Gateways Review

Gateways by Smudged Cat GamesIt would be easy to label puzzle/platformer game Gateways as a Portal clone from first impressions. The two-gate travel gun available to your character at the start works on pretty much the same principle as the gun from the Valve mega-hit. Developer Smudged Cat Games doesn’t stop there though, and introduces new abilities and challenging puzzles at a steady pace. Just as you’ve mastered one type of gun, a new one appears to make you rethink how you’re going to get from one area to the next. Although the game’s puzzles can occasionally get difficult, the overall package certainly lives up to the high quality standards associated with the library of this veteran XBLIG developer.

By now much of the gaming world has experienced all of the wonder that the Portal series has brought to the industry. Developer David Johnson of Smudged Cat Games takes inspiration from those fun physics-based puzzles and quite literally turns them on their heads. SPOILER ALERT: Taking on the role of a scientist stuck trying to escape his own lab, players unlock additional guns that allow them to change their character’s size, repeatedly travel back and forth between time, and change the orientation of the game world. The first and last of those guns are fairly intuitive once experimented with a couple of times. On the flip side, the time travel gun really takes some getting used to. The same people who skip through EULAs and never read the fine print are the ones that are going to run into trouble.  With all of its nuances, time travel in Gateways is not the easiest concept to wrap one’s mind around. It took me reading the multi-page help menu explanation before it finally clicked. The application of this one gun alone probably make it worthy of its own game. When combined with the abilities of the other guns, there’s really an amazing amount of reality-bending power at the player’s disposal.

The game is structured in a Metroidvania style, with new powers and abilities helping the player open previously impassable doors. One of the niceties in Gateways is that shortcuts can be opened up within the lab that allow the player to quickly travel back to the earlier areas almost in a hub-like design. At times though, it’s easy to feel lost if you don’t know about the existence of the overworld map. I’d played through a good portion of the game before realizing it was there, which would have saved me a lot of time. Having that map at my disposal definitely changed my overall opinion of the game. Backtracking can get a little tedious, especially if you have to repeatedly perform the same series of death-defying feats to reach a particular room. But as long as players use the map to get a general feel for where to go next, they should easily avoid some of the headaches I ran into.

 

 

The difficulty of the puzzles later on can get a bit frustrating. Smudged Cat even released an update that allows players to select a ‘Normal’ mode to tone things down a bit. I never got to the point where I threw down the controller in disgust, but there were times where I certainly recognized that saving the game, walking away, and coming back with a fresh mind was the way to go. One of the smart design choices was to only allow a single gun to be used in solving the first 90% or so of the puzzles. Otherwise, it would’ve been far too daunting a task to figure out which guns to whip out and in what order. However, late in the game the rules change such that you’re going to need to use multiple guns in sequence to solve getting through some of the doors. Most of these really tough puzzles can be solved with patience and determination, but even I had to eventually throw in the towel and either search for a solution online or purchase the answer using orbs collected in-game. Difficulty is always a subjective quality to judge, but I honestly feel like Smudged Cat was trying a bit too hard to boggle our minds. As a reviewer, it was a bit stressful trying to hurry towards a solution, but gamers taking on the challenge at a more casual pace will likely appreciate the pacing and challenge more. Overall I felt like the quality of the puzzles is not only great for an indie game, but puts it right on par with the best to be found in the entire video game industry. With only a few exceptions, they’re that good and that fun and certainly elicit that ‘a-ha!’ moment when solved.

Gateways is not all about the puzzles. There is a light amount of platforming, but a good portion of it takes place in between unlocking doors to new areas, rather than being central to the puzzles themselves. There are, of course, exceptions particularly when dodging one’s own clones in a time-travel solution or when changing the orientation of the lab. I thought this aspect of the game was very well done, especially with the feel of jumping. The right flightiness of jumping is not something that every XBLIG manages to nail, but the developer was successful here.

As with all of the other Smudged Cat titles I’ve played, there’s a high level of refinement in the presentation. Yes, the visual quality is, for better or worse, decidedly retro. However, the music is atmospheric, the menu system intuitive, and the help very… helpful. I mentioned before that there’s a great series of instructions in the help system for how each of the guns work, and I would consider it a must-read. The visual effects produced by opening the different gateways provide that same wonder first experienced with Portal. Though lower-res, I think it is even more awe-inspiring here when you can see clones of yourself running around in different stages of time traveling.  It’s easy to tell from the way the whole package is put together that Smudged Cat has been down this road before and learned a thing or two about how to assemble a finished product. That’s something that’s usually lacking on the XBLIG service.

