The lure of the Metroidvania genre seems to be irresistible to indie developers. Something about combining platforming with shooting, upgrade systems, and plenty of back-tracking seems to appeal to creators and players alike. Doinksoft has gone the extra mile by making the protagonist of Gato Roboto into the internet’s favourite animal—a cat.
Gato Roboto begins quite dramatically, with a spaceship crash. The crash was inadvertently caused by the adorable protagonist, Kiki, who stood on some vital control panels when seeking attention from her owner, ship pilot Gary. Luckily, though, Kiki has a radio collar that Gary can use to speak to Kiki and act as the player’s guide through the game.
The first task involves navigating narrow corridors to find a mech suit, which just happens to be perfectly proportioned for a small cat. Upon equipping the mech suit, alarms ring out and enemies appear, forcing the player to quickly learn how to use the suit’s functions to survive.
Enemies come in a variety of forms, from the dangerous security robots to wild animals that appear to have taken exception to Kiki’s appearance, including frogs and bees that are almost as big as Kiki. The arm-cannon fitted to the mech suit will usually sort them out, and, as might be expected from a Metroidvania title, upgrades are hidden throughout the labyrinthine corridors.
Upgrades range from simple health upgrades which add a unit of health to the player’s energy (or NRG) bar, allowing Kiki to survive more damage, or items such as the Rocket, which lets Kiki blow apart walls to reach new areas, as well as providing a kind of double-jump function. Many more are hidden throughout, with various functions, most of which will be familiar to seasoned Metroidvania fans.
Standard enemies are not the only things the player needs to worry about. The game also features bosses who guard the end of each area. Like the rest of the game, the bosses are imbued with gentle humour while still offering a significant challenge, such as the first boss, who turns out to be a mouse piloting another mech suit.
Exploration and backtracking is essential to find all those hidden upgrades, with many upgrades being essential in order to progress. Of course, enemies get tougher as Kiki ventures further through the corridors and tunnels, but the difficulty curve is fairly smooth, and never seems to hit a brick wall.
If the player finds they stuck in a literal tight spot, Kiki can be ejected from the mech suit and left to wander around as a simple cat. This gameplay option offers an advantage of mobility, but makes the kitty much more vulnerable to attack. Many puzzles within Gato Roboto require the player to use a combination of mech suit and cat form to successfully navigate forward, forcing them to become more flexible in the approach than simply blasting everything in sight.
The setting is strongly reminiscent of early NES or Game Boy titles. The entire game uses the 8-bit aesthetic, with black-and-white sprites and blocky, angular tiles making up the level design. Gato Roboto really feels like it belongs on a hand-held system, so its upcoming Switch port seems quite appropriate.
The visuals are not the only aspect of the game that use the 8-bit style: the soundtrack also delves back into the 80s to use chiptune music, which perfectly complements the visual style and provides an upbeat, nostalgic accompaniment to the action on-screen. Chiptune is quite easy to get wrong, but the composers used for Gato Roboto are clearly talented, and fans of this music style might quickly find they are hoping for a soundtrack release.
One of the unexpected delights of Gato Roboto is the writing. Expecting mediocre results in the way of plot or storyline from such a stripped-down game is not unusual, but Gato Roboto delivers some great writing by using the interactions between Kiki and Gary to offer up some very funny and cute dialogue, especially since Kiki can mostly only communicate with “Meow”. The result is both adorable and hilarious, and serves as a great stress-reliever after some difficult areas or fights.
Gato Roboto is a solid Metroidvania title that offers a surprising amount of depth and gameplay despite the novelty of the premise. The controls are tight, the 8-bit visual style is clean and appealing, and the protagonist is utterly adorable. Gato Roboto’s reasonable difficulty curve compared to several other titles in the genre, such as Hollow Knight or Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, means it could serve as a good gateway for those interested in the genre, but hardcore players might find it a little too easy.
Reviewed on PC.
Also available on Nintendo Switch.