Pack-in games for new consoles are nothing new to PlayStation, but they haven’t exactly been big hits. Recently, The Playroom on PlayStation 4 and Welcome Park on PlayStation Vita were more tech demos than games. In this case, Astro’s Playroom succeeds at being both, and to a high degree.
Astro’s Playroom comes pre-installed for free on the PlayStation 5, which launched on Nov. 12. It is a 3D platformer that by its own description “was created to show you some of the cool tricks possible with your DualSense wireless controller.” However, it’s so much more than a simple demo of the PS5’s controller. It’s also an incredibly fun platformer.
From the title screen, the PS5’s DualSense controller starts bouncing around and making noise in a way that the PlayStation 4’s DualShock 4 did not. This game utilizes four main tools that are either new or upgraded in the new controller.
One of those is adaptive triggers, which have received a fair amount of publicity. The DualSense’s triggers can have variable tension. They seem mostly like a gimmick, but they are impressive. In Astro’s Playroom, that is utilized to create a sense of resistance when pulling on something or feedback when pulling back on a bow or shooting a gun. The kickback of a rapid-fire gun is something that could add a new dimension of immersion to shooters.
The touch pad can vibrate in response to your touch. There is a motion sensor, which is nothing new, but when combined with the variable vibration can create the illusion of something tumbling from inside the controller. Finally, the microphone can tell when you breathe into it. Holding my controller up to my mouth and blowing into it to advance in Astro’s Playroom is one of the weirder things I’ve done in a video game.
Many of the implementations developer ASOBI Team come up with are clever. The game as a whole package really shines. The platforming is responsive, the levels are fun and beautiful and there are so many little details that put the game over the top. My favorite was that if you swing Astro around to face the screen, it will wave at you.
There are PlayStation references everywhere. Each of the game’s four areas matches with the one of the previous four PlayStation systems. Astro also has cute themed idle animations. If you don’t touch the controller for a few seconds, Astro will pop on a PlayStation VR or sit down to play a Vita. The other bots are also worth looking out for. They are often doing something adorable.
The game even has a good sense of humor about PlayStation history. One set of collectibles are artifacts, which are various controllers and peripherals in PlayStation’s history. A PS VR processor unit was one of the artifacts. It came with the caption “No one really knows what goes on in there…”
This game is so good that it’s looking like Sony may have a new mascot on its hands with Astro. The Astro franchise technically started with The Playroom in 2013 and continued with The Playroom VR three years later, but 2018’s Astro Bot Rescue Mission was the first full-featured game and was a well-regarded virtual reality title. This game puts Astro Bot in front of far more people (eventually, when PS5s are more readily available) and will make a good impression.
From a gameplay perspective, most of the mechanics are typical for a 3D platformer. Jump from place to place to get to the end of the level. There are different obstacles, some enemy bots, alternate paths, coins to grab and plenty of collectibles. However, the game gets weird when utilizing the controller’s unique abilities.
My favorite was when Astro was skating on ice. The controller vibrates softly to replicate the blade scraping against the ice. When Astro would take a stride to gain speed the vibration would differ from when Astro was gliding on the ice.
Another standout was a gymnastics style high bar section. When Astro grabbed the bar it really felt like it was bending with you based on the sound and vibration of the controller. There was a perfect amount of oscillating vibration to replicate bending elastic tension.
A few of the more unusual mechanics are a bit tedious to control, but that’s where the game’s short length works in its favor. The game is beatable in a couple hours, a couple more if you want to collect everything. If you don’t like a section, it will be done soon enough. If you like one, there’s a reason to go back and grab collectibles.
Astro’s Playroom is a stress free, fun time. It’s worthy of a new console generation. In the last eight months the world has been terrible for a lot of people and, at best, really annoying for almost everyone else. This game made me forget about all of that and I just enjoyed myself. I couldn’t stop smiling. It’s too short to call it a system seller, but it’s not a game people should gloss over because it’s a pack-in game.
Astro’s Playroom is available now as a free pre-installed game on PlayStation 5.
If you like the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, consider donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. If you want to contribute to our coverage of Chicago’s video game scene (and more) please consider becoming a patron. Your support enables us to continue to provide this type of content and more. Patreon.com/3CR
You can also catch us streaming games we’re reviewing and staff favorites at twitch.tv/bokor