Gato Roboto – The Switch Island Review
Sure, the Pharaohs loved cats but the internet really really loves them. And the internet has game developers. I can’t say I foresaw a cat hero in a science-fiction Metroid-style game, but now Gato Roboto exists, I feel like a fool; it was inevitable.
In Gato Roboto you play as Kiki the cat (a nod to Kiki’s Delivery Service?). Kiki crash-lands with the ship’s captain, her human/owner/companion/slave, on a strange alien world full of mousey perils. As the captain is incapacitated and can’t leave the downed spaceship, it’s Kiki’s mission to find the means to rescue him by bounding and clawing her way through the tunnels below.
Famously, cats are buggers to control. Kiki isn’t that difficult but she does take some taming. Her jumps are long rather than high, and she moves with a speedy scamper. Kiki’s unruly movements do give a catlike feel though, which is appreciated. And once Kiki is tucked into a mech-suit – yes, there are cat mech-suits – the controls are more restrained. More importantly, I can confirm Kiki looks adorable at all times, mech-suited or not.
Once suited, Kiki is much less vulnerable. Outside the suit, one hit and she’s toast. In the suit, she has a life bar, a gun, rockets, and an all-consuming need for upgrades. Gato Roboto now proceeds in typical Metroidvania fashion: explore areas, fight enemies, acquire upgrades, backtrack and explore again. It’s a genre I personally can’t get enough of, but if you’re only here for the cute kitty, bear in mind this plays like a Metroid game. I mean, really, a lot. It’s basically Metroid with a cat. If that structure isn’t to your tastes, it’s possible not even a cat face behind a mech visor would be enough to sway you, you cold emotionless bastard.
As the game progresses, you realise the difference between mech Kiki and cat Kiki is everything. The size, vulnerability and abilities of each being key for navigating through the world. Any worries I had that Kiki would spend the whole game mostly hidden in the mech-suit were happily put to rest; Kiki is too cute to keep suited and for most of the game you can freely jump in and out.
The visuals are as indie as they get. Starkly black and white, with pixel-art stylings reminiscent of Axiom Verge with a friendlier face. It’s obviously deliriously cute but it also looks different enough that it should stand out a bit on the crammed eShop. In fact, the whole package feels like the result of some canny marketing decisions: a unique look, a cat hero, a Metroidvania – methinks the folks at Doinksoft know how to find the middle of a Venn diagram.
The game isn’t huge. There’s probably about 5-8 hours of playtime, depending on your skill level and taste for secrets. The length felt about right given its price point.
There aren’t many downsides to the game. My patience is non-existent for dialogue that restarts at the beginning of boss fights, so there’s that. But you can button mash to speed through the text, so it’s not a massive annoyance. Perhaps the biggest negative for me is the heavy Metroid-ness (and I can’t believe I’m writing that, given my fondness for Metroid). With a cat, it all feels a little tongue-in-cheek and silly, which, don’t get me wrong, are attributes I’m normally very fond of, but perhaps feel a little out of place in a subterranean alien exploration game, where atmosphere is usually so important. I think I might’ve preferred it if Gato Roboto had carved even more of a stylistic niche for itself.
But don’t be put off. Gato Roboto is certainly a fun little game, full of charm, humour, and with an obvious love for the Metroid series. I’ve been trying to work out why I don’t love it more than I do. Perhaps it’s the relatively low level of challenge, or the compactness of the world? Perhaps it borrows too heavily from Metroid? I’m genuinely not sure! While I work out exactly how I feel, if you’re looking for a tidy, charming-as-heck Metroid-lite, there’s a lot here to appreciate. In all honesty, you can forget most of what I’ve written because Gato Roboto gives you something you won’t find anywhere else: a mech-suited cat in a gun fight against a mech-suited mouse. Yeah, you’re sold.
Game: Gato Roboto
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Switch Release date: 30/05/19