REVIEW: Astro's Playroom - Generation Aspiration
Updated: Jan 29, 2022
Astro's Playroom had everything going for it. Free game, sequel to a critically acclaimed VR game, marketed as a showcase of the new hardware, and cute as all get out. And yet somehow, this little gem exceeded all expectations.
Just the Facts
Developer: Asobi Team
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PS5* *platform reviewed on
Release Date: Nov. 12, 2020
Astro's Playroom, developed by SIE Japan Studio's Asobi Team division and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment, is a free pack-in game with the PlayStation 5. Meant to showcase the best of the new console, it serves as both Sony's message of intent with the system and as follow-up to Astro Bot Rescue Mission, a release that anchored another of Sony's hardware launches with the PlayStation VR.
This time around, it's less rescue and more celebration. Astro and his buds are having the party of a lifetime right inside your brand new PS5. After a mind-altering intro that directly introduces you to the wacky and wild features of the Dualsense controller, Astro launches himself into a hub world, meant to be the center of the PS5 itself. With the curvy white walls of the console holding you in, you're introduced to each of the game's four main levels, each represented by a piece of the PS5 hardware. Cooling Springs (the system's cooling fans), GPU Jungle (the system's GPU), SSD Speedway (the heavily marketed SUPER FAST solid state drive), and Memory Meadow (the PS5's RAM).
Each level is broken up into four neat pieces that follow a similar pattern. Simple platforming section with an intro to the level's theme, followed by a unique section that has Astro jump into a fancy transformative suit to showcase an aspect of the new controller. Rinse and repeat.
The platforming is nothing to write home about, it's solid and fun, but it's the suit sections where the game (and the system) truly shines. Hop into a frog suit and feel the PS5's adaptive triggers tense and release the same way a spring would. Pilot a capsule-sized spaceship, where tense trigger pulls blast each of the ship's rockets and motion controls point the ship in the right direction. Neither of these sections overstay their welcome, making for a super enjoyable pace throughout the few hours it'll take you to get through the entire game.
Before we continue, we have to talk about immersion via controller, because Astro has poisoned me on the other launch titles on the PS5, making me feel the tiniest bit disappointed with their controller offerings.
As I said before, the intro to the game is MIND-ALTERING, and yes... HYPERBOLE, but it sets the scene for what's to come. The much talked about haptic feedback is lighter than you'd think but the precision rumble is incredibly nuanced, providing an extra layer of immersion. What was once a rough and consistent rumbling in your hands is instead tiny footsteps as a robo-pal wanders the landscape.
After you've played around with the pitter patter haptic feedback, the game tosses you challenges that feature the controller's even more exciting feature: its adaptive triggers. The Dualsense allows developers to actively change the level of resistance on the controller's triggers depending on the scenario. Bow and arrow? Pulling down on the trigger is just the teensiest bit harder all throughout the pull. Blasting off in a rocket? The trigger fights you through half of the pull before the rockets ignite, loosening when they do for the full pull through to the end.
Trust me when I say that the experience of being guided through the game's controller-specific features as my first hands-on gameplay moment with the PS5 is one of my best moments in gaming all year.
And yes that might just be the quarantine brain talking.
I find it unlikely that anyone would just zoom their way through this game's short playtime, ignoring the game's solid amount of extra offerings, as Astro's Playroom's incredible charm pulls you in and leaves you begging for more. Which is where I was left in the end, slightly disappointed in the game's length, hoping Team Japan will release the next Astro game sooner rather than later.
All throughout the game, Astro finds hidden artifacts and puzzle pieces. These both fulfill the desires of collect-a-thon platforming fans and serves the game's greater theme, which is a grand celebration of all things PlayStation. Each artifact you find in every level is one of the accessories of past systems, culminating in the system the level represents being unlocked as a collectible as well.
If you've followed PlayStation at all, you'll find a lot of familiar faces, but there are some deep cuts too. WHO KNEW THE PSP HAD A WEIRD SCREW-IN CAMERA, MIC, AND GPS SYSTEM? I didn't, and I thought I was pretty well-versed in unnecessary video game accessories. If you go after these things (and try out the special speedrun versions of each level), you can get upwards of six hours of playtime out of this special little game.
On top of that though, Astro can run into his robo-pals reenacting scenes from classic titles tied to the PlayStation brand. These charming diorama set-ups are fun to run into and aren't always obvious at first glance, making for a fun guessing game. Astro's Playroom even introduces new things that brilliantly makes the big box behemoth of a console charming on its own, for folks of all ages. I know I'm sounding a little bit like a Sony shill, but Team Japan really charms the pants off of ya.
A GPU chip sings to you from afar in one level, beckoning the player to recognize its efforts. RAM sticks are displayed as towering beacons of electricity on a rainy stage, with each module on them branded with the dev team's name. Each level also vaguely gives off a visual theme that matches each console's start-up screen, sealing the deal of this "incredibly effective piece of PlayStation propaganda."
Astro's Playroom doesn't only celebrate what's come to pass, but also shows us a glimpse of the FUTURE. Games that blow minds toward the middle or end of a generational cycle are often called "generation defining." Games like The Last of Us Part II or Gears 5 are seen as showpieces, with the developers operating at full power and 4 to 6 years of familiarity with the console's hardware. It's my proposal that a game like Astro's Playroom is one of "generation aspiration." Often launch games can be seen as gimmicky, forcing new features down player's throats at the mandate of their hardware overlords, but everything Astro's Playroom does feels natural. It perfectly showcases what the PS5 will be capable of, once developers learn how to let loose and get creative with the system's more unique features.
Starting with visuals alone, jumping all the way from experiences on my base PS4, the full 4K fidelity of these little robots and their technological world is inspiring. They don't sacrifice anything for the style, and you really get to see the detailed texture-work on display when you grab artifacts, digital representations of objects you likely have sitting in your own home. This isn't your traditional graphical showpiece in any way, but it's crisp, it runs well, and it's cute.
Take into consideration the amazing controller work I ranted about above, the load-speeds making for a fluid experience, and the coalescence of all of PlayStation's greatest hits over the last 25 years to kick off the new generation, and it's clear to see that Astro's Playroom is more than a passable way to pass the time while your "better" games download in the background.
video games are good. Astro's Playroom is... GREAT (8/10). + makes full use of system's new features, proving the potential of it all with charming flair - way shorter than you'd like with not much new in the core platforming systems
It's incredibly hard to sleep on this one, as it literally comes free with every PS5, but I can recommend this as the first thing you play on the console without any hesitation. Make the time for it to see where this generation's headed. You won't regret it.
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