In the modern landscape it's easy to believe we've seen everything the medium has to offer, but then a title such as Astro's Playroom comes along and redefines all previous conventions. It's pure platforming excellence and hopefully spells a bright future for one of Sony's finest current mascots.
- A cute, inventive and endlessly joyous showcase of PlayStation 5
- Shows what the DualSense will be capable of in the new generation
- Explores the history of PlayStation with untold love and detail
- All four stages are filled with bright and imaginative ideas
- It’s over far too soon
- Platform: PS5
- Release Date: November 12, 2020
- Developer: Team Asobi/Japan Studio
- Genre: Platformer
Astro Bot: Rescue Mission was one of the best platformers to emerge in the past generation. Released exclusively for PlayStation VR, the wondrous gem was likely slept on by millions, a crime considering the charm it practically oozed from every conceivable surface.
It was an absolute delight, both proving the potential of its medium and cementing its titular character as a platform mascot worth keeping an eye on. Now, the robotic mischief-maker returns in a brief yet brilliant experience that comes pre-installed on the PS5. Acting as a playable showcase for the DualSense controller, this is far more than a fancy demo like the PS4 iterations before it.
Team Asobi has created a loving homage to PlayStation history, reminding us how far the brand has come – and of the memories we’ve made along the way. It’s a journey awash with nostalgic touchstones that had me grinning like an idiot; I giggled at playful easter eggs and robots dressed up as my favourite characters, acting out scenarios from the very games that inspired them.
Astro’s Playroom opens with a brief demo of the DualSense controller, showing you the ropes of a peripheral that will undoubtedly define the coming generation of consoles. You’ll be asked to pull on the triggers, which act with rebellious levels of resistance as they push back against you with haptic feedback, making it feel as if you’re conquering invisible obstacles housed within the device itself.
The accuracy of the touchpad is also far increased, with it capable of following your finger movements with utmost precision while slipping and sliding across it. Finally, the DualSense microphone and audio capabilities pair perfectly with the increased vibration motors that are able to mimic the feeling of raindrops fallen upon your head, or ice beneath Astro Bot’s feet as he skates across it.
Moments such as this feel downright magical, imbuing a sense of immersion that’s unlike anything I’ve seen the medium achieve outside of virtual reality. The brief opening tutorial is nothing but a tantalising glimpse at what’s to come across Playroom’s four stages, each of which is designed to emphasise the feedback Sony’s new controller can bring to each experience. All are joyous, split into four distinct levels with each focusing on its own central mechanic.
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Cooling Springs begins on a sun-drenched beach, with robots playfully messing around by the shore dressed up as a number of iconic characters. You’ll even find Kratos grumpily glaring from the comfort of a longboat, with camera-wielding production staff indicating the presence of PlayStation mascots that I was desperate to hunt down across each stage.
After abandoning the beach and hopping over an indoor pool, I’m zipped into a robotic suit that’s capable of springing into the air with a determined press of the trigger. I must control my directional movements by tilting the controller, while the triggers blast me whenever I see fit. The pad reacts with accurate vibrations as I smash through glass and collect coins, timing my jumps perfectly to ensure I don’t miss a number of moving platforms.
Astro’s Playroom is lovingly simplistic in its platforming design, expressing the sense of childlike wonder that only Super Mario has achieved in recent years. It’s so much fun, and I can’t understate how each new stage had me smiling like a cheshire cat. Cooling Springs continues with a clumsy section involving ice-skating before revisiting the delightful springiness that defines it.
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It’s the conclusion of each stage that truly shines, especially for those who grew up alongside Sony’s assortment of machines.. Each stage is based on a specific console from the brand, whether it be the original PlayStation or the more recent PS4. The end of each stage rewards you with a special artefact in the form of the console itself, which is placed into an explorable hub world that houses every major product from the brand’s lifetime.
I’m talking the deepest of cuts, with the PSP Go, Multitap and PlayStation Move all represented with in-game models that are frighteningly accurate, down to the smallest of details. Better yet, all are interactable, moving in response to being smacked about to my curious amusement. Returning to the hub world to see my collection grow was a constant marvel, looking back on my own history as a player alongside that of PlayStation.
You can tell an admirable sense of love and passion went into ensuring that Astro’s Playroom covers all the bases from the company’s history, right down to the most obscure of references. I didn’t expect Vib-Ribbon to be referenced in one of the levels, but I was left awestruck when exactly that was recreated with the added charm of cutesy robots recreating such iconic moments. Each new discovery feels like a handsome reward, one which compliments a central world I spent hours exploring with a grin plastered across my face.
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Later stages continue to expand upon the capabilities of PS5’s DualSense and how its mixture of haptic feedback, realistic vibrations and adaptive triggers can make platforming feel more immersive than ever. One stage has you taking control of a monkey, where the swinging of vines is reflected in reality by twisting the controller around in your hands, letting go when the on-screen trajectory reflected my own hand movements. Another throws Astro Bot into a spaceship, where thrusts are controlled by each trigger, vibrations resonating outward as he blasts into the air.
This all concludes in an utterly transcendent final boss battle, which combines everything you’ve learned into a single confrontation. Unveiling exactly who you duke it out with would be a disservice on my part, since it’s a reference that both casual and hardcore PlayStation followers alike will appreciate. After this, it’s all over. With the exception of returning to previous levels to amass collectibles, Astro’s Playroom is a short yet satisfying adventure that every PS5 owner needs to take. Even without its fancy DualSense features, this is still one of the finest platformers I’ve played in recent months.
In the modern landscape it’s easy to believe we’ve seen everything the medium has to offer, but then something like Astro’s Playroom comes along and redefines all previous conventions. It’s pure platforming excellence and hopefully spells a bright future for one of Sony’s finest current mascots.
Playroom’s most valuable asset is arguably its dedication to PlayStation’s history. It approaches 25 years of consoles, games and accessories, from a perspective that shows nothing but love for those who created them and the players who have crafted everlasting memories from their own experiences.
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