Astro’s Playroom feels like a hug. A big, corporate hug by some CEO in a boardroom at the top of a skyscraper. It masterfully blends nostalgia with the new, taking you through a tour of PlayStation history, milking your memory glands with iconic Easter eggs and console startup noises that somehow make you feel things. It’s like how music transports you to a place – the sounds and images of consoles past take you right back to that childhood bedroom, to a time when life was more simple.
The game comes pre-installed on PS5 so you’ll be able to play it for free at launch. It’s essentially a tech demo for the new DualSense controller and some other PS5 features. But it’s a tech demo with charm, stuffed with collectibles and secrets, and filled with varied platforming action. You explore four worlds with names like “GPU Jungle”, “Cooling Springs”, and “SSD Speedway”, all while filling a hub room with artifacts you uncover, from old consoles to Sony peripherals.
You explore a jungle as a godlike GPU looms above, singing a song about rendering the world for you. You shoot into space in a rocket and take a dip in calming seas. You battle deadly bots in 3D platforming stages and dodge obstacles in side-on sections. Most levels end with a boss showdown. It’s pretty standard, but everything is elevated by the DualSense controller.
When you pick up a bow, the adaptive trigger tightens up as you pull it back. When you fire a toy Gatling gun, the trigger vibrates and jumps back and forth with each shot. The haptic feedback built into the controller makes every surface feel different to walk on, from the tippy tap of metallic legs on a metal surface to smooth skating across ice. On one level, Astro pulls out a tiny plastic umbrella as it starts to rain. Combined with the DualSense’s speaker, the haptic feedback really sells the illusion of rain dropping on plastic, with tiny localized vibrations peppering your pad. As you progress, this rain gets heavier and eventually turns to hail, the intensity ramping up in the feedback as it does. I hope future games take advantage of this controller because it really is astounding how well it sells it.
Elsewhere, you blow into the microphone to spin up propellers, you use the motion sensor to shift the weight in vehicles by tipping your pad, and even the touchscreen is leveraged to roll a ball through a pinball-esque obstacle course. One section sees you equip a monkey suit and clamber up a climbing wall. Here you use the triggers to climb, getting one handhold at a time, while tipping the controller to reach handholds. Some are precarious and require light presses on the triggers to avoid making them crumble – doing so feels instantly intuitive, as if controllers have always been this way.
When you die, there’s a short transition and you’re immediately back in the action thanks to the power of the PS5’s SSD. If there’s a light source, that light bounces off any nearby materials, illuminating them in its glow. Turn the camera to the side and the background fades out, showing off improved depth of field effects. Bring up the PS menu and look at what Sony is calling “Cards”, and you can see your total completion in each level, or even switch between levels without having to manually travel to them. Every base is covered. Astro’s Playroom is essentially a tour of your new toy, showcasing what the PS5 is capable of and teasing you with what’s to come when new games release.
As a game, Astro’s Playroom is plenty enjoyable. As a tech demo, it sells you on PS5’s new features almost instantly. It also does an incredible job of clouding your head with nostalgia, even if some of it does feel a little corporate at times. Remember the lightgun we made? Eh? EH? Saying that, the final area – which unlocks after you’ve completed the main four regions – is one of the best Easter eggs I’ve ever seen in any game. I won’t spoil it, but please make sure you see it to completion. I beg of you.
Astro’s Playroom asks you over and over to fondly remember the memories that you and Grandpa PlayStation made together. But, more importantly, it’s a promise of new and treasured memories to come.
A PS5 was supplied to TheGamer for this review.
Next: The PS5 DualSense Controller Works On The Nintendo Switch (Kind Of)
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Kirk is the Editor-in-Chief at The Gamer. He likes Arkane games a little too much.
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