It can be difficult to find time to complete a video game, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play. In our biweekly column Short game we recommend video games that can be started and completed in a weekend.
Gato Roboto opens with what should be the worst possible outcome of a cat stepping on a keyboard: the misstep causes a spaceship to collide with a mysterious deserted planet. For players, however, it is one excellent result, because you can play a streamlined game Metroid play like a cat in a mech suit.
After the crash, Kiki, the owner and partner of the cat, is screwed onto their ship. Because he can do nothing but communicate with Kiki, he sends her away to find a way to get rid of the planet. What Kiki finds is a dilapidated, abandoned laboratory full of both normal creatures and frogs and squids, but also strange ones such as flame-throwing robots and carnivorous plants that all seem determined to stop her.
In the mech, Kiki has access to a blaster weapon that can only fire in three directions (forward, up and down) and whose recordings only travel a short distance before they disappear. This forces you to get reasonably close to enemies to destroy them. Fortunately, the mech Kiki also offers some protection, allowing her to take a number of hits before she is killed. Meanwhile, if she is outside the suit, she will be killed with just a single hit of something. Nor can she attack anything outside of the mech, but is faster, more agile and able to climb walls.
A large part of the game comes from playing with this discrepancy between Kiki in the suit versus from the game. After the opening part, which acts as a tutorial for both the cat and mech forms of Kiki, the game opens in three different sections that can be tackled in any order. Each is focused on exploring specific aspects of this dynamic: one is primarily focused on only using the mech, the other on Kiki from the mech, and the other has a bit of both with the addition of a submarine of a cat size that she can also control.
These sections are incredibly well designed, with each area targeted. A very subtle and clever thing the game does is introduce new enemies into a kind of controlled environment. There are a number of places where you are locked up in a room until you defeat all enemies, and in many of them they will put down an enemy that you see for the first time alone or with some very basic bad guys. With this you learn the behavior of the new enemy in such a way that they can quickly incorporate into difficult room layouts or enemy combinations without swapping you.
There is an efficiency in game design that makes it Gato Roboto feeling focused. The lab feels great, but not just to be big; none of the rooms has no purpose. You always feel that you are making progress, you are always getting stronger and better at the game, but you are still being challenged in new ways. Gato Roboto could just be one Metroid clone – it certainly seems to be one of the screenshots. But there is so much clever work in the design of the game hidden behind its very simple black and white aesthetic.