Review: Gateways – Thinking Beyond Portals

Gateways games - Laser screenshot
Review: Gateways – Thinking Beyond Portals

Platforms: Windows PC, Xbox Live Indie Games

Game Name: Gateways

Developer: Smudged Cat Games

Genre: Puzzle, Platformer

Release Date: September 13th 2012

Developer Summary

Gateways is a 2D platform game set in the lab of an inventor called Ed following an outbreak of a number of his more “creative” experiments.  Can you help him escape the lab?

What We Think

Smudged Cat, the indie developer behind “Adventures of Shuggy” has demonstrated a devilish ability to create head-scratching platformers. Gateways is Shuggy’s successor in the release timeline – a 2D platformer with some innovative ideas that draw inspiration from Valve’s groundbreaking Portal games; Gateways aims to take the Portal concept beyond anything we’ve seen so far whilst also merging it with a familiar and reasonably responsive platforming game. Enhancing and building on the ideas presented by Portal is no small goal and there is a danger of appearing derivative but developers Smudged Cat have a few tricks up their sleeves to keep things unique.

Gateways uses a retro-styled look coupled with traditional platforming gameplay. The narrative is relatively simple; you take on the role of a scientist trapped in a damaged research facility with bizarre monkey monsters on the loose. These enemies are dealt with using the classic method of jumping on their heads, a process which isn’t always as easy as it sounds as they are sometimes upside down or moving up the sides of walls. Adding to your troubles is the fact that large portions of the facility are blocked off behind challenging puzzles, some of which require tools you don’t yet possess.

These tools are the means by which Gateways separates itself from other platformers. The first device you encounter is a “gateway gun” a device similar in functionality to the portal gun from Valve’s puzzler. You can plant up to two gateways on walls, floors or ceilings, enabling easy travel across some areas of the facility. The game makes this easier by providing a conical view of what is on the other side of the gateway; this view moves to cover the screen as you pass through the gateway, flipping your perspective so that the cone now displays the area you travelled from.

While this seems somewhat familiar, it is enjoyable to experience this kind of teleportation in a 2D game. This alone wouldn’t be enough to set Gateways apart or to keep it interesting for very long but thankfully Smudged Cat have a lot more to offer. A little exploration will eventually bring you to the second version of the gateway gun; a device that will shrink you if you pass through one way and make you larger the other way.

This second version of the device will permit travel into small tunnels or make it easier to climb high areas. It is an inventive evolution of the gateway gun but it’s nothing compared to the third model that you’ll gain access to- a time travel gateway device. The time travel gateways not only add a superb new dynamic to the puzzles you’re faced with but they up the challenge tremendously.

Managing time travel in Gateways can be a little daunting at first; there are several factors to deal with when using it. Once you place a gateway a time bar begins to fill and before it reaches its peak you must place the second gate down. Having done this you can travel through the second gate and emerge from the first at an earlier point in time. Once through you can take any action you wish as long as you don’t come into contact with your previous self (this will cause a paradox and reset time).

Using this gameplay mechanic you can leave previous versions of yourself on switches to open up pathways to proceed. Things get a lot more complicated later on when puzzles begin to require that you leave multiple copies of yourself behind in order to move on. Intense planning and a juggler’s coordination become necessary to fulfil each requirement of the puzzle while ensuring that you don’t come into contact with old versions of yourself.

The final gateway gun is similarly impressive, if not quite so groundbreaking as the time travel device. Using the fourth gun you can place portals on walls and ceilings to flip the gravity in a room, allowing you to reach previously inaccessible areas. Puzzles using the gravity/gateway gun tend to involve a little more platforming finesse as you navigate the twisting tunnels of the facility.

There are some additional tools to help you explore the research complex; a shaving mirror, for instance, lets you redirect lasers to receiver switches. The gateway guns take the centre stage though and they do a superb job of raising Gateways above your average “platformer with a twist”. The guns aren’t the only thing propping up this interesting game, however.

Gateways also makes use of a nifty help system that does a good job of balancing accessibility with challenge. As you explore the facility you’ll find collectable spheres that stack in your inventory. When you approach a puzzle you can spend these spheres to check if a puzzle is achievable with your current equipment. Also if the puzzle stumps you it is possible to spend a greater number of spheres to have the solution demonstrated to you. This system also doubles as a quick way of backtracking; completed puzzles can be auto-solved for free.

The excellent puzzles, well designed help system and great variety of obstacle solving tools make Gateways a superb example of its genre. This success is augmented by an atmospheric soundtrack and a reasonably effective art style. Some of the puzzles can seem a little excessive in their demands of your ability to mix planning with fiddly movement but ultimately this is balanced with the flexible help system. Whether you’re looking for a challenge or you’re a fan of puzzle games, Gateways is easy to recommend thanks to its surprising and elegant evolution of a concept that until now appeared to be exhausted.

Visit Gateways – Official Site

Gateways will be available on Steam September 13th 2012.

[xrr rating=”4/5″]