Gato Roboto is science fiction but it's also fantasy. It's science fiction because if focuses on a spaceman who crashlands on a strange planet. Stuck in his spaceship, he asks his cat to explore the landscape and find the means to rescue him. It's fantasy because the cat does what it's asked.
This game is deliriously cute. Having played around with a preview build for the best part of a morning, I can attest to the fact that the simple fictional twist of playing as a cat adds a lot to the existing formula. The existing formula here is 2D Metroidvanias. Gato Roboto draws its world in black and white, using chunky pixels to bring things like alien wasp nests and ancient supercomputers to life. It feels a bit like playing a lost 2000AD game, in a way, the black and white art and the collision of space-truckers hardware and goop. But instead of Judge Dredd you're controlling a cat in a mech suit.
The mech suit is a delight. I'm still early on in the game but I've already upgraded the standard laser blaster so that I have a rocket launcher too. Laser blasts whittle down enemies and open doors. Rockets reach further and can blow up certain kinds of rock. When it comes to the old morphball trick, Gato Roboto's solution is ingeniously simple: the cat gets out of the suit. The cat can slip through gaps the mech can't fit through, and can swim - sounds crazy but Chuck Jones' cat could too. When the mech encounters water it takes damage.
That's the Metroidvania way, isn't it: find out what each piece of the arsenal can and can't do, and expand your abilities in order to open up the world. I love Gato Roboto's compact maps, each one filled with paths that lead in interesting directions, rooms you can't get to yet. I love its silly sense of humour: the first boss fight here is against a mouse in its own mech suit.
Metroidvanias have been so thoroughly explored over the last few years, I sometimes wonder what kind of innovation is going to bring them back to life. Turns out all I needed was a cat. And a mech suit for the cat, obv.
Gato Roboto is out later this year.