ASTRO'S PLAYROOM Review (PS5)
Developed: Team ASOBI!
Published: SIE Japan
Release Date: Nov 12th, 2020
It's crazy to believe that the Playstation 5 is finally here and in not only my hands, but in the hands of millions of people world wide. Honestly it feels like months ago where I anxiously and nervously broke five keyboards slamming my poor fingers down on all these retailers preorder buttons. But were those broken keyboards worth it? was it worth blood blistering up my poor itty bitty fingers? In my case, It damn sure was, and it might not be for the reason you might think. The Playstation 5 launched with many great titles such as Godfall, Spider-Man, Bugsnax, Demon's Souls, but only one title to me truly sums up what the Playstation 5 has to offer and exemplifies just what it means to be an actual Playstation fan in general. And yes, you guessed it, you cheated, you looked at the title, this game is of course, Astro's Playroom.
Astro's Playroom is a semi sequel to one of my favorite platformers of the entire last generation, Astro Bot: Rescue Mission on Playstation V.R. But this time instead of stepping back into the world of virtual reality, Astro's Playroom instead takes us on a journey through the entire history of the Playstation brand, while showing us just exactly what the Playstation 5 and it's Dual-sense can achieve. Now notice I said semi sequel and not full blown sequel, because while yes this game can be seen as a sequel, it should be better described as a very extensive tech demo for the Playstation 5. Much like Wii Sports did for Nintendo Wii to show off the new motion controls of the Wii remote, Astro's Playroom does the exact same for the Playstation 5 with Dual-sense's haptic feedback. Now I can sit here and ramble on about haptic all day, but let's get into the true meat and potatoes of this game slash tech demo, shall we?
Once you boot up the game you're thrown into your main hub area known as C.P.U. Plaza. This is the main hub you'll spend most of your time in while trying to figure out just what objective you want to take on next. In this area you'll see four main mini hubs to interact with, these hubs being Cooling Springs, S.S.D. Speedway, Memory Meadow, and G.P.U. Jungle. Each of these areas coincides with a specific time in Playstations history ranging from Plastation 1, Playstation 2, Playstation 3 and Playstation 4 and every area offering a different game play experience that utilizes one or two new features of the dual-sense controller, as well as offering a huge bout of nostalgia for long time fans of the Playstation brand. So where exactly do you start? well that's up to you to decide that as there isn't a specific order that you have to complete each stage in. But let's just start with a brief history of Astro Bot on Playstation V.R. to see how we got here before we dive fully in.
Last time we saw little Astro Bot was in 2018's break out hit, Astro Bot: Rescue Mission. At the time of it's release Sony's Playstation V.R. was still trying to find its footing and its place in the market and while I had one at the time, I rarely played it because there weren't any games that truly kept my interest or got me excited at the prospect of V.R., but that changed with the release of Astro Bot Rescue Mission. If you've seen my latest review video of the Super Mario 35th Anniversary, then you would know I'm a huge fan of the platforming genre and the cartoony and whimsical nature that a character like Mario brings to the table, and this is something I've always wanted Sony to attempt to do. With Sony mostly being focused on mature gaming over silly and whacky characters, Astro Bot was a breath of fresh air to not only the Playstation brand, but to myself as a long time fan of the platforming genre because it showed Sony has what it takes to truly make something in this genre that I could actually consider as a ''rival'' to Mario. Astro Bot to me pulled a Mario 64 in regards to changing the definition of the genre, at least in the V.R. sense, with its use of head butting with the head set, blowing on the controller, and motion of the headset. It was and still is my fav platformer of last generation. So now how does Astro's Playroom fare? and does it keep the same aspects that made Astro Bot on Playstation V.R. such a great game? The answer to that is both a yes and a no.
The reason why I give a no here is because Astro's Playroom does not utilize the uniqueness of the Playstation V.R. headset that made Rescue Mission such a different experience, but honestly, it didn't need to, because it does something even better now with the Dual-sense haptic feedback. With haptic feedback, each movement, sound or touch from a character or environment is felt throughout the entire controller in your hands. For instance, yanking a lever in the game's crane game, you actually FEEL the force of your pull, like you legit have to squeeze down the L2 trigger with some force and you feel that force all the way the through your pull. Then when venturing through a rainy and stormy area of the game, not only can you hear each individual rain drop on your controller, you feel each drop hitting specific sections of the dual-sense controller. Its extremely hard to explain and has to be felt, much like the 3.D. gimmick of the 3.D.S., seeing is believing. These aren't the only aspects utilized of the Dual-sense, not by a long shot, we'll get into a few more of those as we dig in further.
