It can be difficult to find time to finish a video game, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play. In our biweekly column Short Play we suggest video games that can be started and finished in a weekend.
Gato Roboto opens with what has to be the worst possible outcome of a cat stepping on a Keyboard: The missep causes a space to crash into a mysterious abandoned planet. For players, though, it's a great outcome, because you get to play a streamlined Metroid game as a cat in a suit.
After crashing, Kiki the cat's owner and partner Gary is pinned down on their ship. Unable to do anything except communicate with Kiki, send it off to find a way for them to get off the planet. What is Kiki is a dilapidated, abandoned lab full of both normal creatures like frogs and squids, but also strange ones like flamethrower robots and carnivorous plants that all seem to stop here.
Inside the mech, Kiki has access to a blaster weapon that can only fire in three directions (forward, up and down) and whose shots only travel a short distance before disappearing. This forces you to get fairly close to enemies in order to destroy them. Luckily, the me also provides Kiki with some amount of protection, letting here take a number of hits before she is killed. Meanwhile, if she's outside the suit, she'll be killed with only a single hit from anything. She also can attack anything outside of me, but is faster, more nimble, and able to climb up walls.
Much of the game comes from playing with this discrepancy between Kiki in the suit versus out of it. After the opening section, which acts as a tutorial for both the cat and mech forms of Kiki, the game opens up into three different sections that can be tackled in any order. Each is geared around exploring specific aspects of this dynamic: one is predominantly focused on using only the mech, another on Kiki out of the mech, and the other has a little of both with the addition of a cat-sized submarine she can also pilot These sections are incredibly well-designed, with each area feeling purposeful. A very subtle and clever thing the game does is introduce new enemies in a sort of controlled environment. There are a number of places where you are locked in a room until you defeat all the enemies, and in a lot of them, they'll be able to see you for the first time either alone or with a few very basic baddies. This allows you to find the new enemy's behavior in such a way that it can quickly include it in tricky room layouts or enemies without confusing you.
Gato Roboto feel concentrated. The lab feels big, but not just for the sake of being big; none of the rooms are without purpose. You always feel like you're progressing, always getting stronger and better at the game yet still being challenged in new ways. Gato Roboto could have just been on Metroid clone – from the screenshots it certainly looks like one. But there is so much work done in the game's design hidden behind its very simple black and white aesthetic.
Gato Roboto was created by doinksoft. You can get it on Nintendo Switch or on Steam (Windows) for $ 7.99. It takes about three to four hours to finish.