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There have been a lot of clever puzzle gimmicks over the years. There were time clones in Braid and P.B. Winterbottom, rotating the world in And Yet It Moves (shame about the game), and portals in… well, Portal. There have been riffs and imitators on each as well, but did you ever think about combining them? Because that’s just what Gateways does, and it’s even more mind-bending that what you’re imagining.
You play Ed, a brilliant, balding scientist whose sprawling lab has just been ransacked. To get to the bottom of whatever it is, you’re going to need to retrieve his gateway guns. There are four in total, each granting you a remarkable power over space and time. You have your basic portal gun that lets you go in one end and pop out the other. Then there’s a resizing gun that lays down a big portal and a little portal, making you bigger or smaller depending on which one you enter. There’s a rotation gun that works like the portal gun except it maintains your orientation, essentially rotating the world around you. And there’s a time gun that lets you loop over the same span of time over and over, creating clones of yourself. You’ll also find a few additional tools, as well as bonus upgrades like higher jumps and more time loops.
As you locate the portal guns, you’ll encounter all sorts of puzzles throughout Ed’s rather open-form laboratory. Your map will helpfully point out the next key puzzle to tackle, but you can always go searching for side paths and bonus puzzles that you might be able to solve with your current abilities. Each puzzle is helpfully marked with a Help Point, where you can spend a few orbs (found in tricky spots all over the lab) to confirm whether or not you have the right tools to solve the puzzle, or a lot of orbs to view the solution and skip the puzzle. It’s a clever system for avoiding frustration, especially if there are gateway guns you’re having trouble coming to grips with.
The puzzles start out as good introductions to your fantastic powers, and grow steadily into reasonable challenges. After a few hours, you’ll probably have a solid command of each gateway gun, and be wondering why there are still puzzles you can’t quite work out. And then you find the power that lets you use all the guns simultaneously, which launches the difficulty curve into space. Honestly, just dealing with a handful of time loops or working out a rotation maze taxed my brain to the limit. Combining them overwhelmed me to a degree I didn’t think was possible anymore. You’ll be using time portals to send your tiny past self to hold a switch while your giant future self reflects a laser through a right-angled portal into another switch so your present self has a few seconds to slip through a gate… or at least that’s what’s expected of you.
Gateways is pretty much everything you could ask for in a puzzle platformer, taken to almost comical extremes. It looks good, sounds good, has plenty of puzzle gimmicks, items to collect, secrets to find, and enemies to squash (in strangely bloody fashion, too). But it’s going to challenge you in ways other games don’t, and it will keep pushing until you’ve fully mastered every aspect of your powers. I reached a point where it got to be too much for me, a level of complexity far beyond Braid or Portal or anything that inspired it. If you’re seeking that challenge, don’t pass this one up, and even if you aren’t it might be worth a try.