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Gato Roboto Review — Meowtroidvania

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The lure of the Metroidvania genre seems to be irresistible to indie developers. Something about combining platforming with shooting, upgrade systems, and plenty of back-tracking seems to appeal to creators and players alike. Doinksoft has gone the extra mile by making the protagonist of Gato Roboto into the internet’s favourite animal—a cat.

Gato Roboto begins quite dramatically, with a spaceship crash. The crash was inadvertently caused by the adorable protagonist, Kiki, who stood on some vital control panels when seeking attention from her owner, ship pilot Gary. Luckily, though, Kiki has a radio collar that Gary can use to speak to Kiki and act as the player’s guide through the game.

The first task involves navigating narrow corridors to find a mech suit, which just happens to be perfectly proportioned for a small cat. Upon equipping the mech suit, alarms ring out and enemies appear, forcing the player to quickly learn how to use the suit’s functions to survive.

Enemies come in a variety of forms, from the dangerous security robots to wild animals that appear to have taken exception to Kiki’s appearance, including frogs and bees that are almost as big as Kiki. The arm-cannon fitted to the mech suit will usually sort them out, and, as might be expected from a Metroidvania title, upgrades are hidden throughout the labyrinthine corridors.

Upgrades range from simple health upgrades which add a unit of health to the player’s energy (or NRG) bar, allowing Kiki to survive more damage, or items such as the Rocket, which lets Kiki blow apart walls to reach new areas, as well as providing a kind of double-jump function. Many more are hidden throughout, with various functions, most of which will be familiar to seasoned Metroidvania fans.

Standard enemies are not the only things the player needs to worry about. The game also features bosses who guard the end of each area. Like the rest of the game, the bosses are imbued with gentle humour while still offering a significant challenge, such as the first boss, who turns out to be a mouse piloting another mech suit.

Exploration and backtracking is essential to find all those hidden upgrades, with many upgrades being essential in order to progress. Of course, enemies get tougher as Kiki ventures further through the corridors and tunnels, but the difficulty curve is fairly smooth, and never seems to hit a brick wall.

If the player finds they stuck in a literal tight spot, Kiki can be ejected from the mech suit and left to wander around as a simple cat. This gameplay option offers an advantage of mobility, but makes the kitty much more vulnerable to attack. Many puzzles within Gato Roboto require the player to use a combination of mech suit and cat form to successfully navigate forward, forcing them to become more flexible in the approach than simply blasting everything in sight.

The setting is strongly reminiscent of early NES or Game Boy titles. The entire game uses the 8-bit aesthetic, with black-and-white sprites and blocky, angular tiles making up the level design. Gato Roboto really feels like it belongs on a hand-held system, so its upcoming Switch port seems quite appropriate.

The visuals are not the only aspect of the game that use the 8-bit style: the soundtrack also delves back into the 80s to use chiptune music, which perfectly complements the visual style and provides an upbeat, nostalgic accompaniment to the action on-screen. Chiptune is quite easy to get wrong, but the composers used for Gato Roboto are clearly talented, and fans of this music style might quickly find they are hoping for a soundtrack release.

One of the unexpected delights of Gato Roboto is the writing. Expecting mediocre results in the way of plot or storyline from such a stripped-down game is not unusual, but Gato Roboto delivers some great writing by using the interactions between Kiki and Gary to offer up some very funny and cute dialogue, especially since Kiki can mostly only communicate with “Meow”. The result is both adorable and hilarious, and serves as a great stress-reliever after some difficult areas or fights.

Gato Roboto is a solid Metroidvania title that offers a surprising amount of depth and gameplay despite the novelty of the premise. The controls are tight, the 8-bit visual style is clean and appealing, and the protagonist is utterly adorable. Gato Roboto’s reasonable difficulty curve compared to several other titles in the genre, such as Hollow Knight or Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, means it could serve as a good gateway for those interested in the genre, but hardcore players might find it a little too easy.

OnlySP Review Score 4 Distinction

Reviewed on PC.
Also available on Nintendo Switch.

