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Astro's Playroom (PS5)

Astro's Playroom (PS5) - Review

by Lee Mehr , posted on 01 December 2020 / 1,587 Views

When anyone utters the term "tech demo" there may be a half-dozen examples that spring to your mind.  Regardless of whether it's unsettling conversations with a boy or drab showcases where hundreds of balls drop at once, these presentations are accustomed to being hands-off affairs.  They're only to be gawped over, not tested, by the masses.  What if that weren't the case?  In an ingenious marketing move, Sony figured its most effective method of propaganda - in the loosest sense of the term - for its new console and controller would be a free packed-in 3D platformer: Astro's Playroom.  Not only has Team Asobi effectively (albeit inconsistently) argued for the DualSense's features, but also solidified Astro Bot as another valuable mascot.

Befitting for the device it's housed in, Playroom takes place within a fictionalized version of the PlayStation 5.  A couple of gigabytes' worth of every owner's hard drive has been refashioned as a technological theme park to PlayStation's storied history.  Acting as the main hub, the story begins in the CPU Plaza with four distinctly themed worlds open to collect-a-thoning: SSD Speedway, Memory Meadow, Cooling Springs, and GPU Jungle. 


As anyone would suspect with a platformer, each area sells disparate gimmicks instituted in the controller.  Some of these will be more familiar to seasoned veterans, such as the revised touchpad, but what Team Asobi is really trying to sell you on is haptic feedback.  Since Astro's feet are essentially sensory peg legs, every floor permutation, be it grassy, metallic, or anything else, is translated to the backside of the DualSense.  Any walking interaction presents a kind of tactile synesthesia; the thing you're holding is communicating Astro's best understanding of each platform's dimension and density.  It inspired a fun, short-lived challenge for me: mute my headset/TV, close my eyes, and envision the texture of a given surface through my mind's eye.

This type of sensory information is further communicated by the DualSense's adaptive triggers.  Whether it's the tension in pulling an arrow or individual rocket boosters, there's distinct weight and character given to interactions.  The 2D rocketing sections were my first real test with these triggers and they take me back to testing out that old Forza Motorsport 5 demo for Xbox One, when jamming the brakes felt more challenging.  Playroom feels like the next logical step when it comes to applied pressure.

Not all gimmicks are created equal, however.  Unplugging my headset mid-conversation with a friend just to blow a stupid, colorful fan isn't the best way to sell the DualSense's mic; to my chagrin, I only discovered the disable option for these parts after completion.  Asobi & I were on the same page for how useless it is.  Although less egregious, the motion-based hang-gliding offers no excitement or complexity.  Keep the controller tilted upwards until you need to dive.  Fin.  No dipping downwards to gain velocity - either that or it's a bit more finicky than I expected.  Those segments, along with the less-enjoyable roller-ball level utilizing the touchpad, start to craft a specific narrative: I’m a bigger fan of the newest features than of the mini-games centered on DualShock 4-birthed revisions.


Leaving the controller proselytizing behind, Playroom also succeeds in its platforming gameplay too.  The foundation is fundamentally basic but reaches beyond that with its nuance and finesse.  Despite meeting a dreadful end by every enemy type, a part of me appreciated the gravity of insta-kills resulting from any damage.  General locomotion feels smooth, with little details like momentum boosts from mid-air punches expanding Astro's repertoire.  One of my favorite details is Astro's double jump boost being hyper-focused plasma beams shooting through his robo-feet.  They're more than aesthetically satisfying; they're actual lasers that can cut through enemies and manipulate seesaw platforms.  Whatever quibbles may crop up for some enemy placement or occasional camera wonkiness are distractions to what's otherwise a mechanically sound game.

One of the funniest (or saddest) comparisons I can't help but make is the insane difference between this full-on PS5 exclusive and the PS4's own platformer exclusive: Knack.  One of the key comparisons going through my head comes down to visuals.  If you ran both games at the same framerate and dropped Playroom to sub-HD resolution I'd still praise this game more.  When it comes to mascots it comes back to one thing: character.  From the dressed-up robots acting out visual vignettes from PlayStation & 3rd party franchises, to Astro’s light-blue cape, there's a whimsical nature bursting at the seams here which I never felt from that hideous rock golem.  To me, his design ranks up there with Sackboy/Sackgirl in likeability.


In regard to the worlds comprising various PS5 components, not being the most visually or aurally complex title doesn't rob it of any of its quality.  You get more than what you don't pay for.  SSDs coming with next-gen consoles translates to lightning-fast load times between Playroom's levels.  Another welcome surprise was Kenneth Young's musical composition blending various pop and techno themes.  One prominent example locked in my head is the GPU Jungle's OST; beyond that, the added touch of carving the lyrics in a secret area was brilliant too.

