Among a next-generation launch defined by subpar, cross-generational experiences, one title stands alone as not only the best of the bunch, but perhaps one of the best launch titles in generations — and it’s a free pack-in.
“Astro’s Playroom” is a spinoff title for the PlayStation 5 designed to showcase the new capabilities of the Dual Sense controller. Much like how “Astro Bot Rescue Mission” offered players a truly definitive PlayStation VR experience that showed what was possible with PSVR, this new launch title shows what is possible with Sony’s new controller. In that sense, it feels verys similar to Nintendo’s “Wii Sports,” which launched packed in with the “Wii,” and highlighted what the motion controls of that system were capable of. Let’s home developers are much more creative this time around.
“Astro’s Playroom” feels like an old-school collect-a-thon platformer, dating back to the days of “Super Mario 64” and “Banjo Kazooie,” with a decidedly PlayStation theme. Astro, the titular playable robot, traverses five fairly expansive worlds that are all themed around different aspects of the PS5 hardware. You’ll visit worlds dedicated to the new SSD and GPU — both with grating songs that repeat “SSD” and “GPU” ad nauseum until you become nauseous — and memory and cooling. Each world, which you can tackle in any order, has its own unique environments and Dual Sense mechanics to learn and master.
Developer SIE Japan really amplified the controller’s haptic feedback, adaptive triggers and motion sensing mechanics for this game. It really is a beautiful showcase of the controller’s capabilities, though it’s doubtful even Sony’s other first party studios will go as hardcore with the controller implementation as is the case for “Astro’s Playroom.”
For example, Memory Meadow sees Astro take control of a monkey robot to scale a large mountain. Players must twist the controller up and down to control the monkey’s arms and use the adaptive triggers in order to grab rocks and outcroppings to continue climbing. Press too hard on one of the triggers and you might break the rock.
Another level sees Astro guiding a spaceship by use of the adaptive controllers, which can become harder to press as acceleration increases. If the ship gets too out of control, the entire controller will begin shaking in your hands, until you back off the fuel.
Not all controller functions are gameplay related, though. One level involves Astro platforming through a rainstorm. As the little guy pops an umbrella to shield himself, you feel every raindrop hit with a slight vibration in the controller’s haptics. It doesn’t alter the game in any way, but adds a new layer of immersion that is unique to this system.
The game could have been released as a glorified tech demo, but SIE Japan really created a fun experience — one that also pays tribute to 25 years of PlayStation gaming. As Astro navigates the worlds, he discovers artifacts in hidden places that are essentially various PlayStation consoles and accessories from throughout the system’s history. You’ll see more common items, like each console and its controllers, as well as more obscure items, like the PSOne LCD screen or multi-taps for various systems. As each artifact is collected, it appears in the PlayStation Labo, a bedroom-style room where all of the systems and accessories are on display in digital form for up close looks and examinations. It all feels a bit cringey, but for fans who have played PlayStation systems since the beginning, it can offer a bit of nostalgia bait.
“Astro’s Playroom” is certainly the biggest surprise of this early console generation. The game can be completed in a couple of hours, and it can take up to seven or eight hours in order to find all of the artifacts and puzzle pieces to achieve every trophy. The fact that it is relatively short works in its favor, as the game never feels like it wears out its welcome. Just when you’re starting to get tired of a new gameplay mechanic introduced, or grow weary of another set of frog robot platforming, the game switches things up and introduces something new. Not only does it feel like a great marketing tool for the Dual Sense, but it feels like a genuine, fun platformer that’s just rare these days. Hopefully, Sony will see the wide praise it’s receiving and begin work on a more fully-realized “Astro” platformer. Until then, enjoy the best launch game across both systems — for free.
Josh Rouse lives in Lawton.