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Review

The Sinking City Review — Sanity is Optional

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Video games based on tabletop games seem to be in vogue at the moment. With Vampire: the Masquerade — Bloodlines 2 and the announcement of Baldur’s Gate III generating a lot of hype, the time seems to be right for The Sinking City, an atmospheric horror-themed investigation game. Based on the lesser known Call of Cthulhu board game, The Sinking City sees the player taking the role of Charles W. Reed, a private investigator and veteran of the First World War as he travels to the fictional town of Oakmont, Massachusetts to seek reasons why he is plagued by horrific visions. Reed quickly discovers that the citizens of Oakmont are also troubled by the same visions, as well as other threats of a sinister and supernatural nature.

The game is set in the 1920s and unashamedly embraces the hard-boiled themes of that era of fiction while blending in a strong dose of creeping, Lovecratian horror. The city of Oakmont absolutely drips with ambience, from the murky lighting to the semi-constant rainfall and the looming, old-fashioned New England architecture. The graphics are extremely impressive, and the animation is very fluid. Even the horrific monsters are fascinating to look at. Getting caught up in the many mysteries lurking about the beautifully well-realised town leads to quick and easy immersion.

The town itself is half-inundated after an otherworldly event known only as The Flood. This means that many of the streets need to be traversed by boat. Doing so can be a little awkward at tight corners, of which there are many, but the other option is swimming in waters infested with any number of nasty things, so taking the time to learn how to steer is worth the extra effort.

At times, the player may need to don an old-fashioned diving suit and take a trip underwater. These are some of the most unsettling sequences in the game, as the ambient sounds, underwater lighting effects, and the shadows of things twitching just beyond the edge of vision give a profound sense of claustrophobia and helplessness as the player lumbers slowly towards the destination.

The main gameplay elements recall other investigation or detective games, such as L.A. Noire or developer Frogwares previous work on the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series. The developer has used that experience to good effect, as the outcome of the quests depends on how well the player has managed to pick up on various clues hidden in the crime scene and evidence. The developer has said the goal in each investigation can be reached in multiple ways, so if the player gets stuck at any point, they have the freedom to move on to a different quest. Sometimes, evidence for the problem quest will pop up, or the player will have a sudden epiphany on what to do next.

The visions experienced by the protagonist have a gameplay application as well, as Reed can use his visions and investigative powers to reconstruct crime scenes and gain insights into the events. However, doing so costs Sanity. Some disturbing scenes or monster encounters can also drastically cut the player’s Sanity, and this, in turn, can affect perception of the environment, causing the player to overlook or completely misinterpret what actually happened. Total Sanity loss is fatal, as the protagonist descends into suicidal insanity.

In addition to conserving Sanity, players need to also conserve ammunition. Though encounters with supernatural creatures often involve the need to unload a gun into them, bullets are also used as currency in Oakmont, as bullets are more valuable than gold in the nightmare-infested town,. The player can barter for useful tools or weapons, but will need to remember to keep some bullets aside for those inevitable run-ins with tentacled horrors.

The result is a balancing act with the player trying to conserve Sanity and ammunition while delving into the secrets hidden within the town. The Sinking City has many layers, with much to be unravelled in the dark, dripping streets.

The Sinking City

The setting is well-served by the music, which is mostly subdued and ambient, serving the mood well. Of particular note is the voice acting, which is great, particularly on the part of the protagonist. Reed’s voice actor does an excellent job of portraying his various moods, giving a convincing performance of a troubled, world-weary war veteran.

The Sinking City is one of the best Lovecraft-inspired games available and, despite some slightly awkward controls in places, the game is brilliantly crafted. Fans of horror will love its atmosphere and those who enjoy investigative games will quickly become absorbed in the depth offered by the gameplay. Those who loved L.A. Noire or Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, and players of the tabletop game, should definitely give thought to picking this title up.

OnlySP Review Score 4 Distinction

Reviewed on PC. Also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

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