An illustrious station for nostalgic play…
As a pre-installed bundle of goodness for every PlayStation 5 console, Astro’s Playroom is a remarkably creative and inventive platformer that reinforces and capitalizes off of the surprisingly nostalgic history of the PlayStation ecosystem. From some of the most ingenious and exquisitely charming Easter Eggs in the gaming medium to a surprisingly robust amount of content and gameplay variety for what is essentially a tech demo, this bite-sized construct of joy is an absolute delight that never failed to surprise me or put a smile on my face. Astro’s Playroom is a conspicuous technical showcase for the DualSense controller, fully embracing its idiosyncratic hardware and utilizing its innovative functionality in such creatively engaging ways which break down any obligatory semblance of deliberation and obtrusion. Despite its understandably short length, there are still a bevy of tantalizing artifacts and secrets to uncover and amazing challenges waiting to be explored. With its remarkably crafted level design and refined showcase in gameplay variety, it is astonishing that this pristine gem of an experience is completely free of charge. While a fully fledged sequel, in the same caliber as Rescue Mission would have been preferred, Astro’s Playroom is still exceptionally delightful and radiantly captures the whimsical magic and illustrious history of the PlayStation ecosystem.
Given its diminutive stature, Astro’s Playroom is a whimsically joyous experience that never misses a beat, with each creative Easter Egg and delectable secret being intricately placed in a manner of profound deliberation and purpose. Adding to the established layer of charm, Astro’s Playroom takes place inside of the PlayStation 5. Within the architecture of the next-gen system, you can explore each personified facet of its hardware. The CPU plaza acts as the centralized hub of this illustrious tech demo. The GPU Jungle, SSD Speedway, Cooling Springs, and Memory Meadow act as the four main levels – all of which are ripe with exquisite charm, engaging level design, and exceptional gameplay variety, rivaling the ingenuity of Nintendo’s finest. From the ray-traced reflections of heavy rain during an immense thunderstorm to the enhanced lighting of the cyberpunk-like speedway, these explorative worlds boast an engaging dynamic of aesthetic variety and an impressive display of graphical fidelity. Some levels also implement original electronica music that incorporates their titular hardware component into the lyrical composition, resulting in some extremely infectious tunes. Engaging speed run challenges are also unlocked upon completing each respective level. Each deliberately constructed “world” is chockful of exquisitely charming references and wonderful Easter Eggs that inevitably tug on nostalgic chords. A multitude of bots are adorably dressed up as iconic characters within PlayStation’s history, while also re-enacting certain scenes or character mannerisms. From iconic, Sony owned characters such as Ratchet or Kratos to third party wonders such as Dante or Chris Redfield, these absurdly charming references are unbelievably wholesome, delightfully surprising, and are handled with a conspicuous amount of love and care. These creative little interactions are a delightful treat that exude a euphoric aura of whimsical wonder and blissful satisfaction. Further accentuating its detailed dedication and adoration of PlayStation history, Team Asobi’s implementation in collectible design is an impeccable ode to the hardware’s legacy. Discovering hidden artifacts throughout the four remarkably designed levels is an engaging endeavour in its own right, however the artifacts you collect are in fact the diverse set of PlayStation hardware released throughout its history. From memory cards, multitaps, idiosyncratic peripherals, controllers, and an assortment of other accessories, these nostalgic collectibles strike resonating chords of adoration, an affinity to a brand that I never realized was so rich and personal. Aside from the glorious hardware artifacts, there are 12 puzzle pieces in each level to collect – all of which creates a remarkable mural displayed in another hub area, illustrating the iconic timeline and history of PlayStation. Additional hardware artifacts and puzzle pieces can be attained from an extremely satisfying gacha mini-game.
As a glorified technical showcase of the PS5 and the innovative DualSense controller, Astro’s Playroom fully embraces and capitalizes off of their technical enhancements that demonstrate the next-gen fidelity of the hardware. From lightening fast load times to 60fps performance at a 4K resolution with ray-tracing, it truly captures the essence and gratification of the next-generation. Of the current offering of PlayStation 5 titles at launch, Astro’s Playroom demonstrates the most ingenious use of the DualSense controller. Its utilization of the haptic feedback is astonishing, with the vibrating sensations replicating the feel of different surfaces. As opposed to one centralized motor of vibration experienced with the DualShock 4, the DualSense has individual vibrating sensations throughout the controller, allowing for a multitude of different immersive feelings. The sensation of walking on a pane of glass or a sheet of metal feels significantly different than the emanated feedback of walking atop of sand or fields of grass. A simple downpour will have the controller mimicking the individual raindrops colliding into surfaces, adding a layer of texture to an unparalleled sense of immersion. The DualSense’s adaptive triggers are also fully utilized in Astro’s Playroom, implementing different degrees of tension and feedback to mimic each respective sensation. From the reverberating throttle of a thrusting engine to the required delicacy of a trigger pull to grip fragile handholds, the innovative triggers create considerable room for immersive interaction and dynamic control. Motion controls, integrated microphone, and touchpad utilization is notably competent but pale in comparison to the other juggernauts of innovation. Each phenomenally crafted level introduces a power up suit that allows Astro Bot to become a different an entity that is controlled completely differently, utilizing a specific function of the DualSense controller. From the ball suit that is controlled entirely through swipes on the touchpad to the frog suit that requires the player to tilt the controller and compress its spring using the adaptive trigger – which provides the same compressed tension as the spring – causing it to propel itself forward, it is a remarkable demonstration of gameplay variety that also compliments the DualSense’s unique functionality. Levels and their respective sub-sections can easily be accessed through the options menu, allowing for convenient and seamless transitions between levels as they load within seconds. This level select menu can be accessed at any point during the game, which proves extremely useful given its collect-a-thon DNA.
Astro’s Playroom is unbelievably charming and positively delightful, showcasing the innovative achievement of a new generation while also acting as one of the greatest nostalgia trips ever created. With its implementation and use of the novel DualSense is ineffably satisfying, its impeccable performance and technical prowess truly capture the essence of next-gen, and its surprising amount of robust content and gameplay variety, Astro’s Playroom is the greatest tech demo of all-time and is able to stand tall amongst the platoforming genre. A proper, fully fledged sequel to Rescue Mission would have been preferred and Astro’s Playroom is unsurprisingly short – it took me only 4 hours to platinum the game – but considering the fact that this impeccably crafted experience is completely free and oozing with an unprecedented level of style and charm, it is difficult to retain any semblance of disappointment. Sony should seriously consider making Astro Bot the new mascot for PlayStation as Astro Bot: Rescue Mission and Astro’s Playroom are nothing short of excellent, and I cannot wait to see what whimsical experience Team Asobi crafts next.