Having been around for a little while already, Smudged Cat’s Gateways has been more-or-less on my radar for the past few months. It’s 2D Portal-like platforming mechanic intrigued me for the most part, but I was still unsure if it would live up to what it was aspiring to be. After having clocked in around 8 to 10 hours into it, I can garantee you that it indeed is a great game.
*Please note that the game is part of the Indie Games Uprising 3 but that it was reviewed on PC due to circumstances out of the reviewers and the developer’s control.
Gateways puts you in the boots of Professor Ed who unfortunately got stuck in his crazy lab in which he develops mind-blowing technology devices. To manage to make your way out, you must travel through the whole lab to recover different dimensions changing guns scattered inside it. Unlike Portal, the exploration takes place in a Metroidvania fashion, requiring you to explore the world the acquire items that allows you to navigate through previously blocked areas. While Portal’s formula was great, I must admit that this alternate formula works perfectly with this type of puzzle-platformer game. You get to lose yourself in this relatively big world (with the help of a great map system) and have the great freedom of deciding where you want to go next for the most part.
The other difference with Portal is the variety of guns you acquire: a regular portal gun, a resizing gun (allowing you to get smaller or taller), a time-traveling gun, and a world rotation gun. These mechanics were present in Smudged Cat’s latest game (The Adventures of Shuggy) but for some reason feel different in this title. This might be attributed to the Metroidvania aspect of the game which requires the player to think more about the tools he has in hands rather than solving a very specific puzzle with the tools already pointed out to him. Pretty much all of the guns work rather well and are not too complicated to use aside from the time-traveling gun which caused many issues in my case. I usually knew how to complete some of the puzzles requiring the use of this device but could not manage to complete it. I believe this is mostly because of the fact that the time-traveling gun puts you in the same place as the multiples “old” Professor Ed and that running into any of them breaks the gun’s sequence (meaning you have to start over the puzzle from the beginning). This is eventually resolved when you reach a specific item, but this could have very well been a game breaker in my case.
Speaking of which, people experiencing trouble with some of the game’s puzzles will be happy to know that a built-in Help system can be used in exchange of a certain amount of collected orbs. This system pretty much works like New Super Mario Bros. Wii’s Super Guide system, making the game take control of your character and play through the puzzle as you watch. While it does take away some of the game’s challenge, this feature will allow some of the players to complete (or get further) into the game instead of giving up early on.
Gateways’ artstyle is not too shabby either. The game is presented in a colorful pixilated 16-bits era style. While you might think that less attention to details could be given due to this somewhat minimalistic art, you’d be wrong here. A lot of effort was put into the environments in how they look and what is inside them. For example, each section of the game is differently colored to make sure you always know where you are in the game’s world at all times. Also, Professor Ed’s multiple guns have small animated details on them, posters on the walls refer to Smudged Cat’s previous game, and many more other details. On the audio side of things, the sounds match the funny look of the game while still managing to not get on your nerves after just a few minutes of play. Also, the soundtrack supports the exploration through the lab and makes it an enjoyable ride.
However, there are some few gripes amongst this great adventure that need to be pointed out. The puzzles’ difficulty curve is perfect throughout the first two parts of the game and suddenly shifts to insane mode when you pick up the Time-Traveling gun. Not that the puzzles are necessarily hard to figure out: they are simply hard to go execute. As I mentioned above, those could be must less frustrating if the puzzle would not reset every time you run into one of your other “selves”. Also, the puzzle difficulty in the very last bits of the game might turn off quite many players (as it happened with me).
Nonetheless, Gateways is an incredible piece of video game fun. I literally had fun playing through the game, even in parts that gave me a run for my money. It is a very deep and lengthy puzzle-platformer that will literally suck you in and make time pass by without you noticing. I strongly suggest to at least try the demo of this awesome game.
Gateways is available on the Xbox LIVE Indies Games channel for the Xbox 360 for 240 Microsoft Points (3$USD). The game is also available on PC on Steam, Desura and at http://www.smudgedcat.com/gateways.htm (including a DRM-free version of the game as well as a Steam code) for about 4 or 5$ (depending on where you buy it). Review code was provided by the developer for reviewing purposes.
Game experience at time of redaction: Progressed through most of the game (only 3 rooms left). Used many Help stations along the way.
- Incredibly well-thought puzzles
- Metroidvania exploration makes backtracking to previous areas actually fun
- Help system is greatly appreciated
- Puzzle complexity might turn off many players
- Puzzles’ difficulty curve brutally switches from easy to very hard