I don’t really have a good story about Gateways, latest outing from Smudged Cat Games. I first heard of the game through the Internet sleuthing of Rock Paper Shotgun, checked out the demo, and resolved to buy the game proper when it came out. And it did, one month ago. You might claim this makes my reaction to it a tad late. You’d be right, but let’s just ignore that and talk about Gateways instead.
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, inconsequential. Mechanical, high.)
The Gateways opening screen is mostly just very weird. As three empty chalk boards obscure the head of what appears to be a professor with a robot arm, odd circular distortions gallivant around, offering tantalizing glimpses at the truth behind two large green ovals. The music playing can be summarized as ‘aptly weird’. Or, perhaps, ‘weirdly apt’.
Since the three chalk boards are labelled ‘Save 1′, ‘Save 2′ and ‘Save 3′, I click the left-most one. This provides me with some more options… but the actual ‘Options’ screen is rather minimalistic, offering only sound and music levels and a Fullscreen option. I check the Controls scheme too, and find it similarly simple.
Sometimes, the only way really is forward. ‘Start Game’ away, and… a black screen.
A black screen soon enriched with a thought bubble. “…ow, my head,” goes who I assume will be the game’s protagonist, “where am I… What am I doing in this lab? Oh no, has someone broken in? I can’t remember anything, I hope the gateway guns are safe! I better check out what happened here.”
I’m suspecting this game is aiming for any story awards, here. But that’s fine, or it can be. Let’s just progress past the black-and-white text stage and into…
Ed, huh? I can deal with that.
Cautiously, I move Ed around the lab a bit. According to both the control scheme and this tutorial message, moving is all I can do. There aren’t many ways to go, it seems: locked doors on the ground floor both left and right, and an unreachable ledge in the top left, littered with blue orbs. What’s your deal, blue orbs? What are you all about, and why do I want you so much?
A platformed path leads me to the up-and-right, collecting a few blue orbs along the way. What the game informs me are broken test tubes litter my path, daring me to step on them. I’m too smart for their tricks, though. I take an elevator up and encounter a roaming monkoid.
Two smashed monkey-bots and a few more blue orbs later, and I still don’t really know what I’m doing. Soon after, I encounter a few yellow-orange pillars called ‘Help Points’. The game instructs me these are puzzle solving points, where I can spend my accumulated blue orbs in order to see if and how a given ‘tricky problem’ can be solved.
I’ll take it on faith for now that I can’t solve this puzzle yet, and continue through the one open path. A yellow-purple purports to be a Save Point, and I run past some self-healing seemingly indestructible monkoids. And then, just as I’m starting to wonder what the deal even is with this game, I run into an open hallway and almost trip right over the Gateway Gun.
The Gateway Gun is… well, let’s not mince words. The Gateway Gun is a Portal Gun. By placing two green ‘gateways’ on any allowed surface, aiming with the mouse and using the left and right mouse buttons, I can travel between them instantaneously. If you’ve played Portal at all (or the excellent 2D Flash Portal) this metaphor will be obvious to you. It is to me. The game clearly shows where each gateway will be placed, if it will be placed, and when two gateways are up you can look through them for a sometimes vertigo-inducing view.
Gateway Gun in hand, I explore. Initially, there’s still only one path I can really reach, but this seems intended to funnel me past some gameplay elements: a Gateway Barrier that closes any open gateways if I pass it, and a hint telling me to use the map if I’m ever lost. I do use the map, incidentally, both because I am somewhat lost and because it confirms what I was already suspecting: Gateways is basically a Metroidvania-style puzzler. Look at this scrollable map and tell me it doesn’t scream ‘exploration bonuses’ to you.
So, I explore. A little backtracking quickly rewards me with a health powerup — which is what the test tubes up left have been symbolizing — and then it’s onward and upward. Or downward, as the case may be, but regardless. The first few puzzles seem intended to familiarize me with the concept of gateways, and using them to cross large gaps, avoid dangers, get to unreachable places and (sometimes) launching myself across vast distances. Again, it’s Portal-player common knowledge.
New elements are quickly introduced: lasers, for instance, and laser receptors. Light sensors, too, that don’t care much for lasers. In a dusty basement, I find a flashlight to deal with this exact problem, and it’s at this point that I come to a realization: The flashlight is toggled on and off with E, and the gateway gun is operated with the mouse… neither of which was indicated on the Control screen image. Is that just a weird oversight? I load it up again to confirm, and find myself greeted with this:
So the controls image expands based on the new capabilities you encounter while playing? That’s bloody brilliant. I’m not even kidding, I’m really impressed by this: a living controls overview is the perfect way to keep the concept of a ‘How To Play’ section relevant without immediately overloading the player with information, unlike some other games I could mention. My hat’s off to you, Smudged Cat.
More exploration happens. I could tell you about this in painstaking detail… but let’s not do that. Instead, let’s skip ahead to the part where I stopped playing: the hallway in which I found the Resizing Gateway Gun. It works mostly like the regular gateway gun, except that one of its purple portals is Large, and the other is Small, and stepping through them will either shrink or enlarge Ed accordingly.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t immediately know where to go next: I’ve seen a number of suspiciously small passages dotting the laboratory landscape. I’ll let my brain cool down for a little bit, and then I’ll be back after exploring each and every one of them.
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