Astro’s Playroom Review (PS5)
A wonderful surprise
Available on: PS5
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
As probably none of you will know, Lady Luck has shined on me recently and I managed to score myself a PS5. I actually gave up on chances on getting it anytime soon, maybe at least until it comes to stores and not a lot of people are going for it, but when you get an invite to the private early queue, you can’t really say no, can you? I still can’t believe it and it’s staring right at me. Looks like the first game I’m playing on it is Astro’s Playroom, the tech demo meant to show off the new controller, The Dualsense, and how it’s different from all previous controllers. How is it? Well… let’s just say it’s much more than you would expect.
Going in, I really didn’t have any expectations. I knew it was a tech demo and that was it. Maybe it would be an area with different weather environments to show off the rumble and some weapons for the adaptive triggers. Pretty much like Welcome Park on the PSVita I suppose. Well, little did I know what this actually ended up being. In Astro’s Playroom you play as Astro, a bot with a cape, that lives within the PS5. You get a small tutorial on the new controller before you’re put into the hub world where you can get in some early platforming and pulling out wires so you can unveil coins, platforms (or wires to get to platforms too far away), and… puzzle pieces? From the hub, there are also portals to 5 different areas which are in the form of the different components within the PS5 aside from 1 that is the form of an early Playstation. You can also head underneath, to the basement, but you can wait on going there until the end (or until you realize that you’re still missing a puzzle piece).
Once you’re done exploring the hub and ready to get into the meat of this game, walking up to one of the 4 components will have it open up for you to jump right in. You’ll be jumping into the GPU, SSD, Memory, and the cooling component in any order you want. And when you do, it will put you into it’s own little themed world like the jungle areas of the GPU Jungle, the beach and ice areas of the Cooling Springs, the speedy futuristic highway of SSD Speedway, and the wonderful meadows in the sky in Memory Meadows. Starting out, you might expect these to be quick experiences, like I did, but as you’re going through the first world you picked, you’ll probably think to yourself “Wait, how long is this?” in a good way. It turns out that all 4 worlds have 4 levels that are decently big. There are also enemies around that won’t hesitate in attacking, with most just needing you to punch them with some requiring you to dodge out of their attack and grab the wires on their head. But be careful, you only have one hit point as well. Beating enemies will not only grant you coins (which you can also get from these clear capsules or from pulling wires out of the ground), but will also free up the checkpoint so you don’t have to start from the beginning. As you’re exploring, you’ll also find more puzzle pieces hidden around (with some being well hidden, with some hidden right under your nose and makes you question how you missed it the first time) as well as golden capsules that contain artifacts. Most levels have 4 puzzle pieces and 2 artifacts, with completing a world will grant you a special artifact.
You’ll also be faced with different weather environments like rain, hail, powerful wind, or a sandstorm which you can feel in the controller as well as the sound coming from it. Like the soft rumble when you land after you jump, the differences between different surfaces (and the surprise as clouds feel like air, nothing), the feeling of your feet lasers when you engage them, the patter of rain, the feel of a fan rumbling underneath you, the softness of a rubber duckie, the splash of diving into water, and the rough sand blowing at you in a sandstorm. You’ll also get opportunities to feel how the adaptive triggers can be handled.
Each world also has 2 levels that include a little gimmick to show off the controller as Astro jumps into a suit. You’ll love some and find some kind of okay. My personal favorite was in the GPU Jungle where Astro is in a monkey suit and you’ll be climbing rock walls by holding onto hand holds, holding onto vines, and swinging on bars by moving the controller up and down so you can jump higher. You feel the suit grabbing the hand holds and there are even hand holds that you have to gently hold (and you’ll feel some resistance before you hit the “you held it too hard” threshold) due to it being weak. Other worlds will have you be in a frog suit and have you tilt the controller to control where it’ll hop to and hold down a trigger to pull the spring down, a small spacerocket you’ll control by tilting the controller the way you want to go and using the triggers to engage both or one thruster (and you’ll feel the shake as you engage the thrusters), and a ball that you’ll roll by using the touchpad.
Oh, and did I mention that as you’re going through these worlds there are a ton of references? There are other bots scattered around and while some are just hanging around, there are a ton that are used to reference past games that were on the Playstation consoles with another bot with a camera. Like Gravity Rush, Heavy Rain, Final Fantasy, Bloodborne, Patapon, Uncharted, God of War, Puppeteer, Sly Cooper, and many more. Considering that I’ve been a Playstation player since forever, it was so wonderful going back and pointing out all of the games that I have played or heard of, as well as looking up what they were referencing if I never ended up playing it.
So you know those coins, puzzle pieces, and artifacts that are in every level? Well, these are put in the Playstation Labo area. Those artifacts, while you’ll know when you pick them up, are actually tech Sony put out in the past and features a small blurb alongside them. And this includes past consoles. As you walk into Labo, these are actually in 4 different sections (which you can guess corresponds with the console it released in the timeframe of) and you can actually walk up to them and punch them or jump on them. Interacting with them can cause them to flip around, turn on, or open up, which can also cause an achievement to be completed. Those puzzle pieces you’ve been collecting are also put on the wall that slowly piece together a wonderful wall art piece celebrating the years of Playstation. With the coins being used in the Gacha Machine in the back. The adaptive triggers return here as you’ll get resistance when you pull the lever and you’ll get these capsules (or soda cans) that will either grant you more puzzle pieces (little resistance to open), more bots to be in this area doing their own little thing (medium resistance), and artifacts (high resistance).
Oh! And when you finish a world, you’ll also unlock a corresponding level in the Network Speed Run, which gives you short levels based on the worlds and tasks you with finishing them as fast as you can. These turned out to be pretty fun as well!
With the references of past games in levels, as well as the puzzle and artifacts, you can really tell this was a labor of love. Not only did they want those that have been with Playstation to look back at their history with them, but also for them to look back at their history no matter how good or bad it ended up being. As well as those new coming in to see the history Playstation has and how far it has come. Not to mention the last sequence that you’ll play through when you finish all of the worlds. This could have easily been a quick thing that had little significance, but the team behind it decided to go all out and I couldn’t be happier.
Astro’s Playroom really surprised me and it was delightful. I was expecting something that would take, I don’t know, 30 minutes max to show how the new controller is different and I mainly played it because the two games I have wasn’t downloaded fully yet. To my surprise, it was way more than I expected, had a lot of references that I understood or didn’t (whether I played it but just couldn’t decipher it or I never played the referenced game), was a delightful look back into Playstation’s tech past (even though I didn’t know most of them was a thing), and was actually a game that lasted for a good couple hours. I couldn’t stop playing because it was so wonderful and I just had to get everything. For those that are still waiting for Lady Luck to shine on them, or those that have a PS5 now and still haven’t played Astro’s Playroom, I definitely recommend playing this game as just passing on it is a mistake.
Also, while I was someone that immediately remarked “can’t wait to see no one utilizing these new controller features” after the Dualsense was showcased, I really do hope developers put in the time to use this controller to it’s full potential (and not just ignoring it or slapping it on). It really can add to the experience (fingers crossed for Death Stranding to).