Port roundup: Commandos 3 HD, White Day: A Labyrinth Named School & Catmaze

In our latest port roundup, we’re checking out three new console ports. One is a classic of the real time tactics genre, another a PlayStation 5 port of a familiar game and the last one an indie port by Ratalaika. Here are Commandos 3 – HD Remaster, White Day: A Labyrinth Named School and Catmaze.

Commandos 3 – HD Remaster review (PS4)

We absolutely adore games like Shadow Tactics and Desperados 3, but when we look at that games that defined the real-time tactics genre we always come back to Commandos. We haven’t had a new game in the series in quite some time, but Kalypso picked up the license a few years ago and previously released an HD update for Commandos 2 as well. Now, the same treatment has been given to Commandos 3: Destination Berlin, which was the last real-time tactics game in the series. And yes, we’re still waiting for a re-release of the iconic first game for modern platforms.

Commandos 3 HD follows a familiar pattern to the previous games in the series, but has a smaller cast of characters than Commandos 2 – which was arguably the high point of the series. Missions unfold in a very similar fashion though, with careful planning and execution making sure that a single objective can take you several retries and a mission can last for over an hour. With objectives that change mid-mission, it makes for an exciting time as long and you can find and stay in a certain kind of flow – though that can be hard to achieve in Commandos 3 as it’s a very challenging game.

commandos3a

Part of that is that Commandos 3 went back to a PC-only title after the second game also launched for consoles, and the controls in the third game feel like they’d work better with mouse and keyboard controls. Ironically, this is because of some of the most exciting aspects of the game – the ability to coordinate your efforts between characters, where working in unison can be a beautiful thing to see when it works out. Clicking and executing orders between multiple characters isn’t as smooth with a gamepad though, and in a few more action-oriented sequences it’s hard to feel fully in control of your squad.

The addition of context-sensitive controls helps a little to circumvent the lack of a keyboard and mouse, but you can’t escape the thought that it’d be brilliant to have a fully reimagined sequel for today’s generation and not just a polished version of the original game, faults and shortcomings included. The biggest benefit of this release is that, after almost twenty years, the last game in the trilogy is finally available for consoles. It’s not perfect, but it’s a piece of gaming history, and we hope that Commandos 1 will follow – after which we can start daydreaming about a proper sequel.

White Day: A Labyrinth Named School review (PS5)

PQube’s recent release of White Day: A Labyrinth Named School for PlayStation 5 isn’t the first time that this Korean cult classic from developer SONNORI resurfaces. It’s actually two decades old already, but thanks to PQube this niche hit from the PS2-era is finding its way to new platforms. After a 2017 release for the PS4 and PC, we now get the best version thus far on the PS5 and Xbox Series S/X – in addition to a release for the Nintendo Switch.

Whiteday_20170309102010
Whiteday_20170309102010

If you’re not familiar with the concept of White Day – don’t fret, neither were we before this day. It’s a Korean take on Valentine’s Day, which they actually split into two dates – one of which being a day where women give gifts to men while another (later) date is when men give the women in their lives gifts. It’s a lovely sentiment, though it’s also the premise for a rather dark horror game in A Labyrinth Named School, which features a surprising amount of (optional) lore and an English dub in addition to its original one.

Story-wise, you play as a student looking to sneak into his new school in order to surprise the girl he has a crush on the next day. But much to his surprise the school turns out to be haunted by the paranormal, which you’ll encounter through two possessed janitors who roam the halls and other supernatural dangers – all results of the dark past of the building, which goes back to the Korean War. And even though you’re breaking in after hours, you’ll also run into a few girls – all of whom you can try to wow. It made us wonder how serious he was about his initial intentions, but oh well…. at least it provides replay value through a selection of eight different endings.

The gameplay itself doesn’t involve any combat, but is a mix of stealth, getting chased, the occasional jump space and regular puzzles. The latter category is a bit of a mixed bag though, because some of the puzzle designs feel needlessly obtuse and hinder your sense of progress through the game. Compared to modern horror games, it feels less streamlined, which also shows in other areas, like a save system that relies on finding pens that you use to write on a school board in order to save your progress.

Whiteday_20170309102110
Whiteday_20170309102110

Things like that definitely date the game to an era where obscure mechanics like that were quite common, but it’s nice to also see a new layer of polish being applied, with higher resolution visuals and – most notably, almost no load times on the PlayStation 5. They could have used the DualSense controller’s features to a great extent for dramatic effect though, which feels like a wasted opportunity for a horror game like this. The same can be said for some of the gameplay mechanics as well, which sometimes lend themselves to being exploited (like in cases where you can just run away from bad guys rather than hide from them, which is way less scary).

With a strong sense of atmosphere, delivered through somewhat dated visuals but more so through some nice level designs and creepy music and sound effects, White Day: A Labyrinth Named School feels like that classic horror game you never played when it first came out because it was initially made for a different market. Glad to see it emerge for all platforms now, as those who are nostalgic for classic horror experiences will have a good time with it.

Catmaze review (PS4)

When Ratalaika announced that their next release was going to be Redblack Spade’s Catmaze, we assumed it was going to be a puzzle game of some sort – quite possibly involving a few felines. Instead, it’s a metroidvania that stars a sorceress, much to our surprise, although she does tend to hang out with a ton of cats. It’s out for all console platforms now, and we checked out the PS4 version.

catmaze

If you dive a little deeper into the premise for Catmaze, you’ll find that it’s actually based on Slavic mythology and has a fairytale-like setting in which you play as Alesta. She’s recently had her mother pass away and wants to bring her back from the land of the dead, to which cats are apparently a conduit. Your journey then sees you pass through villages and run into all kinds of ghosts and demons, as well as a few challenging bosses.

Exploration is a major part of Catmaze, with a lot of progression tied to your abililty to uncover skills and items that you need. Some of them you’ll run into while doing side quests as well, and there’s a good amount of those to undertake. You’ll also unlock progress through combat, especially when confronted with bosses, which yield the biggest rewards. With a good amount of content and a decent level of challenge, this wasn’t the pushover we thought it was going to be, and it’s got a more challenging trophy list than most Ratalaika games.

catmaze2

Visually, Catmaze has a nice and colorful pixel art style to it that’s quite charming, with cute kittens that help you out and enemies that mostly look a lot more harmless than they are as well. The soundtrack is a bit lackluster though, which is a shame for a game so well rooted in classic 8/16-bit history. Still, for the price this is a solid little metroidvania with a surprising amount of lasting appeal.

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