- Impressive and inventive platforming
- VR brings you right into the action
- Great use of the player’s gaze and Dual Shock gadgets
- Superb level design
- A relatively short, linear adventure
- 3D perspective has its challenges
- Review Price: £34.99
Blimey, here’s a turn up for the books. If you’d told me a few days ago that a game starring The Playroom’s little Astro Bots would be my VR game of the year, I’d have said you were loopy. If you’d even suggested that this same game would be a genre-busting platformer, I’d have suggested that you go and have a nice lie down. If you’d expressed the opinion that this game might be a killer app for PSVR, I’d have said you were misguided. Yet here we are, and Astro Bot Rescue Mission is solid gold.
It’s not the first cutesy VR platformer – Lucky’s Tale was good and solid while Moss was a fantastic game – but Astro Bot Rescue Mission goes one step further by mixing solid platforming mechanics with VR spectacle and great ideas that make the headset feel integral. While the name suggests something desperately generic, the game is anything but.
The setup itself is perfunctory. All the Astro Bots from The Playroom and Playroom VR are exploring the universe and letting the good times roll. Then some bad dude comes along in his spaceship, smashes the Bots’ craft and scatters the poor little critters all around the galaxy. As the one remaining Bot, Captain Astro, it’s up to you to find your friends, collect ship parts and put it all together. This involves exploring five different planets, each with their own fiendish platform levels to survive.
So far, so Super Mario clone, but here’s where the VR stuff comes in. You both control Captain Astro and act as a kind of Bot Lakitu, trailing behind the hero, able to look 360 degrees around, above and below. The action mainly takes place in front of you, but there are points where you’ll need to twist and turn to keep an eye on them. You’re absolutely rooted in the action, and Rescue Mission doesn’t skimp when it comes to vertiginous highs and gobsmacking displays of scale. If you thought VR had to be first-person to feel immersive, this game will prove you wrong.
Better still, Rescue Mission plays with the VR stuff. While Astro isn’t short on abilities, with a hefty punch and a jet-powered double jump that can also grill enemies below, it’s reliant on your help to make it through. Most levels involve some kind of gadget that transforms your Dual Shock 4 into a grapple gun, water jet, shuriken thrower or chaingun, which you then have to wield to aid your cybernetic chum. Create a high wire, snag the stopper on the balloon, put the flames out, cut the webs – at every step of your journey you need to keep your eye on the ball and the Bot on the right path.
There are even sections where your head comes into play, as you headbutt to break the scenery, dodge bombs and ink blobs or play headers with hostile robots. Get things wrong and your visor seems to crack under the damage, alongside other cool effects that keep you centred in the game.
All of this is great, but what makes Rescue Mission so very lovable is that it isn’t purely reliant on its VR gadgets. Sure, you could say that there’s nothing particularly innovative about its levels – we’ve seen gloomy, spider-haunted caves, lava levels and neon-lit, ride-heavy carnivals before. The aquatic levels and future city levels show signs of a team inspired by Super Mario and Ratchet and Clank. Yet each is phenomenally well-executed, and Rescue Mission still packs in some ideas of its own.
There’s a fantastic level with rolling waves where you have to use the changes in elevation to reach areas otherwise cut off. Another section finds inventive uses for shuriken, as you work out how to create new platforms to allow the Bot to keep moving forwards. One level sees you racing around the arms, hands and shoulders of a colossal robot big enough to fill your living room. I’d tell you more, but wouldn’t you rather discover all the sweet stuff for yourself?
Even the boss battles are enjoyable, pushing you to use all Astro’s abilities and specific gadgets to bring the big guys and gals down a peg or two. Whether you’re performing emergency dental work on an aggressive ape or tackling a vicious vulture lurking in the tree tops, there’s always a trick to winning that you just have to work out.
You might complain that Astro Bot’s relatively short – and you’d have a point. Six hours or so should be enough to crack the main five worlds. However, you won’t have found all the missing Bots on your first run through, and this is one of the few games where getting them all is a pleasure, not a chore. That’s because they’re hidden sneakily around the scenery, nearly always visible if you twist at the right time or pay attention to your ears – and some are surprisingly tricky to reach.
What’s more, there are an additional 25 challenge levels to unlock, giving you boss battle challenges, time-trial challenges and cool arcade challenges to play. If you want, you can even use an arcade grabber machine inside your starship to unlock toy playsets you can then mess around in and explore. Astro Bot is so damn lovable that you won’t want to leave this stuff alone.
There are moments where difficult perspectives or obstructions turn a jump into a leap of faith, but more often than not the game is designed to avoid frustration, and even the more difficult sections are softened up with generous checkpoints. And I can’t overstate that this is a dazzling VR experience, the quality cartoon visuals and personality contributing to something that brings the original excitement and sense of wonder back. It’s the first VR game since Moss where I’ve wanted to drag friends and family to the PS4, jam the headset on and watch as the smiles light up.
Was Astro Bot Rescue Mission on your radar? No? Me neither, but you ought to put it on there right away. This is arguably PSVR’s biggest must-have game experience and a phenomenally good VR platform game. It’s too short and too linear to rival Super Mario Odyssey, but it shows a similar sense of invention, humour and good old razzle dazzle. And if you were losing faith in VR? Sony’s game will give you back the magic.