July 6, 2012
Gateways is a game developed by Smudged Cat Games who have proven their mettle in the puzzle-platformer genre with games like The Adventures of Shuggy and the recently released, Timeslip. This time they take on another dimension to their already brain teasing mastery of temporal paradoxes and couple it with time-spatial ideas.
First off, let me say this: yes, this is absolutely Portal ver. 2D. The developer even said so in one of their trailers; so for those looking this up, you should get the fundamental idea of the gameplay… With a few extra surprises. There are multiple portal guns gateway guns that affect your surroundings. One type shoots both small and large gateways in which you can shrink or enlarge yourself. Another one affects the gravity, letting you walk on walls or ceilings. My particular favorite is the time loop portal where once you shoot once, the gun records everything you do before you walk through the portal. From there, you see the echo of your former self doing what you just did and if you choose to walk through the portal again, it records the last thing you did in the second time loop. This can get interesting as I messed around with it; having an army of me rampaging a room.
Of course, all of these guns are used in a variety of puzzles. Some had me stuck in my seat for 10 minutes or so trying to figure it out. Despite this, they have an in-game system that helps you if you are really baffled. You collect orbs scattered throughout the map which you can spend at “help stations” next to puzzle to buy the solution. It’s a genius idea to help you progress without having the game hold you by the hand, and still lets you continue on your own pace. Since you still have to collect these orbs everywhere through the use of the different gateway guns, it serves as a purpose of a subtle tutorial in which it teaches you the complexities of the game before you even reach a puzzle.
There are also other items that you have to use in tandem with your portal guns; things like a flashlight and a mirror. I remember hating one puzzle where I had you use the time gun to create echoes of myself holding mirrors in different angles in order to reflect a laser which opened a switch to a door. This is a good example of the advantages of making this sort of gameplay for 2d rather than a full out 3d world like Portal, and the same reason why Smudged Cat Games is able to do crazier stuff this way: the point of view.
Remember the game Prey? The first time I played it I was sick to my stomach. The visual representation of the first person view while changing gravity from wall to wall, ceiling to floor gave me motion sickness. Even sometimes Portal makes me feel that way, but not to point of queasiness. In the 2d world however, you can flip, spin, shrink, or grow the world around you; but your point of view doesn’t change at all, so they went crazy with it.
What I like about Portal is the pacing of the game. The puzzles were thought out so well that the natural progression of one’s thinking alluded them in the right direction of finding a varied, yet applicable solution to the puzzles presented. Not in this game. It’s basically because the design idea that they adapted for this game is what makes it an annoyance to play through: the Metroidvania style. I never understood the love of that game design.
Here’s a question: what’s the difference between solving a puzzle that gives you an item that helps you solve another puzzle so you can continue through the game and solving a puzzle that gives you an item to which you must backtrack through places you’ve already explored to solve another puzzle on the other side of the map so you can continue through the game which is NOW in the same area where you got the initial item?
Answer: TWO HOURS!
This is one of those game design ideas that are solely made to make you feel certain games are longer than what they really are. I have never seen the benefit of giving me an item on one side of the map just so I can go back to a place I’ve been to so I can solve a once unsolvable puzzle. There is no pacing to it, no gameplay element that makes it exciting. It’s also the same low-res graphics all throughout. I have nothing against the retro feel, but if I’m forced to look at it for TWO hours or more I want it to be more memorable; with story element intrusions or at least more interesting for me to look at.
I suppose that is my biggest gripe (along with most Metroidvania style games) is the pacing. The main points of the game are the puzzles, and having them spaced out with mindless trekking takes away from the joy of the game. There are powerups throughout the map that serve as incentive to explore, but what’s the point of having a higher jump height when I can walk on the ceilings and walls? Or having more health even though enemies don’t respawn after their death? It’s definitely a large flaw in game design when a player has to constantly check their map to see if a nearby puzzle is unsolvable or not because of an objective or an item that I have not yet procured is on the other side of the world. Doubly frustrating when you spend your orbs on help points to find a solution TO A PUZZLE THAT IS UNSOLVABLE BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE A PARTICULAR ITEM YET.
Overall, this was a game built on a lot of really cool ideas, despite the game designer’s choice of applying the walk back and forth gameplay. The concepts of time, space, and traversing of both really shined in a lot of the puzzles that are presented. Ultimately, this game would have benefitted more in a singular, directed game style. Maybe if the game felt like it ended way too early and left me wanting more rather than the chore of just getting to the next puzzle, this could have left a better memory than it did.
Out Of 5
Dan anyone really appreciate looking at retro graphics for long or is that the new hipster thing to do?
Music fit the general area of where you were, even on loop. In the basement where it was dark and gloomy was accompanied by an eerie soundtrack, or this curious sounding piece would play when you were in the main area of the laboratory.
Controls were tight and responsive, a must in any platformer.
The concept of the game is fun and well executed, and gave me a lot of head scratchers as it supposed to do. Puzzle platformers are something that Smudged Cat Games shine, and this was a good example of it.
Despite all of the praise I give, the design choice is its downfall in my books. More often than not, I walked away from the game in the middle of backtracking through the map. It wasn’t FUN. Castlevania games work because they made choices that complimented that style of gameplay; often rewarding you with little powerups along the way. Having to travel the same areas over and over again to solve puzzles and get powerups that you don’t really need just gives you the illusion of game content because of length of completion.