Gato Roboto is adorable, and ideally suited to nostalgic handheld play, but — cute graphics aside — fails to be really memorable
Some people look at a pixely, low-color game and dismiss it right away, either because they’ve played too many similar games already, or they just don’t like that aesthetic. Fair enough, I get the point.
Others — and I usually fall more into this group, than the previous — have their retro nerve instantly delighted just looking at those screenshots. Gato Roboto would be very well at home on the ZX Spectrum (and, in a slightly more up-to-date reference, would be perfect on the recently-announced Playdate), and that makes me happy.
Throw into the hat the promise of a metroidvania, at an affordable price, and it looks like everything lines up for a smash hit. Well, pull back on that because, while Gato Roboto does provide a solid chunk of gameplay, those stylish graphics mask a couple of problems that, as far as I’m concerned, hold it back from being truly great.
You’re a cat, in a mech-suit. Like that thing Ripley goes all badass with in Alien. It seems totally natural after no time at all, and it’s a spectacular idea, allowing the player to alternate between super-killing machine and lovable, vulnerable feline. There’s even an amphibious one. And an amphibian one, too…
Like any proper metroidvania, your task is to navigate a map with locked-off sections, gather items to unlock more, and upgrade your weaponry to take on increasingly capable enemies. It’s a tested formula that isn’t toyed with too much here: if you want to understand what metroidvanias are all about, I think this might be an even better appetiser than SteamWorld Dig 2.
Those graphics, then. I loved them at first sight: the animation of the cat, in particular, does a brilliant job representing a real cat’s movement in just a handful of pixels. And the detail in some of the backgrounds and other mobs is genuinely impressive — to achieve that with literally just two colors has to be a feat worth admiring.
The more I played, though, I realised that, despite creating a gorgeous style/aesthetic, reducing the color palette so drastically is not without problems. Some terrain, that is actually significant in gameplay terms, was difficult to distinguish from the rest. Some enemies were difficult to spot, too. Now, these aren’t necessarily problems, gameplay-wise. Hiding certain elements can be a legitimate technique. But it’s difficult not to blame the color palette when it’s so obviously a factor.
Difficulty-wise, I’d say it’s pretty much pitch perfect. Because Gato Roboto is pretty linear, it can throw various enemies at you, whilst keeping the difficulty level within a reasonable range. Most enemies are simple to deal with, but they do get more challenging towards the end. And the boss fights are genuinely difficult, which adds variety to the main game. Until the very end, it has to be said — why, oh why, are the final two bosses so much easier than those that came before?
The linearity is another issue for me, I’m afraid. It’s probably inevitable in a game this size, and I think there are different routes through the game, but it very much felt as if I was being guided screen-by-screen, area-by-area. This is definitely a personal issue, though — if you’re not a fan of exploring and backtracking, a bit of hand-holding can be very welcome.
Here’s a thing, though: why are there so many empty rooms? For a game with a pretty small map anyway, rooms with nothing in them at all just feel like the devs are trolling us! Gato Roboto already sets itself a challenge — how to create atmosphere and environment with essentially no colors — but populating the map with so many areas that don’t genuinely feel distinct isn’t going to help.
I’ve seen quotes mainly of 4-5 hours for completion; it took me just over 5 hours. I’m someone who likes to get a lot of time out of their games, though — Hollow Knight, in particular, has spoiled me on this one. 5 hours just doesn’t seem enough, even with the decent potential of a re-run.
It didn’t really feel like 5 hours of content, either. I think, on a couple of occasions, I got a bit lost and wasted too much time working out what to do next. That might sound like it conflicts, slightly, with what I said earlier about linearity. If anything, though, getting lost in a metroidvania is more of a problem when there’s only one next step then when there are multiple paths, which at least offer more of a chance to find a way forward.
I do really, really like Gato Roboto, however negatively this review may come across. I think I’m just disappointed that such a great idea hasn’t been realised to an even greater extent. I would love to see a Gato Roboto 2 that’s about 3-4 times the size, with maybe a four-color palette to resolve some of the visibility issues, and just a bit more of, well, everything.
Gato Roboto is an excellent game, it just doesn’t deliver as much as I’d like based on the initial promise. Games were shorter in the period its style borrows from but, as modern gamers, we’ve been spoilt for too long now to expect just a little bit more.
It’s almost a companion piece to Dig Dog, and — if you’re a big fan of pixel graphics — I’d highly recommend buying the two together, as affordable, accessible examples of the roguelite and metroidvania genres.
I paid £6.11, which was a preorder discount from the current price of £7.19. It’s decent value at either price, so long as you know what you’re getting for that: an enjoyable, but short adventure.
I played Gato Roboto for just over 5 hours and completed it at 66%. I might do a second run-through and attempt 100%. I played quite a bit of it on handheld, partly because it looks so good on the Switch’s display, but also because I really went after that retro Game Boy experience, and I wasn’t disappointed.