There was a time when new consoles were released with a bundled game. A game that was so good, innovative and graphically superior that it would make the user understand the console’s new power and what it could accomplish in the future. I primarily think of Super Mario Bros. on the NES, Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis (after outcompeting Altered Beast) and of course Super Mario 64 on the Nintendo 64.
For a long time, such iconic games have shone with their absence, and far too often a new console’s best release game has been an updated version of an already previously released game. Until now, that is.
Astro’s Playroom is essentially a tech demo that showcases the power of the Playstation 5 in general and the power of the DualSense controller in particular. But to call it a tech demo would be undermining to what has been delivered by Team ASOBI! here. You play as one of those Astro bots that we learned to love in Astro Bot Rescue Mission for Playstation VR. This time around, you are inside the PS5, its white walls towering above our tiny, energetic hero and it is time to take a tour of the various bits that make your PS5 so impressive.
One of the first things you will notice is that your footsteps cause small vibrations as you walk, accompanied by sounds from the controller itself. Walking on different surfaces such as glass, wood or iron has different sounds, as well as different sensations to the vibrations. Floating objects have a slight bounce to them while moving through water has a drag effect as you fight the water’s resistance. Things ramp up if you are facing a strong wind that blows you around, or while walking on a rope. It all adds to that sensation that you are actually moving through different terrain types, rather than just holding down the left stick.
I actually have to draw a parallel here, to when Nintendo showed off the Nintendo Switch’s joycons and that they shook around ice “inside” the controls (do you remember?). Not once have I experienced that as a real feeling in my joycons. This time around it works. In the first few breaths of the game we get to see a sequence where the control is filled with small Astro bots. By wiggling and shaking the control, it really feels like the little robots fall around inside and I actually have to stop before I feel sorry for them, for real…
To be fair, Astro’s Playroom is a colourful platformer with a handful of tightly-designed levels, unlockables to earn coin for and plenty of distractions. Each world is also themed after a particular era of PlayStation’s past with a slew of collectible “artifacts” or pieces of PlayStation hardware you can amass into a collection back in the main lobby of the overworld.
Actual gameplay is simple and straightforward, but still tons of fun. Astro can run, jump, hover, and charge up a spin attack. Each level also features a suit of some sort he puts on to take the form of something else, such as a spring-loaded robot, a monkey that can extend its arms and climb mountains or even a large metallic ball, reminiscent of Super Monkey Ball. These segments are relatively short-lived but do a good job of shaking up the formula so the running and jumping doesn’t get too stale too quickly.
Collecting all the artifacts, puzzle pieces and trophies took me about 8 hours of total playing time, but I expect to return to the inside of my PS5 for many more hours. If nothing else to impress my tech-savvy friends.
As far as bundled software with hardware purchases go, Astro’s Playroom is a lot more than a just tech demo. It’s an extremely well-designed platformer and getting access to it for free feels like a steal. Sony could easily charge 300 SEK ($30) and most people would happily pay that without feeling ripped off at all. The way that the game makes use of your new DualSense controller is truly mind and hand-blowing stuff. Hats off!
Astros’s Playroom is available, as a free pre-installed game on the Playstation 5.