversial Qatherine, and Rin, the Stray Sheep’s pianist.
It’s Rin’s inclusion that takes the original Catherine’s winning formula to new heights, despite the firestorm it unleashed regarding the game’s handling of Rin’s sexual orientation. In the file, it turns out that Rin is a male alien sent to investigate the Nightmare Realm. Unofficially, he could be some sort of asexual effeminate angel. However, Rin’s gender is secondary to the fact that Vincent (the player) actually has the ability to find himself and marry one of his three options. If Vincent opts for the end of True Rin, they find themselves together in space: Rin, pianist on tour, and Vincent as manager. Beautiful things. Whether Vincent chooses Katherine, Catherine or Katherine says a lot about the progressive nature of this game. Try to incorporate this one, Perky Little Things.
It’s only been two years since Catherine: Full Body was released, but hopefully it’ll be an example for developers that it’s possible to produce material for mature audiences and still be, well, mature. Like having a drink with your parents.
Like sinking your teeth into a fresh black Angus steak instead of a thawed Big Mac, Catherine and her retinue raise the bar by using both hands.