As you venture through one of the four main hubs of the game, you'll be tasked with exploring each level to uncover just all the secrets and goodies it has to offer you, and these come in the form of collectible puzzle pieces and artifacts to find that are hidden throughout each stage. Each level in the game has 4 mini sections you have to play through in order to get to the end goal and they house 2 artifacts and 4 puzzle pieces for you to unlock and find. Some of these are very easy to find and are right out in the open, while others may take a little bit more brainstorming to find by doing your do diligence to seek them all out. But whats the point of even collecting these puzzle pieces and artifacts, what exactly are they? Well glad you asked that because the puzzle pieces and artifacts are what give this game its huge nostalgia boost and a magical trip down memory lane for all of us who love the Playstation brand. In order to give you an idea of what I'm talking about, let's take a trip to the Playstation LABO area of the game, which houses all our collectibles.
Here are at the hub area of Playstation LABO, as you can see I've collected all of the artifacts and puzzle pieces there are in the game and each section of the game giving you artifacts that relate to the vast history of the Playstation brand. Immediately in the front we have Playstation 1 and all its accessories and controllers and next to it the Playstation V.R. headset, that you can punch and interact with, which is actually pretty dang cool. Most of the collectibles you see in this area can all be interacted with in some way shape or form, whether its opening the disc drive, turning on the consoles themselves or turning on the lights of the Playstation move guns. All artifacts as you can clearly see in this area are rendered in 3D and some of these items I had completely forgot even existed. I'm sure you're wondering, what is your reward for collecting all these puzzle pieces? well the answer to that is a massive wall mural that is a beautiful art piece spanning the entire playstation history from 1994, all the way to 2016. I wish my house was big enough because I would SO stick this bad boy along my wall. It's absolutely amazing.
Now that you've seen just some of the stuff you have to collect, let's hop into a level and actually see how the game plays itself shall we?. Astro's Playroom is very basic in the game play department with square being your melee attack, jumping with x and holding it down allows you to hover for a short period of time, with your little leg lasers also acting as its own secondary attack as well. Majority of your time spent in the game will require you to hop your little way across platforms, ledges, climb up mountains and figure out puzzles in order to find out where to go next. If there's one thing that this game does not lack, its variety. Each individual level feels self contained and different from each other with each level offering its own unique experience and this is in part thanks to the Dual-sense and its use with the games power ups. As you venture through each stage, you will come across unlockable suits that will completely change how a specific level is played. For instance, you may run up to a suit and with a flick of the touchpad and zip yourself up ready for action and become an actual robotic monkey!
Once equipped as the monkey, you must press L.2. and R.2. to begin ascending up a cliff and grabbing onto platforms, however its not as easy as it looks. Say you're grabbing a block with your right hand, which is R2, you must tilt your dual-sense controller up and left while using L.2. to raise your left arm and grab it, like you're actually climbing the mountain for real. Vice versa it works the other way around as well to grab with your other hand. Grabbing ledges and bars as the monkey is also a pretty fun feature. Upon grabbing a bar and holding on with L.2. and R.2., you can use the motion control of the dual-sense and swing your controller towards you, which makes your character swing and swing until you let go of your shoulder buttons and then you send mr monkey flying high in the sky to grab onto either another ledge or platform. It's very basic, but it just feels really fun to do and completely changes the dynamic of the level you're playing. But it's not the only power up that will completely change your experience, there are quite a few others.
Other power ups you'll come across are a robotic frog suit, a rocket ship and a rolling ball. To me these power ups can be a hit or a miss, with the rocket ship being my favorite of these three. With the rocket ship you maneuver your way through obstacles and caves, dodging electric enemies or hazards by using L.2. and R.2. to propel yourself through each area, whereas the frog suit allows you to aim with the controllers motion and make big or small jumps by holding down L.2. or R.2. The frog suit feels very weird at first and very unnatural due to getting used to haptic feedback, but once you get the hang of it, it feels really good and works really well. But the power up I dislike the most has to be the ball power up. This ball is something you find in nearly every other gimmick game dating back to the birth of motion controls and their inception into the market. By using the controllers touch pad you must navigate your ball across ice or other narrow areas, but it just feels really unresponsive at times like the touch pad is either too sensitive or not sensitive enough. Granted I know I'm garbage at using it, but still it just doesn't feel as fluid and intuitive as the other power ups and it's really the only major downside I found in regards to these power ups.