Considering this is the first free game I've reviewed here without any asterisk regarding microtransactions or battle passes, my frame of reference has to be changed accordingly.  Rather than questioning if it's worth your money I only have to consider if it's worth your time.  Even though I disliked some aspects, and the adornment of all things PlayStation may not hit me the same way it may for dedicated fans, I still think there's something worthwhile from the venture.  The runtime feels like it'll clock in at just under three hours, but additions like Network Speed Run's online leaderboards and the PlayStation emporium of discovered artifacts (dubbed “Labo”) could double or triple your time.  It’s a much more ephemeral experience for me since the credits rolled, but still a respectable bargain nonetheless.


Free pack-in titles flaunting controller gimmicks is something more expected from Nintendo than Sony.  That’s an earned nod of approval all of its own.  When considering the promising leaps here, Team Asobi did a solid job of showcasing the DualSense's potential similar to Wii Sports back then.  Although not reaching those same revolutionary and addictive heights, Astro's Playroom is nevertheless a respectable assemblage of PlayStation antiquity built on a competent platformer.


Despite being one of newest writers on VGChartz, Lee has been a part of the community for over a decade. His gaming history spans several console generations: N64 & NES at home while enjoying some Playstation, SEGA, and PC titles elsewhere. Being an Independent Contractor by trade (electric, plumbing, etc.) affords him more gaming luxuries today though. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.


VGChartz Verdict


7
Good

This review is based on a digital copy of Astro's Playroom for the PS5

Read more about our Review Methodology here

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15 Comments
The Fury (on 01 December 2020)

Are the people that made this the same as the ones that did the VR Astro game? From what I hear both are superb for what they need to do, promote the hardware they are released on. Agree with FattyGamer, Astro could be a cool little mascot.

  • +4
SuperNintend0rk The Fury (on 01 December 2020)

Yup it was the same team that made both. Hopefully they can turn Astro into a major franchise.

  • +4
coolbeans The Fury (on 01 December 2020)

As Super said, SIE Japan (Team Asobi) are also responsible for Astro Bot Rescue Mission. I've heard it's an awesome VR experience and I'd love to try it out in the near future.

  • +4
SuperNintend0rk The Fury (on 01 December 2020)

I haven't tried Rescue Mission either because I'm not interested enough in PSVR to invest in it. I hope their next game is a full fledged 3D platformer that isn't in VR or at least makes it optional.

  • +1
AFattyGamer (on 01 December 2020)

For a demonstration game, Astro was amazing. Sony should consider making Astro the new mascot

  • +2
coolbeans AFattyGamer (on 01 December 2020)

Glad you turned out loving it, FattyGamer. I guess part of the dilemma comes down to where "demo game" ends and platformer begins for it (at least in my eyes). I can appreciate some amazing demonstrations over others I'd rather move on from.

I'm really interested to see where Sony takes him next.

  • 0
TallSilhouette (on 01 December 2020)

This game is delightful. It should be every new owner's first port of call.

  • +1
coolbeans TallSilhouette (on 01 December 2020)

"first port of call"

I like that usage here. ;)

  • -1
nex (on 02 December 2020)

vgchartz realy don´t like sony 1st party games.

  • 0
coolbeans nex (on 02 December 2020)

Could just be me. :/

Honestly though, it's more about not being as impressed compared to earlier 8th-gen offerings. Should be noted I'm speaking for what I've reviewed (not Ghost of Tsushima for example). I'm also simply not the type to latch onto the higher scores unless what grabs me wrestles my attention long after.

  • 0
Jumpinbeans (on 01 December 2020)

It deserves a score way more than 7 - it was incredible and really showed the full capability of the controller. The speed runs are great. I'd give it a 9. Hopefully they will build on this and make a sequel.

  • 0
coolbeans Jumpinbeans (on 01 December 2020)

For how our review methodology works (or my own personal evaluation), I just don't land with the same enthusiasm. I'm not getting the endorsement for examples like DualSense's gyro functionality while lazily tilting my hang-glider upwards compared to the sensation of Astro ice skating. Sometimes the demonstrations had me peering down at my watch - if you catch my drift.

Regardless, glad you came away with a brighter outlook.

  • 0
nex Jumpinbeans (on 02 December 2020)

It's not a Nintendo game, so no

  • -2
Vendrom (on 01 December 2020)

The game (or demo) surprised me by how amazing it is. There’s so much care into everything, it’s better than a handful of other dedicated 3D platformers. Definitely looking forward to what they’ll do next (I hope it’s not a VR game).

  • 0
coolbeans Vendrom (on 01 December 2020)

There is something to be said about Sony's most charming mascot of 8th gen being locked behind the cost of a console AND VR headset just to enjoy his company. It wouldn't surprise me to see a two-pronged approach of traditional 3D platforming series & an "Astro's Playroom 2" to showcase PSVR2's new features. Astro's got incredible flexibility.

  • 0