As we grabbed an Astro blue mocktail and ventured down into Sony's basement dwelling at Summer Game Fest Play Days, Astro Bot came into view, and we immediately knew we were in for a good time. Team Asobi's cutesy robot hero is finally getting the full-length, full-fat platforming game he deserves, and even just the artwork adorning the walls is enough to put a smile on the face of any jet-lagged journalist. Going into the game, we knew it'd be a delight, but even just a handful of levels is enough to know this is shaping up to be a standout game in PS5's library.

As soon as we picked up the DualSense controller and saw the demo's title screen, the playfulness of Astro games is there. We guide Astro's on-screen DualSpeeder with 1:1 motion, and the haptics are just as fantastic as in Astro's Playroom. However, creative director Nicolas Doucet tells us the team has taken things a step further in realising the potential of the DualSense's features.

"We spend a lot of time prototyping game mechanics in an isolated form, and then later we think about how we can stitch them together in a way that makes sense. We had three or four people break away from the team, and we nicknamed that team DualSense 2.0," he tells us.

"We did lots of demos [and] technical tests," he continues; one new feature born from this is the sponge power-up, as the team wanted to see if they could capture the sensation of squeezing out a sponge with the adaptive trigger. Perhaps even more intriguingly, Astro can now brush his hand against walls, and you'll feel that in the controller — but you might come across a secret passage simply thanks to a change in texture.

We didn't find any such secrets in the few levels we played, but they're so full of things to toy with we forgot all about it. The first stage takes us through grassy areas and pools of water, with lots of small asides you can explore as you progress. One such distraction is an area with some footballs and a goalie-style enemy between two trees, and you can "score a goal" by whacking the balls into the baddie. Another is a giant inflatable duck that's just fun to hop around on and see how it reacts. There are many fun touches like this that are there simply to bring you joy.

Preview: Astro Bot on PS5 Could Be the Best 3D Platformer This Side of Nintendo 1

As well as these fun little asides, which are intended to be simple playthings for younger players, Astro Bot is constantly introducing new gameplay ideas that may only last a minute or two in each level. For example, a new power-up turns Astro into a floating bubble, allowing you to reach new parts of the stage. Another, in a construction-themed level, puts a dog on his back that allows him to charge forward, which can be used for traversal and defeating enemies. Some frog boxing gloves gave Astro's punches much longer range, and we put them to good use in a boss fight against a big robo-octopus.

While you're hopping around each stage, you're on the lookout for Astro's scattered crew mates, strewn about in a very similar fashion to Astro Bot Rescue Mission. However, unlike the PSVR title, some of the bots are PlayStation cameos; we came across bots dressed like Ratchet, Rivet, PaRappa, UmJammer Lammy, Jak, and many more. Doucet tells us there are over 150 of these special bots to find, but he's very much aware of striking a balance between celebrating PlayStation's legacy and ensuring Astro has its own stamp.

"Astro needs to develop its own identity and its own world. And even though it's associated with the hardware, it's great. It's really welcome. But it shouldn't become a limitation." He tells us the team ensured they had enough fresh ideas and gameplay that it's its own game, but that it would be a shame after Astro's Playroom to not delve deeper into character references. "And I mean, really, just because it's fun. It's a nostalgic touch. And since we can do it, why not?"

While some cameo characters are collected as normal, others — PlayStation's biggest heroes, like Kratos and Atreus — appear to have a larger role. We won't spoil anything, but we bumped into the pair after defeating the demo's boss, and there's definitely more to their presence than a simple nod, which is very exciting.

Preview: Astro Bot on PS5 Could Be the Best 3D Platformer This Side of Nintendo 10

The regular levels are incredibly fun to go through, and there's plenty to discover off the beaten path, but other types of levels were introduced to us too. As we flew around the galaxy map, we found a Circle button planet that took us to a much more difficult challenge level — a short platforming gauntlet for more hardcore players to conquer. The platforming and controls feel identical to Playroom, which is to say they're super tight and very intuitive.

On top of that, it all looks stunning. Running in flawless 60 frames-per-second, the game's visuals are a step above Astro's Playroom while retaining its visual identity, and alongside a jolly soundtrack, the presentation here is on point.

We didn't want to stop playing. This has only further cemented in our minds that Astro Bot will be a real treasure of a PS5 exclusive when it launches in September; the invention and passion pours out of the screen, and if the few levels we've played are any indication, this could be on its way to becoming a standout 3D platformer of the modern era — and pure bliss for PlayStation die-hards.

Astro Bot is coming to PS5 on 6th September, 2024. Are you excited to jump on this adorable platformer? Hop into the comments section below.