Gateways by Smudged Cat Games

The effects seen by approaching open gateways provide a cool, visual treat

Gateways not a perfect game, but it really raises the bar for what puzzle games on XBLIG should aim for. I lost count of how many times I thought to myself “What a wonderfully crafted puzzle, you tricky bastard.” A lot of people are going to draw the obvious comparisons between Gateways and Portal including me in this very article. In its own indie way Gateways goes on to do so much more. Perhaps the best praise I can heap upon this title is to say that it wouldn’t surprise me to start seeing Gateways-inspired titles start to pop up in the near future. Despite some gripes about the difficulty, I can say with full confidence that I consider it a polished gem, and I believe most players will agree.

Overall Rating: ★★★★★ 

Note: This review was conducted using version 1.11 of the game.

Additional Gateways coverage:

Review on theXBLIG.com

Review on Indie Gamer Chick

Review on Clearance Bin Review
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Author:Brandon Schmidt

Brandon is the founder and managing director of The Indie Mine in his free time. His preferred medium is video games and he's not shy about his support for the indie development community. You can follow him on Twitter @TheIndieMine.

23 Responses to “Gateways Review”

  1. mxtomek
    October 11, 2012 at 8:42 am #

    I like the previous game from this developer “TheAdventuresOfShuggy”. Next game looks nice on videos and reviews. Hope to play someday. Thx for a chance :)

  2. dbolt
    October 11, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    Adventures of Shuggy is my favorite Smudget Cat game. Thanks for the giveaway!

  3. jhonjlagos
    October 11, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    Gateways looks amazing, the only reason I didn’t get it is because I did not finish Adventures of Shuggy (also great) yet.

  4. jhonjlagos
    October 11, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    Oh, favorite: Adventures of Shuggy. For now.

  5. October 11, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    Well, Adventures of Shuggy, but Gateways seems better :D

  6. Sittaman
    October 11, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    Adventures of Shuggy, Gateways

  7. Paul
    October 11, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    Adventures of Shuggy is pretty cool.

  8. October 11, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

    The Portal comparison was the first thing I thought of once I played the demo. I’m eager to get the full version to see how they expand on the different ways you approach puzzles. Even if it took the Portal blueprint, it made the demo no less fun.

  9. Kyle A.
    October 11, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    Adventures of Shuggy is my favorite game to play on steam as well as XBLA.

  10. Wollmilchkuh
    October 11, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    The Answer is easy, Adventures of Shuggy, because I didn’t play the others until now.
    But I think, Gateways could be my favorite really fast.

  11. mxtomek
    October 12, 2012 at 2:13 am #

    Great. The demo on steam in now available!

  12. October 12, 2012 at 8:26 am #

    i found the adventures of shuggy really cool! pretty nice gameplay, but sometimes it really gives you a brainfuck :D

  13. Caesar
    October 17, 2012 at 6:44 am #

    Already played through ‘Shuggy’ and was waiting for a confirmation that the quality is intact :D

  14. rumpel
    October 17, 2012 at 6:49 am #

    Awesome game. Hope I win it :)

  15. rumpel
    October 17, 2012 at 6:50 am #

    Adventure of shuggy was awesome though!

  16. VWR
    October 17, 2012 at 6:55 am #

    Favourite is Adventures of Shuggy, of course!

  17. Phu Vo
    October 17, 2012 at 7:13 am #

    Haven’t played Smudged Cat ‘s games yet. So I can’t answer that question :)

  18. BioBuster
    October 18, 2012 at 5:12 am #

    So far I like Adventures of Shuggy the most.

  19. tofmin
    October 18, 2012 at 5:20 am #

    I’m in! Thanks!

  20. Morphys
    October 19, 2012 at 7:02 am #

    The Adventures of Shuggy is a best one.

  21. Angel.9 Rakou Cobra
    October 19, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

    I haven’t had the chance to play it yet, but Shuggy looks amazing from the gameplay I’ve seen. I just got it not that long ago, and I’ll definitely be giving it a shot. :)

    Thanks for the chance!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. REVIEW: Gateways | the / . / XBLIG - October 11, 2012

    [...] Review on The Indie Mine Rate this:The ShareLike this:LikeOne blogger likes this. Tags: 80 MSP, Gateways, Indie Games Uprising III, Smudged Cat Games, Uprising III, XBLIG, Xbox 360, Xbox Live Indie Games, XNA, you're welcome [...]

  2. Pixel Review | The Indie Mine - October 18, 2012

    [...] Review Fresh off of our review of the Xbox version of Gateways, we’re ready to tackle Pixel, another Portal-inspired indie title. This hybrid [...]

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