Devolver's new Metroidvania-lite game Gato Roboto is an entertaining monochromatic Metroid homage, but isn't particularly memorable or deep.
It’s tough for games to survive and thrive on charm alone, even bound by the joint superpower of charm, chunky cute pixels, and wide-reaching retro references. Devolver Digital’s new release Gato Roboto is meager, and that’s not just a reference to its short total play-time, because there’s a feisty worthy spot in all of our download libraries for focused, bite-sized games. Usually, such a game wouldn’t be worthy of the Metroidvania moniker, being a genre which usually emphasizes exploration leveraged by new abilities and weapons. Gato Roboto may have this in spades, but it also crams it into a 3-4 hour experience that’s fun but flighty, which is possibly why it fails to leave a lasting impression.
You are the heroic cat Kiki, crash-landed on an alien outpost when your owner botches a flight path (Kiki screws up his controls by greedily laying across the keyboard, an adorably familiar moment). While the captain is trapped in what’s left of the ship, Kiki is briskly sent out on a rescue mission, soon equipping a clearly Samus-inspired mech-suit to deal with the environment’s dangers. The game boasts alternate machines for Kiki to hop inside, but don’t get too excited; these options are limited and all of them are applied in very specific situations.
In a creative twist, Kiki can actually de-mech at will, a maneuver which is required in order to crawl through small passages or — quite strangely for domesticated felines — swim through underwater areas. In mech form, Kiki can fire bullets and obtains a snazzy missile launcher, a highly functional weapon which operates on a cooldown and necessitates careful timing for effective use. Controlling them in both suited and un-suited forms feels snappy and responsive, and enemy mobs don’t dispense any health or item currencies, so directly navigating through each set of screens takes full priority over killing every enemy in a room, with the exception of specifically scripted locked-in instances.
Everything absolutely works and fits together in Gato Roboto. Shooting enemies prompts a satisfyingly scratchy sound effect, platforming feels straightforward and responsive, and four-directional shooting is immediately available from the start. New abilities do emerge through the course of play, including a very Metroid-like spin attack and an invincible dash move. Still, these new wrinkles on the standard running-and-gunning generally unlock in linear fashion, and there is minimal backtracking required to inspect previously blocked areas, typically a Metroidvania standard. The whole game’s package seems designed to encourage speedrunning, especially a timer positioned in the bottom center of the screen which tracks exactly how long you’ve spent in a given playthrough.
It’s all an amalgamation of borrowed content, including the method of shooting doors to open them, a HUD and color scheme incredibly similar to Devolver’s roguelite arcade platformer Downwell, and a general ethos which hearkens back to Daniel Remar’s brilliant indie Hero Core, a free game from back in 2010 that seems like an obvious touchstone. Gato Roboto draws liberally from a range of sources, which isn’t any kind of outrageous criticism of it or automatic misstep on its part, but it also never fine-tunes these reference-points in a manner that seems impressively modern or inventive. Even the story itself, a somewhat awkward yarn which mostly takes place via radio conversations between Kiki and her captain, isn’t particularly memorable or clever, although the one-sided characteristic that sees Kiki only meowing or sitting in silence as a response to instructions is generally amusing.
There remain some secrets to uncover during the adventure, usually taking the form of cartridges to unlock additional monochromatic palettes which can be switched around at any time from the pause screen. A late-game NPC will even offer upgrades depending on the number of cartridges you discover, though most players will probably find the majority of them during casual inspections of their surroundings. Considering the intentionally simplistic graphics, there aren’t a whole lot of places for a detour to hide in a given room, and a map screen helps you scout out any unexplored pathways. In most cases, these diversions don’t require out-of-the-box thinking, just a tricky jump or a de-mech to access a small corridor.
Gato Roboto has a number of boss encounters which do require more attention and quicker reflexes than its usual cannon fodder, but even these fail to be unforgettable engagements with ingenious foes. They are predictably called out ahead of time and may take a few tries at most, even in its finale. So far as the enemies are concerned, most are easily and quickly dealt with, and the game approaches something of a challenge when specific enemy types are carefully blended in a single room, though numerous health upgrades mean that Kiki can soon take plenty of hits before a complete wipe sends them back to a checkpoint.
Surprisingly, it's the sound design where Gato Roboto absolutely singles itself out. A clunky and erratic soundscape sets an eerie alien mood, with ambient music that meshes strangely with its excellent sound effects. These tracks aren’t hummable earworms, but almost Lynchian mechanical chiptune dirges, usually indiscernible during action-heavy rooms at standard sound settings but curiously dramatic all the same. The OST doesn’t really sound like any of the many games which inspired this one, which is why it deserves a special kind of mention; it wouldn’t be entirely out of the ordinary for a horror game in an industrial setting.
As a budget-priced game, there are definitely enjoyable hours to be had here. Taking on the role of a scrappy feline in a mech-suit seems almost effortlessly novel all on its own, and most anyone taken in by the game’s screenshots won’t end up feeling short-changed. It’s just that Gato Roboto seems to lack some informed direction and never completely delivers on the potential of its setting, genre, and style, apparently satisfied to reference a few classic games and leave things at that. Anyone hungering for a short Metroid homage can certainly satiate it here for a few bus rides’ worth of time, but there are numerous games within this genre on the Nintendo eShop, most of which are more absorbing and inspiring than this one.
Gato Roboto is available now on the Nintendo eShop and Steam for $7.99. A digital copy for Nintendo Switch was provided to Screen Rant for purposes of review.