A Nostalgic Blast From The Past
Astro Bot Rescue Mission remains one of the best VR experiences on Playstation 4. The simple but effective platforming worked perfectly with the controller and headset to create an incredibly immersive experience. It also brought with it another unlikely Sony mascot in the form of a lovable bot named Astro.
Back for a distinctly less VR-ey experience, SIE Japan Studio return with a 2-5 hour platforming title in Astro’s Playroom. This studio have always had a knack for innovating while showcasing the best Sony’s technology has to offer, and here they’re fully in the driving seat for this charming freebie with the Playstation 5.
In a way, this plays out much more like a tech demo than an actual fully fledged game despite some familiar moves returning for this follow-up. You’ve got your jumping and gliding of course, along with the same boxes and assets used within Rescue Mission. This time though, Playroom uses the new features on the PS5 DualSense controller to advance and enhance what’s come before.
What could very easy be an over-the-top advertisement for Playstation soon dissipates into a 26 year celebration looking back at what’s come before in Sony’s consoling history. At the same time, it also brings with it a distinctly uplifting and hopeful glimpse toward the future of this new generation of gaming to come.
With a run-time of around 3-5 hours tops, Astro’s Playroom is a very simple but highly enjoyable platformer. This platforming is broken up into four distinctly different areas – tellingly branded with the four colours of the Dualshock buttons; red, blue, green and pink.
Each of these areas are then broken up into four sub-sections that combine simple platforming (usually during the first and third parts) with a world-specific activity that use the controller’s extra features.
In one world you’ll use the touch pad to flick along a rolling ball while avoiding obstacles and collecting coins. Another time, you’ll be using the trigger-sensitive L2 and R2 to control the jump height of a frog suit or claw up the side of a mountain as a monkey.
Each of these make sense within the context of the game, which very much feel like a glorified tech demo during these sections to show what the controller could be used for in the future.
Given how innovative these different parts are, especially with the sensitive and immersive vibration to accompany it, this poses a promising prospect for the future. Then again, given last generation’s quickly dismissed use of the touch pad, it remains to be seen whether developers use this function more or not.
There’s not really much of a story holding everything together here either, again feeding back into that earlier idea of this being a glorified tech demo. Speaking of demos, there’s a lovely inclusion toward the end of the game, after completing all four main worlds, with a special boss fight that’s a huge blast from the past.
For now though I’ll keep quiet over what this is for spoiler purposes. Suffice to say, it serves as a great way to quickly see how far animation and graphics have come during the early PS1 days.
Aesthetically, Astro’s Playroom looks fantastic and the vibrancy of the colours really leap off the screen in every area. There’s a distinct Playstation flavour to all of this though, trickling down to the triangle-bloomed flowers and trigger-button jump pads.
The draw distance is impressive too, allowing you to see pretty far in the distance where enemies march in simple patterns and platforms tower on over you. There’s also a few instances of weather being shown here, giving a slightly different flavour of graphical flair.
Through all of this, there’s tellingly never any instance of framerate drops either. This is clearly showcased during one level that spawns tons of enemies while you’re armed with a machine gun. This deliberate sense of level design to showcase these different ideas continues right the way through the game.
Alongside these four worlds are a litany of puzzle pieces and artifacts to collect. Given the aforementioned desire to brand this as a purely PlayStation-centric experience, everything unlocked here works as a throwback to all the PlayStation goodies and accessories Sony have released over the years.
From Buzz controllers and SingStar microphones to slim-line Playstation 2 consoles, these nostalgic blasts from the past work to reminisce over how far gaming has come in such a short space of time.
These collectables can even be interacted with after the levels too, in a special “Labo” area that acts as a play-room of sorts. There’s even a gatcha machine at the back of this large open space too, used to exchange your hard-earned coins for prizes.
These prizes come in three varieties – four if you count the useless soda cans that pop up from time to time. Artifacts are found in golden spheres, special Astro statues in white and clear spheres for puzzle pieces. While most of these can be unlocked over time, there’s a slight amount of grinding if you’re looking to hit the platinum trophy at the end of this.
Because of this innate desire to show off all the quirky gimmicks and innovative design features of the DualSense, Astro’s Playroom never quite feels like a complete platformer. Don’t get me wrong, given this is free on Playstation 5 it’s hard to grumble, but the lack of a story and serviceable but forgettable levels do little to keep this one stickling in your mind after you’re done playing.
In a year that’s already brought us some stunning platforming titles, Astro’s Playroom feels like another well-oiled cog in a larger, towering machine.
The nostalgia is enough to carry this one though and as someone who’s grown up with gaming since the early Amiga days right the way through to Sony’s 5 different Playstation consoles, Astro’s Playroom is an incredibly fun, beautiful trip down memory lane.
While those memories are likely to remain short-term rather than long-term, this heady 2-5 hour trip is the perfect tribute to usher in this new era of gaming upon us.
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