It’s not every day that a platformer actually impresses me. When I initially started to do my bit as part of the indie press, I ran into a constant barrage of platformers: some good, some great, others bland. This influx of platformers — which, lets be honest, is a genre favorite — is sometimes what leads (or attracts?) other gamers away from the indie scene; it is this idea that every indie game is a platformer, a bland Mario knockoff with about as much character as a cardboard box. Fortunately, with Super Meat Boy and Lumi and a host of truly remarkable platformer games, indie devs have brought about a greater interest — and, in turn, a greater tolerance — for this incredibly simple, yet tasteful genre that possibly marked the first gaming experience for a large number of us.
In any case, I’m a stranger to Smudged Cat Games, even to the seemingly well-received The Adventures of Shuggy. But this whole 2D retro pixellated style — at least the one carried by Gateways — is right up my alley. These are the kinds of games I originally came into this scene for, but strayed from in fear of getting sick of them. So, naturally, the first question I had to ask myself was about what set Gateways apart from every other indie platformer out there. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were a number of answers, and that the game is indeed fun. It follows the story of Ed, an inventor whose experiments have run amok. Your main objective is to guide Ed out of his lab.
Gateways is a lot like Portal. I don’t want to demean its originality, the developer’s creativity, stir anyone’s panties into a bunch, so on and so forth. I just mean that, simply put, you have a “Gateway Gun,” and this gun creates little gateways, or portals, as you traverse the one large map of the game, filled with its multitude of brain-bending puzzles and twists. This portal mechanic is a welcome mix into the platformer genre, one that you may have encountered before in other games. But Gateways takes it even further by offering a number of power-ups. In lieu of having actually experienced every single power=up (this is a preview, after all, and the game is far from release), the developer’s explanation should suffice:
“After the basic gun, you acquire a gun that creates two gateways of different sizes, passing through one way shrinks Ed to half his size, and the other way makes Ed grow to twice his size. Then, you find a gun where one gateway doesn’t just connect to the others location but also its time, allowing Ed to travel back in time and encounter earlier versions of himself. Finally, the last gun manipulates gravity, so passing through allows Ed to walk along walls and on ceilings.”
Now, that does sound a little complicated, in all honesty. The initial gateway mechanic is expectedly fun, but I always develop a sense of anxiety when I realize later in-game puzzles will be, well… hard. Of course, that anxiety is part of the fun — the “how the hell am I going to figure this game out?” sensation really does bring out the best in the gamer, because it often forces you to think outside the conventional box. Likewise, that “aaaahhh!” moment where you discover the answer to a puzzle that’s been destroying you is a moment like no other.
And Gateways is friendly to the gamer compared to other platformers. It has a map, which tells you where your next objective lies, where you are, where there are solvable/unsolvable puzzles — which, I should mention, are distinguished by your obtaining of orbs and spending them. These orbs are scattered throughout the level and there are plenty of them, but I think you would still have to choose wisely as puzzles cost 10 orbs to distinguish solvable from unsolvable (meaning you need to complete another objective or puzzle before taking that one on) and another 30 or so to watch the solution of the puzzle. In any case, it’s most fun to try and solve the puzzle yourself, regardless of how long it takes, but it’s nice for the gamer to have the ability to watch the puzzle solved for them — at a reasonable cost, of course. There are various save points and help points strewn across the map as well to help you record your progress and clue you in on the use of weapons, commandsand so forth. Point being, essentially, that Gateways wants you to solve the puzzles and it wants you to enjoy yourself while doing so.
I appreciate Smudged Cat’s take on the puzzle-platformer. Gateways seems very promising and its slated release for PC/Xbox makes me wonder which one I’ll choose — it’s great as a sit-down mouse & keyboard kind of platformer, but it seems primed for a controller. Its demo is a strong indicator of what’s to come: a memorable puzzler with depth, something that is often missing in a sea of seeming clones that is the platformer genre.
You can find out more information on Gateways over on the official website.