Anyone who has ever owned a cat and has any kind of technology will know that the two rarely mix, and it’s this conceit that forms the central idea of Gato Roboto – what if Metroid, but you control a cat? Now, this isn’t some kind of Bubsy-a-like anthropomorphic animal with attitude. No, Kiki is a plain old house cat. Okay, okay, so she has an advantage that she can clamber inside a mech suit and blast mutated monstrosities and robots throughout a loosely interconnected world, but I think this is probably the first game I’ve played where the protagonist communicates through a series of meows.
I’m jumping ahead of myself, though; the story starts in a spaceship en route to a science outpost – the captain is determined to discover what’s gone on since communications were lost when, suddenly disaster strikes! The captain’s pet cat, Kiki walks over the ships controls, forcing it to crash land into the facility! With the captain incapacitate, it’s up to Kiki to venture out and solve the mystery.
Gato Roboto is, aesthetically, as mad as that sounds, but the story is tied up in a nice tight little action adventure platform game. Kiki has her mech suit which can initially only jump and fire, but she’ll find upgrades throughout the games four main areas unlocking double jumps, missiles and a dash. In true Metroidvania style, these abilities can be used to access hitherto blocked off areas in which you can find health upgrades and even colour palette changes (more on that later). But, at the tap of a button, Kiki can exit the mech suit and move around as just a normal, bog standard kitty. She has no attacks and dies instantly if hit by an enemy, but she can climb walls, fit into small spaces and swim. It’s this mechanic that makes up the bulk of puzzle solving in Gato Roboto, as you navigate environments using a combination of mech suit and cat mode. The controls are straightforward and the switch between modes is smooth enough to keep things moving which leads to some very satisfying combat encounters.
The environments of the science outpost are fairly linear, despite all the Metroidvania trappings, tasking Kiki with blasting her way through enemies and, ultimately, a boss, before manipulating one of the stations systems to allow access to a new area. There’s themes, such as a superheated core where Kiki will die instantly if she leaves the suit, or a flooded area that introduces a submarine mech into the mix. As is typical with this genre, these abilities are subtly taught to you as you progress until they are used more heavily in puzzle solving and become integral to their respective boss encounter. Fortunately Gato Roboto is a pretty short game so there’s no risk of walking away and forgetting about a critical skill as could potentially happen in, say, Metroid Prime. At 4-5 hours in length (less if you speed run) it fits perfectly into its “price of a coffee and cake” budget price range.
It’s also bloody charming, from its bleepy bloopy chiptune audio to its two tone graphics. The default palette for these is black and white, but you’ll collect different colour variants, such as a gaudy Virtual Boy red on black, a terminal like yellow on blue and one called… urine. Yeah, I didn’t use that one.
It’s not without its faults, however, although they are few. The difficulty spike can be steep, with a lot of encounters being fairly pedestrian until a key area or boss is hit, and Kiki can be a bit of a mare to control out of the suit. I lost track of the amount of times she careered to an instant death from an errant frog enemy simply because of her slippy, high momentum movement. These are minor niggles, though, and easy to get round to enjoy one of this years loveliest action platformers.