Gato Roboto

A game by Doinksoft for PC and Switch, originally released in 2018.
Gato Roboto stars a cat who is making her way through an open world subterranean action-adventure… or “meowtroidvania”, if you will. A lieutenant named Gary is hurtling through space with his feline companion - named Kiki - when he receives a signal from a research facility on a nearby planet at coordinates 42069 (nooch). Soon after, Kiki steps on one of the buttons on the control panel, sending the ship hurtling toward the planet.

Following the crash, Kiki is ejected from the ship, but Gary is trapped inside, so it’s up to her to mount a rescue, despite the fact that her vocabulary consists entirely of the word “meow” and its variations. Gary communicates with her via a convenient collar radio, occasionally making comments on her surrounding environment or offering direction. Kiki's initial objective is to reach a save room, which spawns a pilotable security mech.

On foot, Kiki moves very quickly… so quickly that it’s easy to overshoot platforms, so the player must use a delicate touch with the controls. On the other hand, her speed gives her the ability to dodge enemies and projectiles, which is handy given that she has no offensive abilities and dies in a single hit. Kiki has a 2x variable jump, and she can wall slide, wall jump, and jump up vertical surfaces. She can also swim… although she refuses to do so initially until Gary gives her a start and she falls into the water, after which she swims like champ.

Inside the mech suit, Kiki becomes much more formidable. The mech suit has six units of health – measured as NRG – and loses one unit each time it takes damage. The mech’s maximum health can be more than doubled by finding health units hidden around the environment, thus rewarding exploration. Exploration also leads to cartridges that unlock new color palettes beyond the default black and white. In a nice touch, these cartridges also serve a secondary purpose, allowing the player to unlock a weapon upgrade and a movement upgrade that make enemy destruction and environmental traversal much easier.

A simple but effective map system shows any areas where the player has explored, with elevators and save points marked, along with a dotted outline showing adjacent rooms that have yet to be visited. This makes it easy for the player to determine where he needs to go next, and gives hints as to where hidden health upgrades or color palette cartridges may be located. That said, there are a couple of secret areas that are purposely obscured, requiring the player to use environmental clues to find hidden passages. The game includes sharp level design that reveals alternate pathways and secret areas, such as placing a single destructible block along an otherwise impenetrable wall, or pulling the camera down to reveal a lower area.

The mech has a short range weapon that allows it to fire in four directions, and the weapon fires as quickly as the player can press the button. The weapon can be used to open Metroid-style bubble doors to move from one room to the next (with similarly Metroid-style screen transitions), and it can be used to destroy enemies. Early enemies have simple behaviors, and most enemies are stunned for a brief moment when shot, so it’s possible to fire very quickly and render most enemies ineffective.

The further you explore in the subterranean complex, the more complex enemy behaviors become, with enemies reacting to your presence, charging toward you, dropping bombs, digging through destructible blocks (which can be used to the player’s advantage later in the game), firing projectiles, or engaging in a timed detonation. There are also areas where the player is locked in a room until all of the enemies are destroyed. While enemies continue to grow more fearsome, the player continues to earn new abilities that increase his movement and combat abilities, opening up new attack strategies and environmental traversal abilities.

Early on, the player encounters rock walls that he cannot pass with the mech’s weapon, but later he gains a missile that is capable of destroying them. This opens up new paths of travel and allows the player to unleash heavier attacks during combat – along with splash damage – but the use of missiles is limited by a heat meter, and firing only two missiles causes the system to overheat momentarily. Players can still switch over to their regular weapon while their missiles are overheated, but timing their use properly is more important during boss and miniboss encounters where there are fewer openings to attack.

There are no health restoratives to be found in the environment, so players must rely entirely on save points to refill their NRG meter. Save points appear fairly frequently, so skilled players should be able to make it through much of the game without being killed, with little repeated gameplay upon death. Boss battles represent the most difficult challenges, often requiring you to make use of new abilities you just learned – like dashing through otherwise unavoidable attacks – but there are always save points nearby to reduce frustration.

While inside the mech suit, there is a constantly counting timer showing you how long you’ve been playing, and it keeps counting even during cutscenes, and after being killed and reloading a save. While this initially appears to be a tool for speedrunners, it turns out that speed is actually an important factor during boss encounters, as their more powerful attacks are introduced based on the amount of time passed rather than strictly based on the amount of damage they have taken. As such, the faster you deal damage to the boss, the easier the encounter is, encouraging replays as players can find strategies to take down most bosses in a matter of seconds.

Not all of the game is played using the mech suit. In fact, there are plenty of areas where Kiki must exit the suit and explore the environment on her own... accompanied by a cute animation where she opens the visor and stands on the gun barrel twitching her tail. Often, Kiki must traverse narrow passages, climb vertical surfaces, swim (the mech suit is damaged by water), or activate switches, all the while dodging enemies that can kill her in one it. Reaching a save point causes a mech suit to spawn at her location, but sometimes she must use moving platforms to bring an empty suit to her.

There are also a few submarines to be found floating around, and Kiki can use these to move underwater and attack enemies, and these can take five hits before being destroyed. Underwater enemies include sea mines, fish that dash toward you, and projectile-spewing baddies. This works similarly to underwater traversal in Blaster Master with the player entering and exiting the submarine as needed. The player even gets to face off against a boss in a submarine, which plays out like a simple shmup.

The world is divided into five themed environments, which must be completed in order, and a hub area that connects them all. The first area introduces you to the basic mechanics, while each of the other segments offer area-wide environmental challenge that must be overcome, such as lowering water levels, cooling lava, and disabling ventilation systems. This means that the way the player engages the environment changes throughout each area, offering layered level designs that open new pathways opening once area objectives are complete.

Many challenges require the player to think differently about the core mechanics, such as entering high-heat areas where Kiki cannot exit the mech suit, and areas with narrow passages where she must run around unprotected. Also, as the player earns new abilities, he must alter his tactics to make it through the environment, with advanced strategies – such as rocket jumping – required later in the game. Changes to the environment, enemy behaviors, and the player’s skill set happen in parallel and keep the gameplay engaging throughout.

Aesthetically, the game world is consists of a simple black and white palette (with others unlockable) with charming animations for the player character and enemies. Most enemies telegraph their abilities through their sprite animations, clearly communicating their movements to the player. The white border around the screen is occasionally bothersome, sometimes making it appear that an area is closed off when it’s not, but otherwise, it’s easy to parse the environment based on visual design, despite the lack of color. The game has a suitably retro-style soundtrack and generally lighthearted humor throughout, interspersed with a bit of dark humor as well.

Gato Roboto was developed by Doinksoft, a studio based in Oregon. The game was developed using GameMaker Studio.

The game was published by Devolver Digital, which has published a number of 2D indie games including Serious Sam: Double D XXL, Luftrausers, Broforce, Foul Play, Fork Parker's Holiday Profit Hike, Hotline Miami, Hotline Miami 2, Titan Souls, Not a Hero, Ronin, Downwell, Enter the Gungeon, Mother Russia Bleeds, Serious Sam’s Bogus Detour, Minit, The Swords of Ditto, The Messenger, and Crossing Souls.