Whenever people start comparing a game to Metroid I tend to find myself drawn in for further investigation. Because of this, I have fallen into playing some rather lackluster games, which failed to capture what I enjoy about Metroid. Gato Roboto is not one of those games.
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: May 30th, 2019
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC, Switch
Gato Roboto is yet another retro inspired 2D platformer with a metroidvania flavour. You play as Kiki, the pet cat of a galactic solider that is marooned on a deserted research facility. After crash landing, Kiki acquires a robo suit and begins collecting upgrades while fixing the station’s various systems to gain access to the central lab. Gato Roboto wears its Metroid influences so proudly on its sleeve that you may feel tempted to accuse it of copying. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery however, and Gato Roboto manages to capture the essence of metroidvania games, while carving out its own identity.
The first thing I’d like to highlight is the structure of Gato Roboto. Each area in the research facility connects to a central hub and acts as a self contained dungeon. Upon entering the space you won’t be fully equipped to traverse it, but as you press forward you’ll alter your surroundings and find an upgrade to assist with your exploration. For example, the aqueducts require Kiki to lower the water level so that she can use her robo suit in deeper sections of the area.
Segregating each zone is somewhat contrary to the nonlinear exploration convention of metroidvania games, but in doing so Gato Roboto avoids some pitfalls. First off, backtracking is never complex. If you find a path you can’t access you’ll know to come back once you collect that area’s upgrade. The player is never asked to remember locations scattered throughout the world that make use of their new tool. Instead, they’re made to use their new skills to fully explore the space they’re currently exploring.
Secondly, it’s often more fun to remember where to use a new upgrade than it is to trek back to the location to use it. None of the zones in Gato Roboto are excessively large, so you’ll frequently be returning to collect hidden goodies within ten to fifteen minutes of first discovering their location. There are also shortcuts all over, so backtracking is never allowed to become a laborious slog.
Despite the lighter emphasis on backtracking, Gato Roboto still delivers on exploration. Many of the new tools you’ll find throughout the game offer Kiki both combat and movement options. Having the world re-contextualized with every upgrade keeps players thinking about how they can better move through the space. Discovering new shortcuts by leveraging each available ability is almost as exciting as finding new hidden goodies.
Speaking of hidden goodies, Gato Roboto ensures they’re always worth finding. They come in three variants: health upgrades, recorded messages, and cartridges. Health upgrades increase the robo suit’s vitality, while recorded messages flesh out the history of the abandoned facility. Finally, cartridges offer alternative colour palettes aside from the default black and white scheme. In addition, a non-violent frog scientist provides Kiki with two additional abilities once she has collected enough cartridges. This provides both short term gratification and a long term goal to work toward, while ensuring players never find useless items.
Gato Roboto also has sequence breaking. For those unfamiliar, sequence breaking is when players disrupt the intended order of events. Usually this involves exploiting a glitch, but Gato Roboto uses an advanced movement technique that is never explained for the same result. For spoiler reasons I won’t divulge how it is done, but sequence breaks provide additional depth for skilled players to discover while replaying the game.
The final aspect of any metroidvania worth its salt is atmosphere and Gato Roboto delivers. Despite the limited colour palette, each zone has its own unique feel. Small visual details are used to great effect. The aqueducts are filled with algae that has collected in the water and leaking pipes due to a lack of maintenance. The ventilation system area is clogged and has numerous fans mounted through narrow shafts. The derelict nature of the research station is constantly conveyed to reinforce what is established in the opening scenes.
The sound design further drives this home. Areas feature quiet and foreboding music giving sinister intent to the critters that make their home within. After solving the core problem of a zone the soundtrack will change to an upbeat version of the original song to reflect your victory. In this way the mood is constantly made to mirror your own. It’s a subtle detail, but altering music to reflect the current tone makes the entire experience more pleasant.
A final detail I really enjoyed was the heads up display (HUD). While in the robo suit you see HUD elements, which disappear after you leave the suit. The HUD is intentionally designed to show players what Kiki would see while inside of the suit, which is a nice additional touch.
Gato Roboto is a lovingly crafted homage to Metroid that isn’t going to change anyone’s mind on the metroidvania genre. The game’s structure simplifies backtracking, but removes the slog of meticulously combing over the entire game. In combination with multi-purpose upgrades, hidden goodies worth finding, sequence breaking, and small details that accentuate the world for greater atmosphere Gato Roboto is one of the most enjoyable metroidvanias I’ve played in a long while. It’s a little on the short side, but is highly re-playable as a result and is worth checking out if you enjoy these kinds of games.
Plus you play as an adorable little kitty.