Astro Bot Rescue Mission is the closest thing you’ll get to a Nintendo platformer on a PlayStation platform. Japan Studio hinted at something special in The Playroom VR’s acclaimed Robot Rescue tech demo, but this fully-fledged campaign is destined to be one of the sleeper hits of 2018. Designed specifically for PlayStation VR, this adventure is not only imaginative but it’s innovative to boot, delivering an intergalactic adventure that’s a pleasure to play from start-to-finish.
Let’s address the big robotic elephant in the room first, though: why does this game require Sony’s virtual reality headset? Imagine playing a platformer on your standard television display: the boundaries of the world are determined by the size of your screen, almost like you’re looking through a window into a fantasy scene. But with PSVR, the developer’s able to build the title’s 20 stages around your body, meaning that the level is constructed above and below you, as well as from side-to-side
With the addition of full stereoscopic 3D, you’re left with a selection of deeply immersive environments, which engulf you and react to where you’re positioned and what you’re looking at. The title isn’t afraid to break the fourth wall, and so the eponymous android will look to you for guidance as you move him around the world, while your headset will crack if you take damage to the face. It all helps to sell the illusion that you’re part of the scene, even if the gameplay itself is largely third-person.
We say largely third-person because, similarly to Moss, motion controls are incorporated as well. Throughout the campaign you’ll unlock tools which are attached to the DualShock 4 controller, and these are then used to progress. A hookshot, for example, must be aimed at damaged walls in order to pull them down – or it can be employed to create makeshift tightropes for the hero. We won’t give too much away, but every gadget is intelligently implemented, augmenting new gameplay gimmicks.
Your main objective in each of the stages is to rescue eight missing robots, with these either hidden in plain sight or the reward for completing a challenging platforming sequence. The game rarely runs out of ideas, introducing unique mechanics before throwing them out and replacing them with something else. One level, for example, equips Astro Bot with a swimming ring and tasks you with navigating a rising tide in order to overcome enemies and dangerous obstacles on the sea bed.
The art design is outstanding, with the animation a particular highlight. One particular beach-based bot plays keepie-uppie with a football before volleying it in your general direction; you can of course bat it back to take him out. Another enemy type transforms into a hammer, and will attempt to flatten you if you don’t get out of its way. The game’s never particularly difficult, but there’s just enough challenge to keep you on the edge of your seat – it’s expertly tuned.
The boss fights are perhaps the biggest highlight when it comes to sheer scale and spectacle, with PlayStation VR allowing the eclectic collection of critters to tower over you. These are all pattern-based battles, where you’ll need to yank at the teeth of a gorilla or punch the pilot goggles of a giant bird. Again, it’s the animation that really brings these gigantic characters to life, with them reacting to each and every attack.
While the campaign isn’t enormously challenging, it’ll run you a good four or five hours before you see the credits roll. Crucially, you’re unlikely to find all of the missing robots on your first attempt, so there’s plenty of replay value if you want to 100 per cent the game. Elsewhere, hidden chameleon collectibles unlock challenge levels, which repurpose environments and mechanics from the main game but up the difficulty a notch – there’s easily 15 hours of high-quality gameplay on offer here.
And just as an aside, you’ll be collecting coins while you progress through the adventure, which can then be spent on a UFO Catcher machine, unlocking little “toy-based” assets that you’ll have encountered while progressing through the game. It never takes itself too seriously, but everything about it is tactile and well designed; even the nature of the experience means that you’re unlikely to encounter motion sickness, making it a very comfortable game to play.
Astro Bot Rescue Mission is an imaginative and innovative platformer which plays to the strengths of PlayStation VR and delivers an immersive experience that isn’t easy to forget. Stunning presentation elevated by insanely good animation ensure that you always feel present in the release’s virtual world, while tight controls and genuinely clever level design will keep you engaged. This is the kind of game that will leave you beaming long after you’ve taken the headset off – and we can’t give it higher praise than that.