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access_time November 14, 2020 at 6:00 AM in Reviews by David Poole

Review | Astro’s Playroom

Every so often, when new hardware launches, the manufacturer decides to throw in a pack-in game to sweeten the deal. The Wii had Wii Sports, the PlayStation VR had PlayStation VR Worlds, and now, the PlayStation 5 has Astro’s Playroom. A lot of times, these pack-in games are included to showcase the capabilities of the hardware. While they tend to be fun, they always feel like tech demos. Astro’s Playroom breaks that trend by not only being an outstanding demonstration of the DualSense controller, but by also being an inventive and charming platformer. To make it even sweeter, it’s riddled with references that celebrate the legacy of the PlayStation brand.

As a sequel to the excellent Astro Bot: Rescue Mission, Astro’s Playroom is sort of lighter on story. You’re a tiny robot inside the PlayStation 5 hardware, which creates a whole ecosystem out of the components. The storage drive is SSD Speedway, the RAM is Memory Meadow, the fan is Cooling Springs, and the graphics card is GPU Jungle. Each area fits a certain theme and provides four levels, each with collectibles to discover. They all have their own unique gameplay gimmicks as well, all of which use the DualSense in various ways. As you complete each area, you’ll gain final access to the final boss, which in itself is a great PlayStation Easter Egg.

As a platformer, the game involves three-dimensional movement where Astro can jump, punch, and hover. You’ll collect coins, defeat enemies, and uncover hidden artifacts. While the standard controls will feel like a normal 3D Mario platformer, it’s when the DualSense features kick in that the gameplay changes drastically. Use the touchpad to zip into the frog suit and use the haptic feedback triggers to do spring jumps. Hop aboard a hang glider and use the motion controls to steer through futuristic traffic. Blow into the microphone to put a platform on course to your goal. Even though these are clearly gimmicks, it’s a perfect demonstration of the haptic feedback on PlayStation 5. It’ll really feel like you’re personally interacting with the objects yourself.

None of the gameplay features overstay their welcome as each stage is roughly ten minutes or less. If you look for all the puzzle pieces and artifacts, it’s not really that much longer. There’s a couple weapons that show up as well, including a gatling gun and a bow. These sections are pretty short as well, though there is a boss you’ll have to face with the bow, extending its use. As far as bosses go, there’s only a handful. Now all areas have a boss, but they offer just a little bit more challenge than the basic enemies.

Combat itself has the right mix of options. Astro’s hover pack can deal some damage to enemies underneath, which is necessary for some. Punches will deal with most enemies, but sometimes you’ll have to fight smarter. Some enemies emit an electric field, which requires you to time your attacks. Many will also have wires sticking out for Astro to grab, making it possible to vanquish them. None of them are ever too difficult, but just enough to make you cautious, as Astro can only take one hit.

Visually, Astro’s Playroom is a stylish adventure that improves on the predecessor. Particle effects, solid lighting and other visual flairs make for a fun showcase of the system. Each stage has a distinct theme that makes them stand out from each other. Lush jungles full of PlayStation symbol flowers, snowy ice caverns, the deep reaches of space and a literal information highway await players. One thing the game really gets right is the artifacts you’ll find. Each one will be a different PlayStation accessory or console, and they’re all faithfully recreated for the game. It helps to make this even more of a celebration of the PlayStation brand.

Speaking of celebration, there’s several dozen iconic PlayStation games you’ll find references for. Games like The Last of Us, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Ghost of Tsushima, and even obscure titles like Jumping Flash!. Of course, it’s not always just Sony titles, as you’ll find many third party game references. Titles like Monster Hunter, Tomb Raider, Crash Bandicoot, and even Final Fantasy VII get some representation in some way or form. It really makes exploring a joy just to find all the different references to gaming history. Guessing some of the less obvious ones were pretty challenging too.

One thing that deserves recognition is the catchy music. Each stage has pretty distinctive music, from the jingle bells in Cooling Springs to the robotic vocals in the GPU Jungle. A lot of PlayStation sounds also make an appearance, as each ending area gives you the start up sound of a different console. It’s really sort of nostalgic to hear something like the PlayStation 2 start up as you complete a stage.

It may only take a handful of hours to complete, but Astro’s Playroom is the perfect pack-in game for the PS5. Players can get a full experience of the DualSense controller’s capabilities and enjoy a fun platformer to boot. This is really something every PlayStation 5 owner should experience before jumping into any other game. If you don’t, you’re really missing out from understanding what makes the DualSense controller so great.

Final Score: 9.5 out of 10

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