Is there an argument that Asobi Team is the most inventive Sony studio right now? The small sector of Japan Studio is certainly getting the most out of the platform holder’s hardware, as Astro Bot Rescue Mission proved by completely reinvigorating the classic 3D platformer on PlayStation VR. With its latest project, free PlayStation 5 pack-in Astro’s Playroom, the group has single-handedly demonstrated the power of the new DualSense controller – but it’s also concocted a love letter to PlayStation that will live with fans long after launch.
Unlike past efforts like Welcome Park and The Playroom, this complimentary content is less tech demo and more full game. Spanning four worlds and 16 levels, with a few additional secrets along the way, you can consider this a micro-campaign that will take you anywhere from three to six hours to complete. There are over 100 collectibles to discover, many of which can be observed in an interactive hub, which serves as a virtual gallery for PlayStation’s past. This is an experience for everyone, but those who recognise franchises like Jumping Flash will truly get the most out of it.
Indeed, virtually every frame of this meticulously assembled platformer pays homage to Sony’s legacy. The references lurch from the obvious to the utterly obscure, like an interactive catapult that harkens back to mad PlayStation 3 bruise-‘em-up Pain to the fact that you can find a meticulously rendered rendition of the PS Move Shooting Attachment. It’s extraordinary just how much fanservice has been condensed into this package, and it serves as the perfect starting point for the PlayStation 5: a reminder of why you fell in love with the brand to begin with.
But love is a fleeting sensation, and this game’s main aim is to retain your affection. As a platformer, this is a tight effort, with sturdy controls and colourful level design, but its use of the DualSense is what elevates it beyond the sum of its parts. While the best titles rely on that intangible magic known as “game feel” to elevate them above their peers, this extraordinary effort quite literally feels different to anything that’s come before it. Using a combination of the PS5 pad’s haptic feedback, adaptive triggers, and motion controls, it offers an additional layer of physical immersion.
This is a game where you can actually feel the difference between a rain shower and a driving downpour or how the texture of sand differs to snow. A section where you assume the role of a bouncing spring allows you to judge the distribution of weight from one side of the controller to another, while firing a machine gun rattles the triggers to give you the sensation of real firepower. A climbing frame sequence requires you to softly caress the triggers; push past the point of resistance and you’ll crumble the grip points.
Every idea is given just enough time to be developed, before it’s ditched and exchanged for something else. There are secrets to discover away from the critical path, and these usually test the skills you’ve learned thus far; the game’s never particularly tough, opting for a relatively breezy challenge, but there’s enough here to tax your ability without ever forcing you into frustration. And a series of unlockable time trial-type levels add longevity once you’re done, with global leaderboards allowing you to test your skills against the wider gaming public.
It all looks and sounds exquisite, too – perhaps not the next-gen showcase that Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Demon’s Souls deliver, but crisp and colourful. Reflective surfaces utilise raytracing to add depth to certain objects and scenes, while great art direction gives some sequences more grandeur than you may be expecting – like when the giant from Astro Bot Rescue Mission pops up to help you on your merry way. It’s the tiny details that will delight, though – like when you unlock a PlayStation and realise that by double-jumping on its power button it’ll actually turn on and play that sound effect.
Astro’s Playroom is deserving of every single superlative you’re likely to hear associated with it. As a platformer, it’s a varied and entertaining experience that’s constantly introducing new and exciting ideas over the course of its campaign. And as a DualSense tech demo, it’s similarly effective at showcasing the power and potential of Sony’s new hardware. But perhaps above all, this is a love letter to the legacy of PlayStation, and it feels fitting that as we enter an exciting new chapter from an undeniably iconic gaming brand, we take a moment to remember the milestones that got us to this point.