Gato Roboto – Nintendo Switch
Developed By: doinksoft
Published By: Devolver Digital
Release Date: May 30, 2019
The Switch has built quite a library of metroidvania experiences in its first 2 years. This might be as you’d expect from the console manufacturer who first played host to both game series which give their name to the genre. Most metroidvanias on Switch are ports which is no bad thing, but this latest addition to the Switch’s library is brand new, releasing at the same time as on Steam which makes a nice change.
Gato Roboto is one of the most metroid-y metroidvanias yet on Switch. Your spaceship crashes on a mysterious alien planet? Check. Mech suit? Check. Start with no power ups and gather them as you progress? Check. Backtracking? Yes, it has all the required ingredients needed and the same which Nintendo has used themselves in their classic Metroid series. This however is from Oregon-based developer doinksoft and Texan publisher Devolver Digital, who have released what they call a Meowtroidvania.
In Gato Roboto you play as Kiki the cat. The action starts after the ship captain, Gary, crashes the spaceship you’re both traveling in onto a small planet discovered during a routine patrol. After the crash Gary is badly injured and trapped inside the ship, so you must go and find help. During Gary’s plea for help, he tells you there should be a pilotable security mech somewhere, so you need to set off to look for it.
Kiki can jump and bound about the screen at speed, as well as being able to swim (after overcoming your initial fear, naturally as you’re a cat) and run up certain vertical surfaces Super Mario 3D World style. However you don’t have an attack, and you are vulnerable as you might expect a cat left alone on an alien planet would be. But once you find your mech suit, you’re able to take some damage, as well as deal some out.
You start with a basic gun and gain more weapons, abilities and extensions to your health bar through collectibles and upgrades found through exploration, many of which are optional. You spend most of your time in the mech suit, although you can get out when you want and spend time outside the suit to go places the suit can’t go (such as small confines or water) or to pilot other machines.
Similar to Super Nintendo classic Super Metroid, you begin the game where you first embarked on to the planet from your spaceship, and you will pass by here on a few occasions as you progress and open up more and more of the world. The world is made up of a number of environments, each one with its own theme, and with rooms within each environment. You come across many blocked or unaccessible paths at the start, which you can return to later after gaining the required weapons or abilities. Also similar to Metroid are blast doors between rooms which you can go through with a blast from the gun in your suit, but when out of the suit poor Kiki’s paws aren’t able to open the blast doors. Combat and exploration make up most of the experience in Gato Roboto, but there are also a number of simple puzzles, and trying to reach some hard to reach areas can test your grey matter.
Scattered throughout are save locations, which also double up as a health regenerator for your mech. While auto-save of your progress throughout would be nice, there’s enough save locations for this to not be a problem. These locations have mostly been located well by doinksoft, usually after a run of rooms where you may be in need of a health top up after taking damage. You also have a map to help you navigate through the multiple environments in Gato Roboto. Each new room appears in the map when you enter it, and save locations and elevators are marked.
Throughout Gary is able to contact you through a radio on your collar to provide useful info based on your current progress. Kiki can respond via a microphone, and dialogue between Kiki and Gary is quite funny even though Kiki can only meow in various tones in response. During cutscenes, Kiki’s expression combined with a meow usually never fails to raise a smile. Other characters voices during cutscenes are garbled Starfox SNES style rather than recorded dialogue. The cutscenes and story are filled with sci-fi tropes but the play on you playing as a cat is quite humourous.
Enemy types range from various creatures to robots as you journey between each environment. Most enemies won’t pose too much of a challenge when you’re in the mech suit, but without it Kiki will be killed with one hit. Boss battles are a greater test of your skills, often taking a few attempts to send them packing. As a result there is a slight imbalance in difficulty between the main game and the boss battles. Unfortunately compounding the difficulty of the bosses is the fact if you’re killed during a boss battle, you’re often respawned a couple of screens away and you also need to sit through the pre-battle cutscene even though you’ve already seen it.
Gato Roboto has an unusual and charming monochromatic visual style. You collect in game cartridges throughout which give you the option to change the colour pallet to different colours schemes (collecting certain numbers of cartridges also unlocks some awesome powerups). The default is black and white but one of the styles, ‘virtual’, is black and red which is a cool homage to Nintendo’s Virtual Boy. The music is suitably space-y and does ramp up the tension in certain situations, and the sound effects have a certain minimalism to them which suits the 8-bit (or even Spectrum) look of the graphics.
Although this is out on Steam as well, this feels like it was made to be played on Switch in handheld mode. It performs as smoothly as you’d expect in both handheld and docked modes, but this has the look and feel of a Gameboy game (there’s a colour filter for that). Controls are intuitive and responsive making traversal easy and ensuring combat is challenging for the intended reasons. Although unintuitively the ‘B’ button is used to confirm menu options which confused me.
Gato Roboto is a solid metroidvania and well worth your time, clocking in at only around 5 hours. It could maybe have done with not including some elements from the games it may have drew inspiration from such as the frustration when restarting boss battles but don’t let that put you off. Gato Roboto may be the start of what’s to come in meowtroidvanias.