If you haven't already noticed after looking at any of the images you've seen, this game is absolutely gorgeous and oozes charm and creativity. At times I found myself just finding the highest section of the map I could find and just taking in the view at my surroundings and see what little details I could find. Some details as small as finding characters painting Playstation symbols onto a wall with a magic brush, references to Ocean's Descent from Playstation V.R. worlds and even Clouds buster Sword waiting out in the open just like the opening menu to FF7 on Playstation 1. Really nice touch
Astro's Playroom is a complete love letter to anything and everything playstation, whether you grew up with it since the 90s or you are just learning about it right here and right now, it has so many call backs and throw backs to the entire history of the Playstation and it really takes you back and hits your head with the nostalgia. Every nick and cranny and every little section of the game houses a Playstation reference to an old console, controller, add on or even a character or franchise that was either introduced first on a Playstation console or has been a main staple of the brand itself. As you explore and venture around to find all the easter eggs hidden through each level, you will find characters such as Solid Snake from Metal Gear, hiding in his little box, Resident Evil, Kratos and BOY, Crash Bandicoot, and even Super Rub A Dub!. Yes that cute little guy makes his return and it is a glorious thing to see. Sony, come on, where's our Super Rub A Dub remaster for PS5?
Besides the references I showed above, there are many many more easter eggs to be found and new sights to see and some of the sights are completely breathtaking due to the art design and animation, I mean look at that? it's beautiful. Whether its pushing your way through the windy sandstorm, feeling the controller vibrate with each speck of dirt hitting you, skating across an ice ring, swimming in the clear blue beach water or hanging out with your good pal Parappa The Rapper as you relax from all the collectible gathering. It kinda makes you want to sing along with him, but for the sake of your sanity and this written review, I will refrain at this time. However, take a peek at the video reveal, maybe, just maybe, there is some fun to be had there.
After you're done exploring and finding out all the amazing secrets the game has hiding for you such as easter egg characters, puzzle pieces and artifacts, you can just take on the Network Speed Run section of the game. This special hub houses 8 different levels that you have to speed run your way through to either get your best time or beat your friends time. Now if you're like me and want to 100% the game and platinum trophy, like I did, then you will have to complete all 8 levels with a total timestamp of under or right at 7 minutes, this is the very last trophy of the game and some of the stages can get pretty nerve racking when you're trying to move your little robo booty as fast as it can go. But the adrenaline rush is more than worth it because when you actually do cross the finish line and get the time you needed, you feel absolutely amazing. I hate the rolling ball level though, curse you, I'll have nightmares about that for as long as I live.
Astro's Playroom, if you just do the main four hubs and rush through them all, will take you around 3-4 hours to complete, depending on your skill level, however if you choose to collect every single puzzle piece and artifact, as well as take on the super secret 5th hub world in the basement of C.P.U. Plaza, you're looking at a good 6-7 hour experience just for a friggin tech demo, thats absolutely insane. What about this 5th hub world you ask? well, it's the biggest throwback of the entire game for the Playstation brand, but It would be an absolute travesty to spoil it for anyone that has yet to see it themselves, It's imperative that you see it for yourself for it to really hit home, that's how awesome it is.
At the end of the day when It's all said and done, Astro's Playroom is the biggest love letter to not only the playstation brand, but to us as fans in general. It's one big thank you kiss wrapped up nicely in one free preinstalled package. I have been a fan of Playstation since the 90's and I love the brand, but over time, you take a lot of what you've seen and played for granted and assume it will always be there no matter what because that's how its always been. Much like how I feel about Nintendo as a company, the Playstation brand makes me feel the same exact way. Playstation as a brand is irreplaceabe and in Astro's Playroom, going through the entire history of playstation, seeing products and characters I may have forgotten or didn't appreciate, really put that love for the brand into perspective. It made me appreciate just what they have give me over the years, whether it be the game play experiences or the memories I have accumulated over the decades. Astro's Playroom has become more than just a mere tech demo showcasing the capabilities of the Playstation 5 system and its controller and instead has achieved something no other character in the Playstation line of characters has achieved, mascot level status.
Astro's Play room to me gushes with charm, creativity, imagination and a level of exuberance that is not matched by any other franchise besides Mario himself. It's a game that should be experienced by any gamer, new or old, to see why Playstation holds tightly in each of our hearts, and as gamers, makes us super excited to see where Sony is going to take us next in all future adventures. And I for one, will be waiting with open arms for when that time comes.