At first glance, it would be easy to dismiss Gateways as just another retro-style, 2D platformer. This, however, is far from the truth. Developed by the fine folks at Smudged Cat Games, who brought us the The Adventures of Shuggy, Gateways is a sincere attempt at something more cohesive. And, for the most part, it’s damn good.
Players control the inventor, Ed, after he mysteriously awakens to find his experiments have run amok. He must venture through his lab, gathering various inventions and avoiding the mob of living creations now roaming free. There are collectables to be found, enemies to be jumped on, and secrets to be uncovered. The story, however, is rather thin. Plot points are mostly limited to quick snippets explaining upgrades, and giving some meaning to the obstacles encountered. For the most part, it’s a wrapper; an excuse to move from one puzzle to the next. But, the real depth of Gateways isn’t found in the story – it’s found in the mechanics.
Puzzles are solved with a “gateway” gun, similar to the gun from the well-known Portal series, but this premise is quickly built upon. While exploring the 2D metroidvania-style world, Ed finds upgrades for the gun, allowing him to change his size, rotate the world, and even travel through time. These differing mechanics are what set Gateways above being mere imitation. New uses for the gateway gun are scattered pretty evenly throughout the game, allowing players to learn each one before another is introduced. As the game progresses, the different types of gateways must be used simultaneously, crafting some truly mind-bending puzzles. Creating multiple versions of yourself as you run up walls, all while being exceptionally tiny becomes comonplace late in the game. And, for most of the game, wracking your brain for each solution is very satisfying.
That being said, the later puzzles can become a bit much. When gateways are placed, a glimpse through to the other side is provided which, depending on your position, changes. It’s something that’s hard to explain without a visual representation, but when there are six different gateways, each with their own projection, the game becomes extremely disorienting. The screen will get too cluttered, with the various gateway projections blocking large swaths of the screen.
On top of this, certain puzzles require a very precise touch with both the platforming and the gateway placement, which Gateways falls just short of. Luckily, these hurdles are only encountered occasionally, and the developers have seen fit to include a hint system which, at the cost of collectibles, will solve the puzzle for you. Despite these faults with the game’s controls, a variety of schemes are available to suit your needs. Both keyboard and mouse, and gamepad support are provided, and you can switch between the two on the fly without ever opening a menu.
Visually, Gateways can get repetitive. I found myself using the map extensively, as I would often lose track of my position. The world is essentially broken up into three color schemes, delineating what part of the world Ed is in, but it’s too easy to get lost within these sections. Besides color, major distinguishing landmarks or features are lacking, which causes a good bit of backtracking. The visual style isn’t bad, but it all just starts to blend together.
This tedium carries over somewhat into the music, but it works better in this respect. The soundtrack consists mostly of serene and relaxing tracks which play well with the core gameplay. It’s contemplative, and never thrusts itself into the forefront while you try to decode the more difficult puzzles. Subtle sound effects are also littered throughout, adding depth to the laboratory vibe Gateways tries to evoke. It’s not groundbreaking, but it fits exceedingly well with the rest of the game.
Gateways is a respectable effort to bring new and unique mechanics into the 2D platformer. Many of the puzzles found within will leave you feeling like an absolute genius, as well as a complete dullard – both of which work in the game’s favor. But the quality does suffer when it attempts to throw one too many mechanics at the player simultaneously. For the $4.99 price-point, it’s hard to not recommend. It has it’s flaws, but Gateways is quite enjoyable.
Gateways was developed and published by Smudged Cat Game. A PC copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.