After crashing his ship in response to a distress beacon, a space pilot named Gary sends his adorable kitty companion on a quest for answers through the twisting caverns and corridors of a mysterious research facility full of dangerous creatures. So begins the charming Gato Roboto, a bite-size throwback to the NES and Game Boy era of exploration-based gaming. Though some uneven pacing and a tendency towards linearity often makes this retro adventure feel somewhat like Metroid on a leash, it’s ultimately a breezy and fun way to pass a few hours.
Things start off very familiarly, as the fearless feline is plunked down onto the planet’s surface, unsure which way to go. Go right and there’s a door which won’t open; heading left leads to several dead ends, as well as a cat-sized tunnel. Following that crawlspace leads to a mech suit, complete with a blaster that opens doors, and so Gato Roboto has smartly taught players about how this world will work. There is definitely a bit of Blaster Master here too, as while the majority of the game will see Kiki running, jumping, and gunning down foes in her war machine, there are plenty of moments that require wandering outside those armored confines, exposed to one-hit kills and lacking in weaponry. Sometimes they involve traversing a narrow passageway to find an upgrade or secret, while other times this separation is necessary for progression.
Regardless, this little bit of gameplay variety keeps things fresh in what is a fairly short experience. As a mere cat, Kiki is certainly vulnerable, but she also has the ability to scale walls, allowing her to access heights that robo-kitty cannot attain. In addition to that talent, there are moments when she can manipulate platforms via a treadmill, as well as man stationary laser cannons to knock out walls or foes. Meanwhile, the mech suit allows for upgrades such as missiles, a double jump (that itself doubles as a spin jump), and additional health. There isn’t as palpable a sense of power progression as in some other genre entries (mostly due to the limited amount of upgrades), but what’s here works well enough to make the ‘roboto’ feel like it’s increasingly mobile.
It’s quite fun to bound around Gato Roboto as Mecha-Cat, and there’s a nice feeling of weight that accompanies the responsive controls. Unfortunately, the same cannot quite be said of Kiki, whose floaty jump and touchy jerkiness can sometimes feel hard to reign in. This usually isn’t a problem, as Kiki is rarely involved in high-stakes platforming, but one later stage does feature some extended out-of-mech time, and has her navigating air vents through multiple gauntlets of enemies and traps. This section is easily the least rewarding of what is otherwise a solid lineup of interconnected stages, simply because it doesn’t feel as good to play. And though there are plenty of save points along the way, the trial and error that results from wonkiness while leaping from wall to wall in between spikes, or dodging the spinning lasers of a boss, slows the pace down right when it should be cranking up.
This feeling could be due to the tendency of Gato Roboto to lead players along rather than asking them to explore the world for themselves like a typical Metroid game would do. Rarely do paths branch out, forcing a choice in direction, and the little backtracking often brings players nearby opportunities to use recently obtained abilities. This guiding creates a certain linear flow, and when that flow is disrupted, it’s hard not to feel frustration, as if the record has skipped. The smattering of bosses also can have this effect, as the difficulty level spikes significantly from the slow, dim-witted creatures populating the facility hallways. These (relative) behemoths employ a variety of attacks, and upon first glance can appear quite erratic. Most players’ deaths will likely happen at these moments, and since dialogue cannot be skipped, the repetition can get tedious. On top of that, the save rooms outside the boss battles often do not allow for backtracking, a choice that prevents players from seeking out additional powerups to aid them in a tough fight, and ensures that they either get good or give up.
It’s a curious (and annoying) decision, but luckily, a little patience (and maybe nine lives) is all that’s needed to overcome these fights. Even if it’s not recognizable at first, each boss is designed with a pattern, and those who initially practice dodging attacks instead of lobbying them should eventually have no trouble figuring it out. Though they sometimes feel a bit jarring and out of place in relation to the main campaign, these bursts of action can also be quite fun, and it’s satisfying upon replay to effortlessly waste an opponent that once caused several restarts.
When Gato Roboto sticks to its main guns, this small engine purrs on as many cylinders as it can muster. There aren’t really any standout moments among the 4-5 hour campaign, and collectible cartridges that give access to retro color palette swaps (including a puke green similar to the original Game Boy) aren’t really much of incentive to go off the beaten path, but the majority of the gameplay is addictive and satisfying as a light take on the genre. Add to that some goofy dialogue involving a mad scientist and his beloved pooch, some crisp monochrome visuals, and a catchy looping soundtrack, and Gato Roboto is a nice little game that sometimes stumbles, but still lands solidly on its feet.