Indie Games Uprising III Review: Gateways! – For science!

Gateways takes the Indie Games Uprising III through  portals and time and twist everything up in the process. To try and write this review without referencing the obvious source material would be possible, but pointless. The game is Portal, but 2D, a whole hell of a lot more difficult and with a lot more than just a simple portal gun.

Take Portal and drop the third dimension. Add a gun that alters your size, and make puzzles based on that. Then add a gun that allows you to travel back in time, and make puzzles based on that. Then, lastly add a gun that allows you to switch gravity and make puzzles based on that. Throw them all together towards the end for some of the most obscenely difficult and crazy puzzles in a platformer, and you have Gateways.

Someone has broken into your lab and mucked about. They’ve moved all your guns, your toys, let loose your robotic octopus monkeys and designed a series of elaborate puzzles you must solve to reach the command center and solve the mystery.  While this is ultimately just another version of the “lab rat” themed puzzle game, and yet another game inspired by the success of Portal, Gateways is not only inventive but a blast to play.

It says a lot about a game when much like the protagonist scientist you awake in a daze several hours after you first entered the lab; unaware of exactly what time or even day it is and the sudden realization that you haven’t eaten in hours.  Gateways has a map/puzzle scheme that basically has you constantly moving forward (and backwards) from one puzzle to the next, meaning that the only time it really “stops” is when you do, making it very easy to just keep going.  The fact that you often encounter puzzles you can’t quite complete yet, then shortly after find the power-up or new gun that you need and so now you just have to go back and do that one puzzle you couldn’t before…

Well you get the point.

It is addictive, and it also looks pretty good too. Sure, it is a simple, old school 2D style game but it’s a very good-looking simple, old school 2D style game.  What’s more, despite my concerns that it would be hard to visually make a Portal type game work in 2D, it works exceptionally well visually. The view through a portal is hidden until you walk up to it, avoiding the problem of constantly having to “see” where a portal was going even if you weren’t near it.  The game’s music and sound effects all play to the style perfectly as well. Again, simple is really the name of the game in terms of audio, but you feel like you can hear the scientist talking (or how he would talk) just from his little inaudible grunts.

The game’s controls are also top notch, and they need to be in order to solve some of the precision puzzles that appear later. Having tested the game with a controller in hand and on a PC, I would edge out the controls (slightly) to the PC. It just handles the switching of guns and the use of other items better which can get cumbersome in the later puzzles with the controller. As mentioned before, there are four types of portals you can eventually use to solve puzzles; a standard portal, a portal that resizes you (either bigger or smaller), one that opens a time portal that you can go back in time with to create a duplicate(s) and a gravity switching portal that allows you to run on the walls. The addition of the extra portal types adds a tremendous amount of depth to the puzzles, and things get pretty tricky.

The game’s biggest fault is that it more or less just throws you the last two guns without ever giving any real idea how to use them.  After several very confused attempts to create multiple echos using the time gun (going back in time more than once in a cycle to create multiple copies) while solving a puzzle I eventually stopped and just played with the gun for a while to figure it out. It took a while, a long while, but eventually I understood how it worked. I’m not sure the “reward” of figuring out how to use it was better than a time saving tutorial explaining it in a few short steps. The time gun also marks the beginning of a difficult curve on par with Spoids (which I’ve reviewed previously).  The gravity gun was less complicated, but also caused the same issue; not really understanding how to use it for some time.

Just as soon as you start to think you have a grip on the guns, the game goes and has you start using them all at the same time.  If the game’s difficulty curve spikes after the time gun, it doubles back around, kicks you in the balls before blasting into space whilst calling your mother a whore after you get all four guns at once. No, I am not exaggerating. This isn’t a “gamers just ain’t what they used to be” situation either, so all you Pac Man enthusiast need to just sit right back down. The puzzles in Gateways were designed by a genius or a deranged man (or both), gamers aren’t “soft” Gateways is just plain hard.

The game attempts to assist you by allowing you to “purchase” puzzle solutions with orbs collected throughout the game.  The problem with this, in addition to the fact the last puzzle can’t be solved this way, is that it doesn’t give you a hint; it simply does it for you. Meaning that you don’t learn anything and the next puzzle is bound to be about as hard if not harder because you still don’t know what the hell you are doing. This feature will surely keep some gamers going a bit longer, but eventually the orbs run out.

And that last puzzle… While approximate, it is a safe guess that I spent about an hour attempting to solve it before breaking down and turning to a video uploaded by Smudge Cat Games showing how to solve it. Even after finding the video, I still spent a couple more hours attempting to make it actually happen before giving up for a while. Again I returned to Gateways in an attempt to finish the last puzzle, only to expel energy for at least another hour, completely aware of what to do but simply unable to do it before grudgingly just giving up.  To put it simply, I will never beat Gateways in its current form. A real shame too, as going into this last puzzle I had been frustrated a few times by the difficultly but was really having too much fun to stop.

Gateways was, until the last three puzzles, on track to being CBR’s first 10/10 game. I was having that much fun. The third to last puzzle (I believe third to last anyway) knocked a few decimals off though, and after a solid 3-4 hours of trying on the last puzzle (even with a walkthrough) having to walk away a few times only to eventually just give up out of total frustration the game began to leave a very sour taste. The puzzle screams “developer who has been playing his own game for way too long” whether it is true or not.

Will some people beat it? I’m sure. I’ll just never be one of them, and I imagine most people won’t be. A game that frustrates the gamer (rather than challenges) and is likely to be unbeatable to most simply can’t be a 10/10.  Now, there is something to be said for how badly I wanted to beat it. Gateways is a great game and I desperately wanted to see it to the end, but there was just no way. I’m saddened by this, because even though I loved the game for 98% of the actual game, I spent almost as much actual play time absolutely hating its’ ridiculous difficulty towards the end.  In a way, the game shoots itself in the foot because it is so damn good that when it frustrates you enough to quit, you hate it for making you quit, because you want to keep playing it. That said, I know I’m bound to return to it two or three more times to give it “one more shot” like that girl you know that keeps getting back together with the charming but douchebag boyfriend. Oh Gateways, I wish I knew how to quit you.

It still receives very high marks, but damn, it was so close.

Final Rating: 9/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On
Time to completion: Many, many hours.
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: N/A – Copy furnished by Smudge Cat Games
Current Price: 240 Microsoft Points ($3) or $4 on Steam till September 20th.
Recommend Purchase Price: Most likely won’t go lower on XBLIG.
Why you should buy it: Odds are, it’s the best game in the Uprising.
Why you shouldn’t buy it: You almost certainly won’t see the ending.


About Tristan Rendo

I've made movies, written and performed music, and in January of 2011 got bored and started the awesome gaming site you see before you. My gaming roots began with the original NES, and endless hours spent spilling quarters into machines at the local arcade. I have a personal collection of over 200 Nintendo 64 games, and for many years it was the only system I owned. I re-entered the modern generation of gaming consoles when I decided to purchase a 360. I typically prefer the single player experience of games, so I’m usually playing through some single-player campaign, but can occasionally be found doing some damage in Halo Reach.