Now that our minds are open and clear, let's talk about Gateways.
Gateways comes from Smudged Cat Games, the developer behind The Adventures of Shuggy, and it therefore carries a certain level of polish and intricacy expected from a veteran creator. It's truly not just another indie, retro 2D platformer – it's an indie, retro 2D platformer with a multitude of layers in gateway guns, time-shifting abilities, mirror refraction and flashlight technology, all set in an eccentric scientist's overrun laboratory. Gateways starts simply enough, with a scientist finding his laboratory has been ransacked, experiments scattered throughout its labyrinthine passageways and his monstrous creations floating in the halls. Two things quickly become apparent: The lab is designed by a masochistic blind man with a "bumping into walls" fetish, and there's no way to solve most of these puzzles yet. Our little scientist needs a gateway gun.
If I can offer one tip for playing Gateways, it's to use the map as often as possible. Eventually, you may get a feel for which platforms lead to the basement and which dump you in the farthest corners of the lab, but until you reach that point of recollection, use the map. It's the "m" key on PC, and it has arrows showing your current location, save, help and teleportation points, and your next objective. Remember, there's nothing noble about getting lost.
Gateways features a resizing gateway gun that makes the scientist smaller or larger, depending on which hole he pops out of; a "torch" (looks like a flashlight to me) used to operate some doors and see in the dark; a shaving mirror to reflect lasers into the proper devices; a time-travel gun that uses a Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom approach to puzzle-solving; and a gravity gun that turns the scientist into Spider-Man.
The puzzles ease players into each new tool but offer no mercy once deeming each gun mastered, and they rise in difficulty quickly.
The puzzles ease players into each new tool but offer no mercy once deeming each gun mastered, and they rise in difficulty quickly. The lab is lined with dangers: glass shards littering the floor and floating Mars Attacks-inspired squid monsters guarding many of the halls. And then there's the lab – which, again, is insane.
The scientist collects orbs throughout his travels. Each puzzle comes with a help station, which is activated by spending these orbs. The hint usually takes only a handful of orbs and is most helpful in discerning whether you have the necessary equipment to complete the puzzle. If you do have all the tools and are still stuck, you can unlock the puzzle by spending a lot more orbs (quitter).
Gateways takes what could have been a messy conglomeration of guns and gadgets in a maze-like world and creates a dense puzzle-cracking experience. It gets intense – while I haven't finished the game yet myself, Smudged Cat Games uploaded the above solution video for the final puzzle, and it appears as ridiculous as the lab itself (spoiler, obviously). A recent update to the Steam version adds a "normal" mode that simplifies some of the later puzzles; this update will hit XBLIG after peer review.
Yes, it's an indie, retro 2D platformer. But it's also hardcore, satisfying and infinitely mind-boggling. Check it out on XBLIG (where it's still on sale for $1) or Steam for $5.
This article is based on a download of Gateways, provided by Smudged Cat Games. Gateways is available on Steam and XBLIG now for $5 (unless that XBLIG sale is still live when you read this).