Astro's Playroom Review

November 23, 2020
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It makes me sad to think about all the people who are inevitably going to dismiss Astro’s Playroom the first time they boot up the PlayStation 5, because they’ll likely never experience one of the best games this new console launch has to offer. Yes, Astro’s Playroom — the free game preloaded on your shiny new machine — is one of the standout games on the system right now. What’s more, its ingenuity and sheer sentimentality will likely make it a firm recommendation throughout the life cycle of Sony’s new console.

First and foremost an exhibition for the new PlayStation hardware and the haptic-filled DualSense controller, you’re likely to be instantly wowed as you can feel the little robot's feet touching the floor. Each step — left, right, left, right — resonating through each side of the controller and into your hands. Cool, right? And it doesn’t stop there. Every surface, be that metal, sand, rock, water, or anything else feels different. Every interaction with the world provides a variety of feedback through the controller. Combine this with the PlayStation’s 3D audio technology using headphones (or a compatible TV in the future) and the level of immersion is implausible before you actually play. Frankly, it feels like magic. 

Oh hi, Astro!

I don’t want to sound jaded — but here we go — I didn’t think that video games could surprise me anymore. Things can be visually stunning and gameplay choices can feel fresh and exciting, but nothing has made me feel like a kid, like the first time I played on a PlayStation, as walking around Astro’s Playroom and feeling this controller react to my every move. Of course, this was talked about going in but actually getting your hands on it is a whole different experience. 

Haptics aside, there’s also increased fidelity in the motion controls and the touchpad, as well as new adaptive triggers — they have haptics too! — which also feel like some kind of wizardry. When Astro jumped inside his spring-propelled Frog Suit in the Cooling Springs level and I felt the tension in the trigger I was similarly aghast — it felt just like pushing on a spring. Again, I feel like I’ve heard all the reports and read all the takes on this beforehand. Nothing quite prepared me for how this actually felt. Suddenly, I had visions of how future games could apply this tech and it was like the idea of ‘next-gen’ finally clicked in my head. My one hope is that this game and reactions like mine should prove to developers just how exciting this tech is to other developers.

Now if, like me, you’ve been a PlayStation fan since day one there are even more reasons to play this, because Astro’s Playroom also happens to be a charming and meticulously curated tour through the history of PlayStation. Whilst its levels are built to show off everything the PlayStation 5 has to offer, it provides a heartening reminder of everything — and I mean everything — that has led players to this point.

I’ll tread carefully so as to not spoil anything, but it may be that you spy a few of Astro’s friends ‘making’ a game synonymous with PlayStation, from modern classics right through to obscure PS3-era experiments. If not these then the collectable ‘Artefacts’ — various pieces of PlayStation history — are sure to bring memories flooding back. I grinned from ear to ear when I grabbed my first Artefact and an immaculately rendered DualShock 3 appeared on screen. This was quickly followed by a PlayStation Aim controller (the rifle attachment for PlayStation Move) in the next room. The game goes deep and the amount of work and research Team Asobi has put into all of this is what makes it so special.

Feeling each individual raindrop hit Astro’s umbrella through the DualSense is magical.

A closer look at every level and all of their nooks and crannies will reveal more of this joyous fan service. It never feels pandering or forced, it’s all sweet, always creative and unexpected. Seriously, think of a game synonymous with PlayStation or a piece of random PS-branded tech from the late 90s you thought long forgotten, and it’s probably here in some capacity. This level of detail is astounding, and even plays into the way levels are put together. Yes, you’ll see the familiar sacred symbols — cross, circle, triangle and square — everywhere. Look closer though and they're all sorts of additional details that blew my mind every time. Even the names of the trophies harken back to the lineage of PlayStation.

As cool as an assortment of PlayStation ephemera and a new tech showcase is, Astro’s Playroom also had to be a good game to pull all of this together. A brilliantly realised platformer in its own right, Team Asobi has followed up their excellent work in VR with Astro Bot: Rescue Mission — one of the best platformers released in years — with another incredibly fun, pick up and play, game. 

Short and sweet, I managed to play through the game in a single three-hour session fuelled by a desire to reminisce over long-forgotten games and hardware. Each of the levels takes on a new theme to flaunt the power of the PlayStation 5, and each has its own aesthetic. From the sandy beaches and frozen peaks of Cooling Springs to the tall grass and sheer climbs of the GPU Jungle, the levels themselves are well realised with plenty of opportunity to explore and, aside from a few diversions, are mostly linear. Each level also has a unique gameplay gimmick in certain sections — like the aforementioned spring-powered Frog Suit — to make further use of the controller.

Pull, pull, pull!

Sections like this were mostly fine and good advertisements for new features. However, almost all of them make use of the gyroscopes in the controller for some level of motion controlled action. These were undoubtedly the most frustrating parts of the game and certainly a weak link. One imperfection does little to tarnish what is otherwise a flawless experience though, and I’m excited to go back to grab every last Artefact, all the collectables and see every wink and nod this game has to offer. And yes, I will be playing this again.I need to play this again. That’s how much I love Astro’s Playroom.

For a PlayStation fan like me, it’s pure nostalgia presented in an outstanding little package. I had a smile on my face the entire time I was playing it. It’ll be my go-to for showing off this new console and I’ll be singing its praises long after this launch period has passed. It’s vibrant, clever, fun and trips down memory lane all in one, completely free, pre-installed package. Simply put, this should be the first PlayStation 5 game everybody should play.

Now, if you need me, I’ll be staring at all the variations of the PS3 I’ve collected so far.

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A love-letter to PlayStation and PlayStation fans, Astro’s Playroom also happens to be the killer app for showing off just how cool the DualSense controller is. Whatever you do, don’t forget about this one.
Ant Barlow

Started with the PlayStation, now I'm here... with a PlayStation. Once skipped school to play the Metal Gear Solid demo repeatedly. I love stories big and small. Trophy hunter. Recent VR convert. Probably a hipster.