Metroidvanias games are the sort that encourage exploration and inventiveness. You have to have a draw to pull people in. Then, you have to create a world where exploring feels worthwhile, you get tangible rewards for finding new abilities, and the enemies ahead of you really force you to think. Gato Roboto, Doinksoft and Devolver Digital’s cat-based action-adventure game, understands this. Not only does it pull people in with a cute style and cat fancy, but it has the gameplay to back it up.
Gato Roboto knows cats are going to be cats. Kiki is exceptionally adept and willing to brave the underground lab on the alien planet, because it wouldn’t be much of a game if the main character decided to sleep for a few hours after the ship crashes. But, through interactions with Gary and other characters, we get to see Kiki’s personality come through. Whenever you find an upgrade, it is Gary that is enthusiastic, but not the cat. The cat doesn’t really seem to care. To get Kiki to swim, Gary has to startle them so they hop into the water. When it comes time to drain water from the facility so you can descend into its depths, Gary has to resort to bribery to convince Kiki to dive in and remarks that he can’t even tell if Kiki is paying attention when he explains a new game mechanic.
The interactions with the occasional other characters you might find in Gato Roboto also help set up more of these jovial and totally appropriate moments. When Gary’s commander is trying to reach him in the introduction, Kiki decides the best thing to do is walk in front of the monitor and crash the ship. When you happen upon the first boss, a mouse with a mech of their own, Kiki reacts on instinct. The cat goes after the mouse, the mouse gets huffy and hops into a mech, and it basically briefly turns into, “What if Tom and Jerry had an episode set in an underground lab on an alien planet?”
But, while the interactions can be goofy fun, the gameplay delivers. Gato Roboto is a cohesive game where you can see how every improvement helps Kiki on the journey. When Gary and Kiki first land, you have no mech. The cat has to first find that one area is inaccessible, due to not being able to shoot open doors, and has to go the other way to reach the suit. This gives us a chance to see how the ordinary cat form benefits the player. Like Samus’ Morph Ball in Metroid, this grants people access to new areas. Kiki can claw up walls to continue jumping and reach new areas. But, they are also just a cat, so they can’t blast through barriers or open doors. They also die in one hit if an enemy so much as breathes on them, because again, cat.
Once you have the mech (or other mode of transportation), more opportunities appear. Okay, so you have a basic suit. Now, you can go ahead and shoot open doors to actually get into the lab. But then, rocks block your way. Once you get the rocket upgrade, you can burst through those and use them to jump a bit higher while in the suit. When you reach the aqueducts, you have to often abandon the mech for a miniature sub, as the mech is damaged by water. When you get the spin jump, you have the ability to double jump (and damage enemies while you do). All of these (and a handy map) lets you see exactly where you should head after finding these extras so you can keep going.
But what is really great about Gato Roboto are its boss fights. General exploration isn’t terribly difficult. Kiki is well-equipped and can handle most normal enemies. The platforming is rather manageable. There are some moments where an occasional miniboss could be harrowing, due to the patterns you need to follow and possibly having to occasionally abandon the suit so Kiki can reach a safer area. The boss battles, however, are really great. These fights pit you against a foe that has way more health than you, relies on patterns you need to learn and adapt to, and tend to involve good old fashioned skill to succeed. It can almost feel like every space leading up to one is there to get you comfortable with the mechanics you might be using, so you can prepare for that challenge.
Gato Roboto is the sort of game that just gets it. When you see something with a cat as a lead, you expect it to be a little playful and silly. So, it does that. It works with people’s expectations of the animal and lets their general nature shine through. But, when you hear Metroidvania, you also expect the gameplay to deliver with different sorts of challenges and progression. That’s here too. You see how Kiki’s suit and arsenal upgrades allows the cat to go further into the lab and reach new areas clearly blocked off before. You find secret rooms where you can get new color schemes or optional health upgrades. There’s a constant clock, if you’re testing yourself, and Kiki dies in one hit outside the suit. It understands the genre and the animal and goes with it in a very pleasant way.
Gato Roboto is immediately available for the Nintendo Switch and PC.