Gato Roboto understands the most important thing about living in the 21st century: nobody has time for your shit. Doinksoft’s Metroid homage isn’t bite-sized—it’s more like an appetizer or a small plate, a reasonably-sized portion for anybody who wants the satisfaction of eating out but doesn’t have the time to devote to a full meal. It tastes good, too.
It packs all the action and adventure you expect from a Metroid-style game into just a few hours of play. If you aren’t a completionist in thrall to the bewitching allure of that 100%, it’ll take even less time. It’s in and out before it turns into a chore or starts repeating itself, which sets it apart from most Metroid acolytes and even some official Metroid games. And although we wouldn’t advocate for an abridged Super Metroid or Metroid Prime (or even Castlevania: Symphony of the Night), most games that follow in Samus’s bootsteps aren’t designed well enough to justify their length. Gato Roboto is here to remind those games that aimlessly dragging on and on isn’t a crucial part of the Metroid recipe.
The things that are integral to a good Metroid-style game appear here in full—the backtracking, the permanent power-ups, the seductive level design that puts goals in clear sight but just out of reach. Despite the abbreviated length, the design standards that make Metroid-influenced games so hard to put down are adhered to, but with enough twists to the tone, aesthetic and mechanics to make it feel like more than just a retread.
Over the last few years there have been a lot of great games that don’t demand too much of the player’s time to finish. Many of them have been better than Gato Roboto. Few of them so successfully offer a satisfying and full-featured action game experience, though. Most short games tend to be on the artier or more experimental side, or use that brevity as a pretext to streamline the game’s mechanics. Gato Roboto doesn’t cut corners, but just squeezes everything into a few short hours.
Games generally don’t want to see you go these days. The industry is fixated on “games as a service”—a model that tries to turn players from short-term tourists who pay a one-time fee into full-time residents who have a vested interest in pumping more and more money into a game. This leads to microtransactions and loot boxes and online play and other decisions designed to increase both the amount of time you play a game and the amount of money you spend on it. Even games that focus on single-player campaigns are encouraged to stretch their stories out for dozens of hours, lest they incite the ire of an angry subset of customers who apparently prioritize length over quality. (As if Red Dead Redemption 2 or God of War would’ve been any less successful or well-received by critics if they were less demanding of a player’s time.)
Providing enough game for the price is a valid concern, but player expectations as they currently exist probably aren’t tenable. It contributes to the absurdly high cost of development of would-be state-of-the-art blockbusters, and the unconscionable crunch time employees are forced to labor under in order to make those games. The idea that “real” or “serious” games need to last for tens of hours is unhealthy for everybody involved.
Gato Roboto swipes its paw at that notion. It proves designers can give hardened, experienced players what they want—an engaging, smartly designed game with a deep set of mechanics and a focus on skill-based action—without burying them with unnecessary length. If you’re a typical citizen of the 21st century—either stressed out and overworked, or too impatient to focus on any one thing for too long—this cat in a mech might be a friend you need to meet.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.