Quick confession: it feels kinda weird reviewing a PS5 launch game that’s effectively built into the console. That being said, if the title in question is incredibly well made and culturally relevant, well, why the hell not? Just as nobody in 1987 turned their nose up at the beloved Alex Kidd that came pre-installed in their Sega Master System II, PlayStation fans ought to give Astro’s Playroom nothing less than their full and undivided attention.
What’s presented here goes way beyond freebie quality.
Astro’s Playroom is Grade A, weaponised gaming nostalgia. A glance back into the bygone that even Nintendo – the greatest tapper of evergreen retro sap in our medium – would look at and go “uh, your love-letter is gushing and you need to dial it back.”
PlayStation is providing you with fan service central. In-joke junction. If, like me, you’ve tracked this brand’s rise from ‘grey rectangle’ to the ‘colossal black obelisk wearing a white jumpsuit with a popped collar’, man, you’re about to enter PSParadise.
Astro’s Playroom Review
Rejecting the lazy man approach that is “just provide a menu with some mini-games”, Team Asobo has gone all out in their mandate to demonstrate the PS5 DualSense controller’s capabilities. What’s presented is a roughly 4 hour, 3D platforming extravaganza that has all the polish, charm and addictiveness of a Mario adventure. The hooks that’ll dig into you quick include the usual coin kleptomania, the collection of PSartifacts and, of course, an unveiling showcase of DualSense function tricks that start out mind-blowing and one-up from there…
Trust me, from the moment you feel the “haptics expressions” on the title screen (when you ‘feel’ your titular Astro Bot scurry over the game logo,) you’ll be enchanted. Expect to waste time walking about the main overworld hub too, as your fingers and palms “taste the different floor textures in the room”. That right there is the power of the DualSense, the basic act of walking can put a goofy, child-like grin on your face. Even better, this moment of wow-factor discovery of a new sensation resides in every one of the four ‘PS5 hardware’ themed worlds. (Think: Cooling, Memory, GPU and SSD.)
Personally, I think the moments with the haptics are the most impressive. As you’re dashing, leaping and punching enemies in the face, Asobo layers in a range of new locomotive mechanics. Marvel as Astro Bot transitions from swimming (with an uncanny left leg/right leg kick through the DualSense) to duller plodding sensations as he plods along the sand. The footfalls feedback becomes distinctly crisper as you transition to wood or metal flooring, before the frozen stuff comes along and blows your mind completely. Astro auto enters an ice skating mode, filled with pirouettes and the incredibly sharp feel that comes through the left and right hemispheres of your DualSense as he grinds on each leg.
Much like VR, there’s a there-ness communicated here that my words can’t really do justice to.
As the game rolls on – sometimes literally when the touchpad must be used to pinball a (Super Monkey Ball style) Astro along – more controller revolutions are revealed. The new adaptive triggers get put through their paces whenever you zip Astro up into a power-up suit. The spring suit changes the perspective to 2D and asks you to ditch your sticks to instead aim yourself via motion-sensing twists of the controller. Propulsion is done by yanking in the L2 and R2 buttons that now have physical tension applied to them.
Once again, the clinking, sensation of coiling yourself up, followed by a chaotic launch-release is difficult to describe, but feels great. What’s less pleasing, these sections have hidden paths aplenty, but also less-than-optimal camera views, fall death sections and not the best checkpointing system in the world.
These minor (and literal) low points are made up for when you gain access to a mini-gun that rumbles like nuts as it spews coloured balls and a bow and arrow that feels absolutely magical to load, draw and fire. These weapon moments make you stop and dream about how the DualSense is going to be leveraged by other developers with their own respective in-game arsenals. For example, I’m keen to feel what a sniper rifle feels like when I squeeze off that all important headshot. I also simply cannot wait to see what Guerrilla Games does with Aloy’s archery moments.
Later on, in Astro’s Playroom, the monkey suit puts the triggers through their paces in terms of sensitivity. Once again, your sticks are ditched in favour of holding R2 or L2 to latch onto footholds while twisting the DualSense to heave yourself upward. Things get trickier when secret areas are sprinkled with pressure sensitive handholds that will shatter if your grip is too intense. Throw in monkey bars that require you to hoola hoop the DualSense about to chamber up leaps of faith, and this jungle section can get pretty tricky for younger gamers.
It’s the same kinda mild frustration when the game continues and asks you to expertly squeeze the triggers to produce jet propulsion for Astro’s mini spaceship. In space nobody will hear you scream as you electrocute or explode yourself on mines, again and again. It’s totally do-able, but definitely my least favourite part of this package.
What is very much my jam? Re-running the levels and scouring every nook and cranny to find 50 unlockable PSartifacts (and roughly just as many other unlockables that pertain to unlocking a big timeline mural of PlayStation). Many of these can be discovered simply by using the old gaming axiom that is “just go in the opposite direction being telegraphed by the level designers”. Many others have to be bought with the coins you obsessively snatch and/or belt out of enemies. And it’s worth noting that the beasties only come with a handful of kill strategies – so don’t expect to be too taxed there.
Unfortunately, I’m not allowed to go into great depth about the unlockables at this stage of review. But trust me – the range of consoles and peripherals here have a painstaking degree of detail, attention and love put into them. A bunch of the things you unlock come with interaction points which, when punched, provides some slapstick humour with any Astro Bots surrounding it in the Labo collection space.
This unabashed adoration for the PlayStation experience and quarter of a century’s worth of history continues in an unlockable final zone that will melt even the hardest of hearts. Not gonna spoil it here. I’m just going to highly recommend you soldier on and reach the post-game end credits.
Finally, anybody looking to milk some longevity out these proceedings should gravitate to the Network Speed Run area that unlocks challenges whenever you clock a level. It populates with 8 uniquely designed, roughly one-minute skill tests that are individually timed and are tied to a world rank leaderboard. Hell, you can taunt your mates and have a score war over the accumulated overall time of all 8 of these as well. I’m currently sitting in the top 10 players in the world! That ain’t gonna last….
In the end, what can I say? I certainly wouldn’t sell a kidney and testicle to buy the PS5 specifically just to play Astro’s Playroom, but you’d be insane not to give it a load on launch day. Being somebody who has played a wide range of third-party PS5 titles on the system, I can confidently say that no title yet showcases the frankly incredible feel and future potential of the DualSense controller better than this.
Furthermore, this is another impressive notch on ASOBI Team belt, a developer that I think has been fast-tracking to greatness ever since it delivered the BAFTA-winning, 90 on Metacritic scoring Astro Bot Rescue Mission. It treated the subject material with considerable care and reverence and has delivered something that’s sure to become a true piece of PlayStation history in its very own right.
Astro’s Playroom is a free title included with the PlayStation 5. As such, we have opted not to provide a score.
Astro’s Playroom was reviewed using a digital copy and a PS5 provided by PlayStation Australia.