05th Jun2019

‘Gato Roboto’ Review (NIntendo Switch)

by Rupert Harvey

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Devolver Digital’s eye for high-quality indie content shows no sign of abating. Playing through Gato Roboto’s kitten-sized package, one always gets the sense of being in a safe pair of hands. And developer Doinksoft does play it safe in terms of mechanics and design. This is a metroidvania – or meowtroidvania – borrowing shamelessly from the greats. But when the derivative is delivered with such charm and verve, who’s caring?

The introduction sets the tone. Gary the spaceman crashes on a planet while investigating a distress beacon. Gary is trapped in the crashed craft, so he sends his pet kitty, Kiki, to go and get help. With Gary as his guide, Kiki must explore the facility, restoring power and such, while defeating or avoiding the indigenous beasties.

The “Roboto” part refers to your handy mech suit. Kiki has two playable forms (three if you include a rather limited submarine). When she’s just a cat she’s quick and agile and she can swim. However, she’s also vulnerable: one-touch kills. In her mech suit she can take more punishment, and she can give as good as she gets, in the form of a rapid-fire gun and a slower, more powerful rocket launcher. However, the suit is large and clunky, so certain routes are only available to Kiki’s cat form. It’s a similar mechanic to the one used in Blaster Master Zero, although the transition here is quicker and more frequent.

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Obviously, what first pops out are the charming monochrome graphics. Clean and carefully crafted, the look is reminiscent of Undertale, or Devolver’s own Minit. While occasionally difficult to differentiate between environment and enemy, the aesthetic successfully evokes a deeply nostalgic world of 8- or even 4-bit authorship.

The actual game covers standard metroidvania ground. Gradually you unlock new abilities like double jump and the trusty dash. Enemies respawn offscreen. Impassable routes tease you on your way past; and if you stray from the beaten track you will be rewarded with health boost containers. Collectibles come in the form of cartridges, which offer new abrasive colour schemes, a la Downwell.

The controls are snappy and responsive, and it’s a simple joy to navigate the labyrinthine tunnels of the facility. The difficulty curve is fairly gentle, with challenging spikes in the form of bosses. But it’s never crushingly hard. And I’m glad to report there was never a moment when I was hopelessly lost – generally, it would be a quick glance at the map and off to the next unfilled box.

Special mention must be made of the music, which riffs directly on the early Metroid games: brooding, arrhythmic synth, scattered with strange alien sounds. The score gives the game a tense and otherworldly mood, without ever being overbearing, right up to its acid-fuelled finale.

And that finale arrives only too quickly, the game coming to a close after three splendid hours. Gato Roboto is like a cat in some ways: appealing, reliable, self-confident. Small. It does nothing new, but its excellent level design, good humour and tight controls mean that it feels genuinely satisfying over its brief duration.

Gato Roboto is out now on Nintendo Switch and Windows PC.

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