An inter-dimensional 8-bit masterpiece
On the surface, Gateways, the retro-styled 2D puzzle platformer from the people who brought us the wonderful Adventures of Shuggy, looks like just another day at the office. Start playing, though, and you’ll very quickly discover there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. This game is nothing short of amazing.
Gateways is about an inventor named Ed who awakens in the middle of his laboratory, unsure of how he got there, but very aware that something isn’t right. He quickly determines that someone has trashed the place, unleashed the “Monkoids” – basically malevolent monkeys in floating robot suits – and hidden his “gateway guns,” gizmos that allow the user to manipulate the environment and even time itself. Who could have done it? And why? The mystery must be solved!
Ed can run left and right, jump, and fall from any height. Jumping on top of Monkoids kills them, although some take more than one bounce before they go down, and stepping or landing on the broken lab equipment scattered across certain segments of the floor will cost him one of his three (to begin with) lives. It’s a very familiar style of gameplay, at least until the gateway guns show up. Once that happens, the real fun begins.
Like many games these days, Gateways boasts a old-time, “8-bit” visual style that’s bright, colorful and blocky, and even the thought bubbles that occasionally fill us in on what’s going happening in Ed’s mind are reminiscent of an earlier, some would say better, era of videogaming. Yet, it still manages to look good, with plenty of environmental details, variable lighting effects and enough eye candy to keep it all interesting. The music, on the other hand, is a very modern mix of ambient and electronic melodies that does a wonderful job of “filling in the blanks,” giving players something to do with their ears while managing to avoid becoming a distraction.
The first gateway gun you’ll find places “gateways” (think portals) in two separate locations, allowing you to move immediately from one location to another, and to pull off some pretty cool jumping stunts too. But that’s just the beginning: before long you’ll find a second gun that fires gateways of two different sizes, allowing you to either halve or double your size. Then there’s the time travel gun that lets you literally work side-by-side with yourself to solve puzzles, and another that allows you to manipulate gravity so you can walk on walls or ceilings. Along with the gateway guns, you’ll also pick up a flashlight and a mirror, both incredibly handy to have in a weird, puzzle-packed place like Ed’s lab.
Unlike most games that are broken up into worlds, levels, stages or whatever, Gateways takes place in a single, massive, wide-open room, all of which can be accessed at any time – provided that you can solve the required puzzles. If you can’t, you’re free to move on and come back to it later, and in fact you’ll be doing that quite often, as some of them will require the use of items you don’t yet have. Luckily, a detailed map keeps track of what’s done, what remains to be finished and where you need to go next, and fixed point-to-point teleporters that pop up as you explore Ed’s gigantic lab allow you to instantaneously transit from one area of the map to another. Given the size of the place, and the number of times you’ll crisscross it during the game, those transit portals are a real boon.
One of the smartest features of the game are “help points” that mark each of Gateway’s great many puzzles. Blue “power orbs” are spread throughout the lab for Ed to collect as he goes, and for a cost of five orbs, a help point will tell you whether the puzzle at hand can be solved with your current equipment; for another 40 orbs it will show you exactly how to solve it. Orbs are in relatively plentiful supply, so burning up five to find out if you’re wasting your time trying to solve an unbeatable puzzle isn’t a big deal, but the cost for the solution is high enough that you’ll want to think twice before using it – and take some time to think about the puzzle instead. It’s a brilliant way to help ensure that nobody gets stuck by turning the standard business of “dot collecting” to a very practical purpose.
It’s not quite perfect – some of Ed’s inner dialog is a little grammatically rickety and while the game supports three unique player profiles, the only way to switch between them is to quit and restart – but it’s so good that the few very minor flaws are easily overlooked. There’s a demo if you remain unconvinced, but trust me – Gateways is unique, sharp and very challenging and satisfying. This is absolutely a must-play game.