By Josh Speer / May 30th, 2019
|Release Date||May 30th, 2019|
|Platform||PC and Switch|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone – Mild Fantasy Violence|
I honestly wonder if Gato Roboto was brought into existence while developer doinksoft were doing shots and hardcore Karaoke while singing Mr. Roboto. That’s the only reasonable way I can rationalize how a game this delightfully strange was created. Because in Gato Roboto, you don’t play a human and explore the mysteries of space. Instead, you play that astronaut’s feline companion, Kiki. Why an astronaut traveled through space with a cat is beyond me, but it does provide the context for this strange adventure to begin. While most know me as a giant fan of the Metroidvania genre by now, I’m also a cat person. So this marriage of the two was very exciting to me, especially after playing it way back at PAX West. But there’s a lot of difference between a demo and the final build, so the question is – did this live up to my hype?
The first thing you should know about Gato Roboto is it’s a Metroidvania (or Meowtroidvania, as it prefers to be called). Not only that, but it was definitely inspired by the presentation of the original Gameboy, and renders everything in a two tone palette. That isn’t to say it’s not a complex game, as the combat and exploration is very nuanced. It’s just an adventure very inspired by retro, not to mention games like Metroid II, Downwell and others. Equally important, there is a ton of humor in the game. It doesn’t take itself too seriously like most in the genre, and that’s refreshing in and of itself. When the game starts, your human Gary is answering a distress beacon from a research facility, and like most cats, Kiki makes a bad situation worse. Her stray paw presses the wrong button, and your ship crash lands in the facility, with your human trapped in the wreckage. What’s a cat to do but try and assist her helpless human?
Kiki effortlessly escapes the wreckage and starts exploring the planet where the facility is located. While they say cats have 9 lives, that does not prove to be the case. Touching anything harmful will instantly kill you. As such, it’s convenient you quickly find a mechanized exosuit to protect yourself. Miraculously, Kiki fits inside it and is able to manipulate the controls. Set your disbelief aside, cause there’s a lot more crazy where that came from. Strange experiments occurred in the facility, and you’ll find all sorts of mechanical sentries and alien creatures to confront. Oh and there’s a strange rat that seems to be capable of speaking English for some reason. But none of that would matter if the game weren’t fun, but thankfully it’s a blast.
Gato Roboto controls like most games in the genre. You explore, find upgrade modules and continue exploring previously unreachable areas. You can also find permanent upgrades to your suit health, which is very handy. Especially since you won’t find health drops at all in the game, and can only recover your HP at save stations. Less immediately necessary are cassette tapes you find well hidden in dark corners of the facility. At first these only allow you to adjust the color palette to colors like Urine and Bubblegum (you can guess the colors). Later on, by collecting enough of them you’ll get rewarded with enhancements to your existing weapons, such as a rapid fire blast. And while there aren’t a ton of upgrades, there are enough to keep things interesting.
Though the combat is simple, it’s also very satisfying. In your mech suit you’re capable of aiming in front of or above you and shooting by rapidly pressing the attack button. You can also jump about, but your mech is pretty heavy. Thankfully, you quickly get a missile that lets you enhance your jumps with well timed missile blasts for extra height. That’s the sort of intuitive twist that made Metroid such a classic, and it works well here too. They even have some twists like a cool down for missiles, which keeps you from spamming them non stop. But it wouldn’t be a Metroidvania without exploration, and there’s plenty to enjoy.
While the game is pretty linear, you’re mostly free to tackle things in the order you want after a certain point. My favorite part of exploration was that many portions of the game require Kiki to disembark from her suit and explore very narrow sections only a cat can travel. Outside of the suit Kiki is very vulnerable, but also able to swim and wall climb any vertical surface. If you need to blast something to smithereens, you jump back in your suit and fire a missile or two. It’s a very intuitive progression, and I only got really lost a couple of times. I always fear getting irreparably stuck in games like this, and thankfully you won’t ever be prevented from reaching the end. However, if your goal is to 100% the game, then there’s a glitch that might frustrate you currently. It essentially prevents you from returning to an area in the Ventilation Shaft, which stops you from finding an upgrade that will let you explore another very dangerous area. Thankfully, the team at doinksoft is aware of this glitch, and are already hard at work fixing it for the Switch.
Another thing any good Metroidvania has are exciting boss fights, and Gato Roboto has those in spades. Each of them are against giant mechanized threats, and they will try their damndest to reduce you to scrap metal. One of my favorites is a group of battles against sentient furnaces (including one with a sweet mustache), though there’s also a great fight where you’re denied your mech suit and have to use stationary laser cannons instead. And though I won’t spoil them, there’s a series of fantastic boss battles at the very end of the game.
Though we touched upon the aesthetics earlier, they are worth diving into in more detail. Yes, there’s only two colors for everything in the game, but each design has a ton of personality. There’s a great stationary photo displaying Kiki as you run around, and it will switch between victorious gloating and terrified dismay depending on the course of battle. Also, the short cutscenes in the game are very well animated, and convey perfectly the unique tone of the game. Musically, there’s a lot to enjoy here. Gato Roboto apes that mysterious air that you’ll find in Super Metroid, but with its own flair. The sound effects are tremendous as well, such as the clank of your suit as you bounce about or the discordant croaking of frogs as you blast them. A special treat is the gibberish dialogue while Gary or other humans are talking, which sounds like the dialogue from Banjo Kazooie.
While I really enjoyed Gato Roboto, there were a few things that held it back from a perfect score. For one, this is a very short game, even for a genre known for short titles. I managed to beat it in 3 and a half hours, and that was with me trying to unlock everything. I’d venture a speedrunner could beat this in a little more than a hour. Which wouldn’t be an issue, except that I wanted to spend more time in this world. More substantive is there’s an elevator battle late in the game, and it went so long I thought it was looping instead of progressing. By the time I reached the end, I was so exhausted and frustrated that I wished it had checkpoints.
Much as I enjoyed playing the game, it left me a little conflicted. While the style and controls are fantastic, there just isn’t a lot of meat on the bone for ravenous Metroidvania fans. That said, I enjoyed all the time I spent with Gato Roboto, and other than the aforementioned glitches, it played effortlessly. For $7.99 I couldn’t put the game down, and that says a lot. Once the developers manage to fix that glitch, you can add another star to my score. But for now, I could only highly recommend this one to other hardcore Metroidvania addicts like myself. Here’s hoping we see more adventures with Kiki from doinksoft in the near future.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
Black and WhiteCatDevolver DigitaldoinksoftfunnyGato RobotoMetroidvaniaPCspaceSwitch