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Atlus Should Make Catherine Games for Smartphones and Tablets July 27, 2020

Posted by Maniac in Editorials.
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Catherine remains one of my favorite games of all time due to its unique art style and mature story while its base gameplay has been keeping me on edge every single night since Catherine: Full Body was released on Nintendo Switch. I loved playing the game on the Xbox 360 and the PS3 back when it launched in 2011, but I have to admit I may be enjoying it even more on the Nintendo Switch due to the portable/television nature of the platform. With the extreme popularity of modern mobile devices (including Android/iOS smartphones and tablets) and the record-breaking profits modern mobile games making due to that install base, why doesn’t Atlus release a Catherine game on mobiles?

I know that title is a huge proclamation but you gotta hear me out. I’m not saying Atlus should make a Catherine sequel for mobile devices. A full sequel would be better served on something like the PS5, Nintendo Switch or Xbox Series X. What I am saying is that Catherine’s addictive block climbing gameplay and even its story beats, if properly adjusted, could work really well on a mobile device like the iPhone. There’s more than enough processing power in a modern smartphone or tablet to replicate Catherine’s graphics and art style, and modern touch screens offer infinite possibilities for control. As for the game’s story (if they wanted to include one), there are tons of possible ways to present it. I want to break down my ideas for a portable Catherine game, and I hope that if I can paint a picture as to how it could work, would make you ask to play it yourself.

Before we get started, I would like to make my opinions on something quite clear. It would be critically pointless for me to write an article about a game made specifically for smart devices in today’s day and age unless I addressed the elephant in the room, microtransactions. Microtransactions have been implemented in smart device games for over a decade, and are considered today’s main source of income for mobile game developers. Old-school gamers like me would call them a plague. If Atlus was to release a game for the mobile market, especially something that features Catherine’s puzzle-based gameplay, in theory nothing would stop them making it a microtransaction-filled game that would probably lock content behind arbitrary timers. If that happens, honestly, I wouldn’t want to play it and even if I did, I wouldn’t spend a single dime on any in-app purchases. That’s because I’m against the use of microtransactions due to the fact that by definition, a game that revolved around it would be entirely dependent on Atlus’s continuous financial support. The second Atlus chose to end their support for the game, the game would cease working and all the money a user spent in it might as well have been set on fire. Granted, that’s true of all games that feature microtransactions.

If Atlus is going to release a Catherine smartphone game, there are superior methods to sell the game on digital marketplace that will not provoke anger from the gaming public. If they wanted, they could charge up front to buy the game in full, but I believe the better idea would be for them to go the Super Mario Run route and offer the first few levels of the game as a free demo on the marketplace, and provide the ability to unlock the rest of the game as an in-app purchase. Or, if Atlus planned to do an episodic release and add more levels later on, they might be able to get away with charging for individual chunks of levels, with a sale price for a full content unlock. If you remember I was a person who pleaded with Atlus back when Catherine was first released to release new puzzles as DLC back in the day and I think that would be the fairest pay structure gamers would be willing to agree to.

With all that out of the way, let’s talk about gameplay and controls. Catherine’s tight controls are legendary, and if you ask me they were improved a lot in Full Body. So how would gameplay work if adjusted for a smart device? You could use the device’s gyroscopes to adjust your view of the playfield (tilt up to move the camera to look up, tilt right to look right, etc) and swipe to move in several directions. Moving blocks could require pushing and holding your finger on the screen as the block is moved. I’m sure drop timers for the blocks could be extended beyond what they are in the original game to compensate for any potential misswipes, or if they choose to make a Rapunzel-type game, the power levels for maximum moves could be increased. That, is essentially how you could get a Catherine game on a modern mobile device. I designed that control layout over the course of mere minutes, just imagine how much they could be refined if I had given myself more planning time or had actual game development experience.

Now let’s talk about how we could present the game’s story. First off, there’s no requirement that we really have to have one. In fact, if Atlus just wanted to port something in the style of Catherine’s arcade game Super Rapunzel to portable devices they would save having to include a story entirely. However, if Atlus wanted to make a story-driven portable Catherine game, there would be plenty of options for them to present the story to the player.

One would be to offer still images with simple scroll text boxes after the end of every series of puzzles. This would be the simplest option by far. The developers would merely need to create an original high-resolution piece of art for each story beat, and the player could tap through a series of scrolling text boxes. You could have a voice-over for these sections, but I don’t recommend it as most users will click past to skip the sound clip as soon as they finish reading the text. This is not the most elegant way to present a solution, but it would help lower the app’s download size (which would make installing and updating it much quicker).

Another option for story presentation would be to include prerendered in-game cinematics. This would basically mean you would watch preproduced/compressed video files that were rendered on the developer’s computers. This would be a better option than still images. Part of Catherine’s charm was its great cinematics and we know Atlus still has access to the game’s assets. Including full motion video would allow for improved story presentation and could even include character voiceover and subtitles. The downside would be these cinematics would greatly increase download times (although streaming them could be an option it’s not a great one) and video compression would mean image quality won’t hold up well on higher resolution devices.

In my opinion, the best option would be to produce in-game cutscenes. Portable devices have more than enough raw power to replicate Catherine’s signature art style, and it might be more resource efficient to produce in-game assets, environments and textures and have the smart device render them. This could be a better option if the developers wanted to include an in-game voiceover, but text bubbles would be sufficient. This kind of option would not only cut down on file size, it would allow newer devices to scale resolution.

If you’ve read this far I know what you’re asking, how mature a story could we get away with in this day and age? I think the line the game’s developers have already set should work just fine. What would the story be? I would be fine with anything, as long as it followed the same logic as the original games and gave some nods to the original game’s characters. I really have a soft spot for this franchise, and I think it has the potential to be brought to even bigger heights.

Catherine: Full Body is out now for PS4 and Nintendo Switch. Catherine (Classic) is out for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.

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