Astro’s Playroom Review: A beautiful nod to PlayStation’s history that shows the DualSense’s innovative potential
Played On: PlayStation 5
Pack-in games, games that are bundled with new consoles or new accessories, were once something kind of special since the games were a pretty big deal. Just looking back through gaming history and seeing that the original Mario Tennis, Gex, and Duck Hunt were all pack-in games at one point is pretty mind-blowing given their legacies – also, because of what pack-in games are now. The modern pack-in game is more like a glorified tech-demo as games like Kinect Sports are meant to acclimate players with the new tech and advancements within the console. Honestly, they’re more like experiences than actual games, but that doesn’t negate their importance. Personally, Wii Sports is one of the most important games in history as it really brought families together to play games and showcased the Wii remote as one of the best controllers of all-time. It brought gaming out of its taboo nature and was pivotal in creating the thriving and robust gaming community we have today. Following in their footsteps, PlayStation now has a game-changing pack-in game of their own with a character fans met when the PS4 first released.
To show off some of the features within the PlayStation Camera and the DualShock 4, PlayStation introduced The Playroom, a game having players go through augmented experiences, back when the PS4 was released. Eventually, the characters in that game, called Bots, would get their own adventure as one of them, named Astro, went with players on a 3-D platforming adventures in Astro Bot Rescue Mission – which also served as sort of a glorified demo for PlayStation VR. Now, Astro is back for more adventures and to showcase the power of the DualSense with the PS5 pack-in game Astro’s Playroom.
The game is another 3-D platforming adventure where players take control of Astro and complete levels designed like the inside of the PS5. From exploring the depths of the GPU Jungle to the cooling waters of the Cooling Springs, there’s a clear mix of tech visuals and colorful platforming environments that looks incredible with the PS5’s graphical updates. The color palette each area boasts is especially pleasing to the eye as they’re bright, vivid, and incredibly distinct to each other. The area SSD Speedway was especially visually stunning as the fast-moving space highway and deep space adventure was a perfect blend of sci-fi and tech. The enemy designs are simple and nice looking and put forth a decent enough challenge to keep players entertained by the combat.
Overall, each area of Astro’s Playroom is split into two distinct types of experience. The first being a standard platforming adventure and the second being more of a demo experience of the DualSense’s capabilities. As a platformer, Astro’s Playroom is pretty basic in design. The enemy types are pretty standard, the basic gameplay mechanics are literally basic, and the level designs aren’t too ambitious. There’re some other weapons you get for certain sections, like a bow or a gatling gun, and a couple nice boss fights to freshen up the experience. If the game was just these basic platform sections, it would probably be easy to label Astro’s Playroom as a solid platforming demo. However, the second type of experience is where things get taken to a whole other level and raises the bar.
The second part to each area has Astro suit up in unique vehicle types that utilize the unique capabilities of the DualSense. Playing with the DualSense is really like being in a 4-D movie theater as it immerses players into the game like never before. Not only can players feel the rumbles of the environment as birds and cars fly by them and rain falls on them, but they can also blow into the controller’s microphone to turn fans on. The movement capabilities are heightened as well as sections where players are making refined jumps in a robotic frog suit and climbing walls as giant robot monkey by moving the DualSense in the direction they need to go. The movements are actually very accurate and easy to do and with the way you have to move your hands up to grab the next rock as the giant monkey lets players get a small workout in. The most impressive aspect of the DualSense, though, has to be the haptic feedback on the triggers. With the haptic feedback, players will feel even more immersed into the action as they actually feel their actions. As they kickstart the thrusters on their rocket ship and pull back on their bow, players can feel all of the tension and explosiveness of their actions in the triggers. It’s one of the best new features of the DualSense and the kind of thing that makes you really believe that this is the next generation of gaming. With these new control features Astro’s Playroom goes from being a simple platformer to a game that creates excitement for how future PlayStation games can take advantage of the DualSense’s incredible capabilities.
Now, Astro’s Playroom could’ve been great on its own with the platforming and tech demo experience that it creates, but it becomes even more special with how it pays respect to PlayStation fans. Astro’s Playroom is really an embodiment to PlayStation’s history as there are plenty of nods to characters and moments from PlayStation’s past that make any fan emotionally nostalgic. Just seeing little bots cosplay characters and moments from games like Heavy Rain, Uncharted, God of War, The Last of Us, Jak and Daxter, and plenty other games would’ve been cool enough, but it takes things much further. Through each section, which is also dedicated to each of the different console eras of PlayStation, players will find a few different kinds of collectibles that are tokens of PlayStation’s history.
The first kind of collectible is called artefacts that are different consoles and accessories that PlayStation has put out. As a fan, collecting and seeing all of these different PlayStation consoles and accessories together was just an emotional trip down memory lane. Seeing the original fat PS2 that I still own and works was an absolute treat, looking at memory cards that I used to own for PS1 and PS2 really made me think back to my younger days of gaming, laughing at weird accessories like the buzzer controller for the PS2 and PlayStation eye camera that I never got was great, and just seeing a lot of my life as a PlayStation fan in front of my eyes was such a fulfilling experience I didn’t know I needed. Add in the fact that players can interact with these items and hear the startup sounds and soundbites from different console generations and you really have an experience built for PlayStation fans to have a ball. Even just watching other bots play around with these tools, including move controllers and VR headsets, really warms your heart and makes you feel proud to be a PlayStation fan.
The second kind of collectible players will find scattered throughout levels is puzzle pieces that comes together to form something really special. Once players collect all of the pieces, a stunning mural form in the game’s main hub area that’s a timeline of PlayStation’s history of console releases. It’s incredibly colorful, full of rich visual history, and a strong showing of how PlayStation has come. I do wish that it contained more characters within it and that it had a fun little nod to the PSN outage that occurred during the PS3 era or the historic E3 press conference that sparked the PS4’s success, but it’s a truly beautiful nod to history anyway. The last thing players can collect is coins that can be spent at a gacha machine where they can get new artefacts, puzzle pieces, and statues of bots playing around with PlayStation tech.
Now, is Astro’s Playroom just a glorified tech demo? Absolutely, yet it’s genuinely surprising how impressive it is. It’s certainly not a system seller by any stretch of the imagination, but it is an impressive showcasing of why PlayStation is so special. It perfectly solidifies the DualSense of being one of the most innovative controllers in gaming history, contains solid platforming mechanics that are always fun to play around with, and pays respect to PlayStation history in ways that will make fans proud and wholeheartedly nostalgic.