Developed by SIE Japan Studio (Asobi Team)
Published by Sony Interactive Entertainment
Released November 12, 2020
Available and reviewed on PS5
If you have your nice and shiny new PS5, you’ll likely be too preoccupied with other big releases, like Demon’s Souls and Miles Morales, to realise there’s a brilliant game already packed in with the console. That game is Astro’s Playroom. Developed by SIE Japan Studio’s Asobi Team, this 3-5 hour ‘tech-demo’ platformer, despite being likely overlooked by the average player, is a fun and unique experience that everyone who owns a PS5 needs to play.
The game’s premise is pretty basic, which is perfectly fine for an experience like this, it doesn’t need to be deep or complex. You play as Astro Bot, guiding him through various levels that are based off of the PS5 and its design. It’s not a very long game at all, and can be completed in one sitting if you want to. To beat all the levels, it’ll take you around 2-3 hours. However, if you want to 100% the game and collect the very easy platinum trophy, this will add on another couple of hours depending on your efficiency. For a free game/tech-demo this is a great length, although, I did wish it was longer, as I was having such a blast playing through all the creative levels.
There are various aspects to the mechanics that helps keep the gameplay fresh, even with the game’s short runtime. You’ll be fending off many different enemies throughout the game, making use of Astro’s various abilities and attacks to defeat them. There are the basic punches, as well as spin attacks and shooting a laser downwards when jumping/hovering. Pretty much every enemy has an attack it’s particularly susceptible to, which adds a slight bit of depth to the combat. However, some enemies require more specific ways to take them down. For example, one that has an electric plug for a head will smash into the ground, you then need to pull on the exposed wires on its head to them out. There are also a few instances where you will be able to use weapons like a bow and gun, adding more ways to play. The creative designs of the enemies and the methods needed to beat them, help makes the game stand out from similar games in the genre.
The biggest part of the gameplay is definitely the platforming itself. When playing in Astro’s basic form, the platforming is pretty basic in design. You’ll be running and jumping over obstacles and dangers, pulling wires to activate and unlock new paths, while fighting enemies in between. There is hardly any challenge in these moments, apart from the icy stages that makes movement more difficult. However, it’s the levels that have you change into new forms which really helps add new dynamics to the gameplay. Each branch of levels has two that will have you play in a new form, these are a monkey, ball, rocket and springy robot. They all bring unique mechanics to the experience, helping to constantly switch up the gameplay and keep it fresh. The ball levels require you to use the touch pad to manoeuvre through specially designed tracks, filled with perilous drops and other obstacles, requiring precision and patience. As the monkey, you’ll be climbing and swinging up cliffs using the Six Axis, gyro features. The other forms have other similarly unique mechanics to them. What’s more, is that these all make use of the DualSense’s new, more impressive features, to great effect.
The real star of the entire show is definitely the DualSense controller. Astro’s Playroom is designed to be a tech-demo for the controller itself, first and foremost. The haptic feedback and adaptive triggers are new features that are fully used throughout the game, and they are brilliantly shown off. The haptic feedback offers a level of versatility and precision in rumble/vibration technology, unlike anything seen before, even more so than the Nintendo Switch’s HD Rumble. Every action you take, whether that’s footsteps, swimming or hitting things, is felt in the controller. You’ll feel the light footsteps of Astro Bot walking over surfaces, even having distinguishing feedback depending on the type of surface, like metal or wood. Moving through water, grass, sand, clouds and even various strengths of wind, are all felt through the controller, it’s incredible. The developers have made so much use out of the feature, in countless different scenarios, while making everything feel unique and appropriate, it’s just so impressive. It truly does add a new level of immersion, that is both difficult to describe and cannot be fully understood or appreciated until you try it for yourself.
Another key feature is the adaptive triggers, which add yet another layer of immersion in certain moments. As the name suggests, they adapt to different scenarios of gameplay, offering tension and resistance to mimic the qualities of something in the game. Astro’s rocket suit for instance, makes the triggers resist and rumble, to emulate the feel of the propulsion of the rocket’s engines. Also, in the spring-like form, the triggers will similarly emulate the tension and resistance of springs when holding them down, this even carries over to when using the bow and arrow. Unlike the haptic feedback, the adaptive triggers are used less often, but offer intuitive moments of design, that help break up the gameplay to keep you guessing on what could be next.
The variety in the level design and themes is another strong point where, as mentioned earlier, they are inspired by the PS5 console itself. Each zone and their four levels are compact and straightforward in design. They are very linear with little room for exploration, although, there are various collectibles to find, with some requiring a bit of locating off the beaten path. In some ways they can be too straightforward, but they are well put together enough that it’s never a real issue, especially since this is more of a tech demo than a proper game. The smart use of PlayStation themed objects, like large versions of triggers as trampolines, really grounds the game in that sort of homage of the brand. GPU Jungle will have you traversing jungle themed levels, including the monkey suit stages, with names like Raytrace Ruins and Teraflop Treetops. Cooling Springs contains water and ice themed levels, while SSD Speedway will have you flying through places like Turbo Trail and Caching Caves. Memory Meadow has similar, smartly crafted and named stages. The games hub area of sorts, CPU Plaza, contains gateways to the other zones as well as the speed run section, allowing you to take on new stages as fast as possible. So much thought has gone into creating these areas that, it was great to just go at a slow pace and take in all the detail and Easter eggs scattered throughout. Speaking of which.
Astro’s Playroom is a game overflowing with nostalgia and respect for PlayStation, from the previous consoles, to the countless IP that have made them must-buy pieces of tech over the past 20+ years. Every single level is riddled with love for the brand and references to previous games. Finding robots cosplaying as Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn and the Hunter from Bloodborne, was charming and made me want to scour every stage fully, to make sure I didn’t miss a single easter egg. There are also artefacts for you to collect in each level, which turn out to be pieces of tech from every generation of consoles. All of these and more can be viewed in the PlayStation Labo area, allowing you to really take a walk down memory lane and see just how much has been produced over the years to make PlayStation what it is today.
It is also worth mentioning that this game also looks really good. Everything, from the lighting, texture quality and various effects, it all comes together into a very impressive looking game, despite going for a more unrealistic style of graphics. The water physics in particular look amazing. It may not be the most visually striking, or really stand out from other games, even those on last generation hardware, but it nails the style it goes for and still looks brilliant. It also runs at a native 4K at steady 60fps, which, combined with the colourful and adorable art style, does leave the game looking crisp and polished.
Astro’s Playroom came as a real surprise hit, that was an utter joy to experience from start to finish. While I do wish it could have been longer and featured a bit more challenge in its platforming, the fact that this is a free game, pre-installed on the PS5, I cannot really complain too much. Perhaps in the future we could see a proper, full-fledged game that builds upon this excellent framework. It really is just a true love letter to the PlayStation brand and its history, that will leave the nostalgic gamer a bit emotional by the end. The DualSense controller is a great piece of kit that was taken full advantage of here, and I hope that other first party developers take note, since no other game since has really utilised it in a way that makes it seem that worthwhile. If you own a PS5 and haven’t played this game yet, what are you doing?
Score = 9/10
Thanks for reading and let me know what you thought in the comments. Were you surprised by the game and what do think of the DualSense?
I hope you have a great day.