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Gateways Review (PC)

Retro themed 2D platformer inspired by Portal? I feel like we’ve been here before. If there was just one game like Gateways, you would say it was a unique spin on the Portal formula. There are now so many games like this that it’s becoming a genre in itself. While the recent, similar title, “Out There Somewhere” was far less like Portal than it initially appeared, Gateways is far more similar and familiar. It is also different enough to be challenging, interesting and just original enough to be worth playing.

Gateways is a 2D platform game where you take on the role of Ed, a scientist and inventor who must have been inspired by those clever fellows at Aperture Science. As a (rather predictable) accident occurs in Ed’s lab releasing some scary creations, you have to help him escape and get to safety. Luckily, Ed has a rather useful Portal-style gun to create “Gateways” between two places in physical space.

The game has a chunky pixel look, and it animates and controls well. There’s a simplicity to the visuals that’s a little disappointing. While similar retro-styled games like Super MeatBoy have original character designs, there’s something a little too generic about Gateway’s look. Its not ugly, just a little uninspiring. The looks of the levels also don’t impress too much, but crucially the feel of the game is great with professor Ed moving around the levels fluidly and animating well.

You can play with either mouse and keyboard or with a controller, and either method feels good. Using the right trigger for one portal and the left for another, I found the controller option to feel the most natural and satisfying. The only issue I had was with looking around using this method. The tutorial tells you that you can click the left stick in to look around the level and scroll the view, but I had to click the mouse first before it would allow this each time. It was a curious problem. I’m not sure if there’s a workaround, but I found it frustrating as you often have to fire gateways off-screen to areas you can’t see. Thankfully the game cleverly shows you when you can fire a gateway and successfully create one by displaying a line coming from your gun to its target. Its hard to explain, but very easy to understand during gameplay.

Little neat touches abound throughout which help during the tougher moments. You collect blue orbs and these can be spent at certain points. Spending a few of these will tell you if a puzzle is solvable at that stage of the game. Spending even more will show the solution to the puzzle. In this way, if you want to you can just spend your way past an obstacle, but you are best to save your orbs for the genuinely tougher puzzles later in the game. You can also bring up a map at any time that shows puzzles that can be solved, those that can’t and which general direction you should be heading in next. This is useful as the levels quickly become maze-like and labyrinthine. This is a game where you will have many possible directions to explore, and the structure of the levels loops around itself cleverly. You’ll find yourself coming back to earlier areas to collect more orbs as you unlock new abilities or just get better at solving the puzzles you face.

The Gateways you use to solve puzzles are simple in theory but allow complex interactions with the levels you move through. At the most simple level, you might create a gateway to a high area that you can’t jump to, and create a second portal under your feet. You will then simply fall through the second gateway and appear at the first in the high area you couldn’t reach. The visual effect the game uses to depict the gateways is clever though, and can be very confusing at first. As you create gateways that loop together you can find all sorts of strange things happening, such as lots of Ed’s appearing at once, or pits that you fall into forever. The game also introduces different types of guns as you progress, including one that shrinks Ed to half or grows him to double size. Manipulating gravity and even time later in the game creates intriguing but (for me at least) very challenging puzzles.

Despite the cleverness of the puzzles and the satisfying controls I found a few small issues with how Ed jumps. If you want to jump on the head of an enemy you need to be very precise. If you hit them anywhere near the front you won’t hurt them and instead will take damage yourself. If you imagine the area under your feet to be a hit box, then Ed’s would be much smaller than someone like Mario’s. His jumping is also fairly floaty and somewhat hard to aim precisely as he hangs in the air for a long time.

This is offset somewhat by how satisfying it is when you DO jump on an enemy and kill them. Often encased in glass shields, jumping on their head first cracks these, then shatters them completely. This is accompanied rather incongruously (but brilliantly) by a big burst of bright red pixelated blood. I’m not sure what it says about me, but smashing animals into bloody pulps makes me curiously happy.

Gateways is a game that combines modest ambition, teleportation and traditional Metroid-Vania level design and thus blends together elements of modern and classic games. Its pretty far from revolutionary, and hardly essential, but the puzzle design is so good and there are enough nice little touches that it is well worth playing for anyone who loved Portal, 2D platformers or both.

7 great gates to create out of 10

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