After 2018’s imaginative 3D platformer, Astro Bot Rescue Mission, Team Asobi returns with a pack-in title on the PS5, which beautifully conveys and demonstrates the potential of what the new DualSense controller is capable of.
Yet, the term “pack-in title” and “tech demo” comes off somewhat derivative or makes the game seem lesser than what it truly is. For, when I actually sat down to play, I found a more than competent platformer, as well as a surprisingly, endearing homage to the history of PlayStation, inside of this 5 hour trot through my childhood.
A Love Letter to PlayStation
Astro’s Playroom begins in a hub known as, the “CPU Plaza”, which houses gateway’s to 4 main worlds, all themed after a specific component of the PlayStation 5 hardware. As the ever vibrant and joyous, Astro Bot, you’ll navigate the inner workings of the PlayStation 5, double jumping, punching and climbing your way to the finish line of each stage.
Brim with fan-service in the best way possible, each world holds 4 level’s within them, tallying up to a total of 16. Being dedicated to a specific generation of PlayStation, the level’s hold additional secrets and collectibles tied to that era just waiting to be unearthed. Cooling Springs for instance, a world based off the PS5’s fan, is entirely dedicated to the PlayStation 3. Which, in turn, means you’ll find tons of artifacts dating back to that part of Sony’s history such as, the PlayStation 3 Slim model, the PS Move Sharp Shooter, a “Botcharted” disc and even the DualShock 3. And once you’ve completed the level, you’ll be welcomed to the finish line with both the sound and dashboard of the PlayStation 3, blaring in the background.
The callbacks don’t end with thorough looks at hardware either. Astro’s Playroom is chock full of wonderful cameos from some of PlayStation’s most iconic characters, spanning its 26 year history. From Final Fantasy, to The Last of Us, to Bloodborne, to Sly Cooper, to Tomb Raider, to Resident Evil, part of the game’s charm, comes from stopping whenever you come in contact with a blue camera bot to see these cameos. The ensuing debates with yourself, as to who this character is and which game they came from, can get pretty heated but you’ll always have a smile on your face once you manage to have that “ah ha” moment.
A New Level of Immersion
What truly sets Astro’s Playroom apart and elevates it to such grand heights, comes, undoubtedly, from the way you play the game. A lot of buzz and anticipation surrounded the PlayStation 5’s new DualSense controller’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers before release, and it turns out, those early impressions that fed into a growing level of lofty expectations, weren’t unfounded.
It’s the promise of Nintendo’s HD rumble, fully realized to an unprecedented extreme. For me, it was the world titled, “Memory Meadows”, where the DualSense truly clicked and left my jaw wide open like an idiot. There’s a small section where rain begins to pour from the gathering clouds above you and Astro will equip a little umbrella to fend off the incoming weather. He does so of course, but the controller will actually simulate that feeling of each individual rain drop pelting atop Astro’s umbrella, all in the palm of your hands.
These sorts of moments, that take you back to the unadulterated joy of gaming, felt when you first had a controller in your hand, are becoming a rarity as we age. Astro Bot, on the other hand, managed to remind me that I haven’t become completely jaded yet, that video games can still surprise and wow me.
The DualSense’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers are also implemented flawlessly throughout the games major set pieces, that really showcase what this controller can do. The way the game truly takes advantage of the DualSense even further, all culminates in the various suits that Astro Bot will wear during his journey.
One such suit, saw Astro Bot hop inside of a small rocket and navigate a treacherous astroid field, as well as a winding labyrinthine cave system in space. By bouncing back and forth between the left and right trigger, you can ignite the rocket and propel yourself forward. But, there’s a bit of strategy involved depending on the amount of pressure you add to the triggers. Essentially, the more pressure you add, the faster the rocket will go and it’ll be more difficult to handle the rocket, while trying to dodge through the obstacles and enemies in your path. Push down just a little and you’ll find yourself with far more maneuverability.
It’s honestly quite remarkable stuff and it has successfully converted me, a once cynic of the DualSense, into a full blown believer. And even beyond the capabilities of the DualSense which has, rightfully so, garnered a lot of the attention, Astro’s Playroom also stands on its own as a pretty enjoyable platformer.
Astro’s Playroom invokes much of what makes the bevy of Nintendo titles special, as it’s overall cohesiveness and constant introduction of new ideas and challenges, help cement its place as a worthy platformer. Although the days of Jak & Daxter, Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper, are mostly behind us, Astro Bot may very well, fill in that large sized chink in Sony’s armor. After the success of both Rescue Mission and Playroom, Team Asobi has certainly earned that chance.