Gato Roboto feels like a game from my childhood: filled with wonderment, discovery and most importantly — constant fun.
Kiki the cat and her owner Lieutenant Gary are in for a grand adventure. After crashing their spaceship on a remote planet near an abandoned research facility, Gary finds himself unable to move and therefore uses Kiki’s radio collar to talk to and command her to locate a pilotable Security Mech. Once located deep below the planet’s surface, donning this suit gives Kiki the uncanny ability to both protect herself with the suit’s armor and shoot bullets using its built-in pistol to vanquish various vicious villains — ahem, enemies.
Kiki can exit the pilotable mech at any time, as long as there is space outside, to crawl around and reach elusive areas that the mech can’t quite fit into. This adds some additional exploration aspects to the game and helps break it from monotony of simply jumping and shooting till you make your way to the next area. During her solo exploration without the shielding of her mechanical suit, Kiki is extremely vulnerable and can be killed in one hit. Balancing this act of additional mobility — Kiki can climb walls — and her vulnerability is an exhilarating take on the traditional platformer formula and it really adds to the personality of the game.
There’s a lot of personality to be had in Gato Roboto, too. The environmental accents like plants swaying back and forth in a lively fashion and the 1-bit graphical style really helps to clearly showcase both your mech and the baddies trying to stop you. Both Kiki and Gary are in constant communication — often with hilarious exchange — but there’s more going on below the planet’s surface than just some hostile lifeforms. A mouse with a vicious streak is seemingly at every turn of your adventure, trying to stop you from your mission and will don whatever mech or machine is necessary to try to do so.
This villainous mouse offers up several different boss encounters, each with its own techniques and strategies. He also gives the story a driving mystery to discover the rodent’s true intentions — hey, it’s a game about a cat in a mech suit, so it’s not terribly far-fetched. Other enemies exist in this world, such as frogs — whose hopping trajectories make them a tough movement pattern to figure out — and various other bugs and robots. Each enemy feels unique, well designed and not exactly over-the-top bonkers, which makes theirs a believable existence in the underworld. Taking each enemy down is often a challenging affair, as some of their patterns can lean towards unpredictable, but it’s nothing Kiki can’t handle with her missiles and a bit of patience to learn their movements.
While there isn’t anything close to the size of the arsenal found in most Metroidvania games, Gato Roboto’s assortment of weapons and abilities feel really good to use. Traversal is fluid and platforming is precise. I found that some of my favorite movements in the game were using the Spin Jump maneuver to launch myself with a second jump over a group of enemies and rain missiles down upon them with reckless abandon. Your missiles cannot be used in an endless stream, however, as Gato Roboto substitutes ammo counters for a temperature gauge. Shoot too many too fast, and you’ll have to wait for the cannon to cool down before you can fire one off again. It’s a smart system that simplifies the typical search for ammo upgrades through the world and offers a unique take on commonly used weapon systems, making timing more of the challenge than your ability to aim.
Once you find yourself in the hub-like area of the Nexus — a splitting path of three different areas that need repairs to their particular systems — you meet a PC that refuses access to the lab below until all systems are online and fixed. Once Kiki manages to battle through the enemies and challenges of each respective area, she’ll find a treadmill to run on, which will bring the system — or at least part of it — back online. These treadmills can be found elsewhere as well, which allow you to move your mech over treacherous watery environments — your mech is damaged by water — and to a safer, more accessible place to climb back in.
Climbing out of your mech and traversing as Kiki is one of the best ways to locate secrets and upgrades within the game. Color-palette changing cartridges are among some of these trinkets, and can add a fresh coat of paint on Kiki’s otherwise black-and-white world. If you collect enough of them, you can even gain upgrades for your mech — making seeking them out a good use of your time. Don’t worry, there are no false walls or breakable blocks that require pixel-perfect precision shots. Instead, the game relies on your visual senses and will often give you a glimpse of a health upgrade or other goodies while moving through another room.
Figuring out how to get to these secrets makes up most of the challenge, as the overworld map showcases every room you’ve been in and gives you an indication of which rooms you haven’t by means of an empty, outlined box. Giving players a simple, easy-to-read map which showcases the otherwise maze-like labyrinth of Gato Roboto’s box-shaped rooms certainly eases progression. This also helps open the game up to a new audience that may not have patience for the typical requirements of a Metroidvania, and welcomes these new players to the genre with two loving, outstretched paws.
Gato Roboto does something magical, with its inherit ability to summon feelings of joy and wonder from its otherwise simple offerings. Dialogue throughout the game is funny and smart, and keeps itself grounded without resorting to immature slapstick or potty humor that seems to plague most of the industry’s writers these days. The music in the game is a wonderful B-side album to the Metroid series and does well to keep the campy sci-fi vibe that Gato Roboto so openly embraces. I hope that we see Kiki in more misadventures in the future, as the brilliantly simple mechanics offered in Gato Roboto bring a wonderful sense of freshness to the otherwise overcomplicated platformer genre and offers an adventure that — while playable in one sitting — sticks with you long after the credits roll.