What if Metroid was a cat? You would finally be able to crawl. It would also be a completely different game with different level design, different movement options and Nintendo probably would have chosen Yoshi to star in the game instead. Hmmm, that wouldn’t be such a bad timeline. We would have a whole genre of Yoshivanias. Moving on from this alternative past, we have a brand new Indie game called Gato Roboto with a similar aesthetic to the original Metroid on NES. You could argue it’s even more ancient as it lacks a full colour palette. However, once you start playing this game it comes to life and impresses with modern movement and design.
The simple graphics of Gato Roboto are complimented by very fast movement, and lively animations to make it feel way better than it looks in a screenshot. You are a cat in a robot suit and you stomp around and slay. You can jump and shoot like a typical action hero, then get out of your suit and run around as a cat. The cat can climb up walls and slip into gaps that you can’t get into with the clunky robot suit, but it also has a downside. While the robot has a full suit of HP, one single hit will kill the cat. There’s a ton of checkpoints in this game though, so feel free to die from curiosity.
The movement is very fast and only gets faster when you discover more upgrades. Eventually you’ll be bouncing around and dashing through obstacles while firing missiles in all directions as you clear a room in 4 seconds. It’s a lot of fun, and when you first get certain upgrades they will be hard to control just due to the sheer pace. For shooting you have a regular weak shot you can spam as much as you want, and missiles that are also infinite, but have a cooldown period of a few seconds until you can use more.
The sound effects are explosive, enemies are quick, certain terrain can fall to pieces and clunk around. It’s a satisfying game that gives you detailed visual and audio feedback for everything you do.
There’s a cute little story here but it doesn’t take up a whole lot of time. The game takes place on a research lab that you accidentally stumble on while exploring in space, happens to all of us. After a mysterious intro you’re just left to wander. Outside the normal progress and upgrades, you can find interesting lore on computer terminals to slowly piece together what’s been happening. Things have gone wrong in the research lab, so you still get the classic hostile environments involving lava and water themed areas. I enjoyed the coherency and charm of the scenario and map design, and even the menus in this game are cute with cat icons. The exploration however is quite linear compared to many other games in the Metroid genre, I don’t think I got lost once.
Gato Roboto has a bigger emphasis on shooting compared to exploration, with boss fights really benefiting from that. They have wild movement, clever patterns and engaging gameplay that has you dodging and shooting and running around like a cat in a robot suit. Oh wait, that’s what you are. None of the bosses really felt cheap to me, even though it took me a while to learn some of their patterns. They also make good use of the ability you recently got in that area. The combat never gets too difficult but it’s just challenging enough to be fun.
The rest of the exploration is usually done in cat form, with careful platforming and puzzle solving. Sometimes you get separated from your robot suit and have to find alternate paths, switches and even control other vehicles to get the job done. It can be a bit scary when you die in one hit, but when things are looking grim you can press the most important button in the game. The meow button! That’s right this game has a dedicated button for meowing, just spam X to your hearts content. Meow meow meowmeomeoewmoeow meowmemememewomw okay that’s enough.
As you can probably tell from the screenshots the graphics are very basic with no colour variety. This is what put me off actually buying this game on Switch initially, because I’ve played enough bland Indie games in my time. This game is not one of them though. When you’re actually moving around everything animates beautiful and the sound design adds charm with the clunking of the suit and environment ambience really sucking you in. Smoke shoots out of your gun and dust flies up when you land a jump. It achieves a lot with very little. Just imagine you’re getting immersed in an old Game Boy game while huddling underneath the one source of light in your room. The sound effects are pleasant and oddly calming considering you’re stomping and shooting a lot.
If you do get bored of black and white, you can “unlock” more colours as collectibles in the game world. I switched every hour or so just to freshen things up, as you can see from the screenshots I’ve taken. There’s 14 in total using any popular colour you could want, from swamp matcha to chewed gum. Some of them are quite awful though and hurt my eyes. There’s even a special urine colour palette that makes me thankful that games cannot be smelled yet. The coffee stain or nicotine filter could make you nostalgic for that early apartment your parents lived in when you were a child. No? Well go spill some coffee and enjoy the immersion.
Gato Roboto is a short but charming Metroid-style exploration game with its own unique story and gameplay. This is exactly what I want in an Indie Metroid game to be honest, something that is structured in a familiar way but feels brand new to play with good controls. It took me about 5 hours to complete my first playthrough, but it has high replayability and very compressed gameplay action with no loading or breaks. It’s also fairly easy compared to something like Hollow Knight, and could be a good place to start if you’ve never played this genre before.
I played it on Xbox Game Pass but the game is also pretty cheap on Switch and other platforms, about $15au last I checked. Saving the animals in Super Metroid has been justified again, because they are a lot of fun to play with.