Old ideas can often feel new by dint of turning them on their head – or, in the case of Gateways, the latest release from Adventures Of Shuggy developer Smudged Cat, by flattening and turning them on their side. Portal’s portal gun may have been replaced by Gateways’ gateway gun, but the premise is the same: shoot wall holes, then jump from one to the other. However, it’s the structure of the world that makes that familiar weapon feel surprisingly fresh.
Gateways might be set in a lab, but it’s the sort of lab that tests 16bit platformers, all right angles, spike pits, and questionable architectural design. The gateway gun, acquired within minutes, isn’t used to move blocks or befuddle turrets but to grab collectibles or bounce on enemy heads. Smudged Cat has plucked the heart from Valve’s firstperson puzzler and transplanted it into a Metroid-like puzzle labyrinth.
Players are cast as Ed, a scientist trying to wrest control of his lab back from the clutches of a bunch of escaped robotic monkeys. That’s pretty much the size of it, but the bald, elderly Ed makes for an endearingly atypical travel companion, particularly when you make two (or more) of him later on and the portal-hopping concept of the early lab rooms is quickly embellished with a handful of equally devious puzzle elements.
In addition to placing gateways, the gun eventually enables time travel, plays havoc with gravity, and shrinks or enlarges the protagonist. While the controls for swapping these powers aren’t as smooth as they could be – you can’t use the gun at the same time as the mirror or torch – there are enough eureka moments to make the constant ability-switching worth the hassle. In a neat touch, you can activate help posts to discover whether you’re ready to tackle a puzzle, or even buy the solution (with collectible orbs) if it’s proving too bamboozling.
Jokes are in short supply, as is the serene abstraction often associated with modern puzzle games. The platforming segments and spaced-out checkpoints might annoy the more cerebrally focused, but all told they’re a fairly minor part of the game. Gateways is an unusually warm and charming entry in an occasionally clinical genre, and escapes from the shadow of its obvious inspiration with no small amount of ingenuity.