Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the protagonist of Metroid was an adorable kitty instead of a grizzled bounty hunter? If so, Gato Roboto was designed with you in mind. The game stars Kiki, a cat who must navigate a hostile alien planet in an attempt to repair her captain’s crashed spaceship. It doesn’t take long for Kiki to nab a mech suit, and from there developer Donksoft’s influences become abundantly clear. Gato Roboto is a Metroidvania in miniature, one that condenses the expansive world design the genre is known for into the smaller scope of a four hour adventure. Like other games of this type, you must collect various upgrades to explore previously inaccessible areas. Instead of being a long-winded adventure, the proceedings are stuffed into a much shorter playtime.
This truncation comes with its share of positives and negatives. The brevity of the journey means that you go from a hapless kitten, to an agile, teleporting, rocket launching feline of doom at rapid pace. It’s empowering to experience this ramp so quickly and once you’re fully equipped, the combat comes into its own. The teleport dash ability allows for the evasion of enemy projectiles and enables much quicker movement, making boss fights and platforming far more interesting. The missiles are paired with some fun physics-based shenanigans, and you can perform a rocket jump to speed up your mobility. The free-form nature of this technique makes it particularly rewarding when you land a difficult jump. While your standard weapon is initially weak, once it’s fully upgraded you can stun-lock your foes into oblivion. And there’s also a double jump that adds further variety to the platforming by enabling you to bounce on your enemies like a pinball. These tools all come together to make the end game the most mechanically exciting part of the experience. The abundance of movement tools and overpowered guns allow you to rip through the final stretch.
Unfortunately, once you’ve finally reached this powered up state, the adventure is almost over. In the earlier phases of the game, your lack of tools makes combat feel far more rudimentary. The initial enemies aren’t much of a challenge, with many emulating the slow-moving Geemers that populate the starting areas of Metroid games. While it makes sense to have easier enemies as the player acclimates to the controls, it feels like this type of the creature is the norm for a disproportionate amount of time. The boss fights offer up more of a challenge, but the early ones feel somewhat awkward due to the lack of evasion tools paired with somewhat finicky core platforming. Movement isn’t quite as tight as it could be, and there’s a decent degree of latency when switching directions.
The limited scope also means that the planet you explore is not particularly vast, undermining some of the appeal that usually stems from the genre. While the most obvious comparison point for Gato is the original Metroid due to their shared simplicity and similar look, the structure of the overworld actually more closely resembles a small-scale version of Metroid: Fusion. After the staring area, you must trek through three distinct regions before confronting the fairly linear final two segments. Although a simple and somewhat easy to navigate world is far better than a frustratingly convoluted one, the straightforward nature of the world design means that there are few moments of triumphant discovery beyond uncovering the occasional optional upgrade. In Metroidvania world design, there’s a fine line between being overly obtuse and being too obvious, and Gato Roboto falls in the latter category.
Still, these individual areas do a decent job at differentiating themselves. One section requires piloting an underwater submarine, another is full of boiling lava, and a third strips you of your mech suit entirely. While they may not entirely succeed at evoking a palpable sense of adventure, these areas offer slightly different challenges that can be interesting in unique ways. The underwater levels are surprisingly fun, and the submarine combat has a degree of tension that is lost once you’ve upgraded your mech suit into a tanky machine of death. Similarly, the stretch where you must forgo your armor is harrowing due to the threat of instant death at any time. While it calls attention to the imprecision of the platforming, it’s still a welcome palette cleanser before you return to your fully-upgraded suit for the last few areas.
While Gato Roboto may lack the complexity of many similar titles, the experience is certainly charming. The aesthetic is decidedly lo-fi, sporting a monochromatic color scheme paired with cutesy pixel art. The soundtrack and sound design are filled with crackles and pops that tie together the look of things. And did I mention you play as a cat? That part is pretty good. Your owner/captain’s orders always come paired with a mixture of pride over your accomplishments and concern over your well-being, making for a thoroughly wholesome relationship between the two.
Although Gato Roboto does not provide the type of sprawling world design that Metroidvania titles are known for, it still does a decent job at reducing this type of experience into a condensed form. The abbreviated process of upgrading Kiki’s mech suit is a satisfying sprint that takes you from helplessness to empowerment at a rapid pace. It may not offer an exciting new take on Metroidvanias, and the limited scope of the world is disappointing, but Gato Roboto works as a solid microcosm of its genre for those who are strapped for time.