Review: Astro's Playroom

 A fun, nostalgia filled tech demo.

Console: PlayStation 5

The PS5 is a pretty expensive piece of tech so it´s pretty nice that every console comes with a free little game/tech demo: Astro's Playroom. A sequel of sorts to PlayStation VR Astro Bot Rescue Mission the platformer serves as a nice gateway to what PS5 and its Dual Sense controller can do while providing buyers with something to play right out of the box. But does that make it a game worth playing? Astro's Playroom is very clearly here to promote the console you just bought but that doesn't get into the way of the title being entertaining, if brief and over-reliant on nostalgia, 3D platformer.

Let's dive in.


Astro's Playroom is a simple 3D platformer. As such there isn't any story to speak off. It's just you, as Astro, going through four different stages and find all kinds of PlayStation collectables. Each level, the entire game really, is modeled after the PlayStation 5 itself. The game sets its self up as if you're sending Astro from your controller into the console itself. A pretty neat angle if I do say so myself. Each level represents a part of the PS5 while also harkening back to one of the four older PlayStation consoles. For example, the beach/water level Cooling Springs represents the PS5 cooling system while also incorporating elements of the PlayStation 3.

The levels are pretty neat. Well designed. They're not spectacular but the basic platforming, the basic flow of it all, is good. Nowhere did I feel that the jumps were too difficult, the gaps too big or that the game required too much from the player to simply progress. Even the secrets can be found pretty easily if you follow the basic rules of exploration.

The graphics and art style of the game is really good. Colourful with lots of different details and lighting effects. I mean, it's the PS5. The console is capable of a lot and a more stylized, dare I say cartoony, look as pops of the screen. You don't have all of that pesky realism that, while impressive, is also easy to break the illusion when something is off.

Speaking of details, it has some nice ones. The 'grass' for example isn't actual grass. It looks like it but when you inspect it you see that it's actually plastic. That the 'flowers' are the little PlayStation controller symbols. The most fun detail? The little robots that litter each level. These little fellas are very charming. Especially when they dress up as characters from PlayStation games. I've spotted an Ellie & Joel, a Kratos & Atreus, a Pyramid head etc.

Kratos & Atreus on holiday after their long journey up the mountain.

Gameplay-wise, Astro's Playroom is serviceable. Each level consists of four different stages alternating between traditional platforming stages and 'vehicle' levels. The traditional platforming stages are the best. Astro can run, jump and punch to get around. Instead of the traditional double jump, Astro has a 'glide' of sorts. Laserbeams come out of his feet that gives him some extra air-time which is also capable of hurting enemies and breaking objects. The most unique aspect of how Astro controls. It's not much but it does the trick and with how tightly Astro controls I don't have any complaints whatsoever.

What I do have gripes with are the 'vehicle' sections. As I said, 2 out of 4 stages are levels in which Astro controls a 'vehicle'. From a robot monkey to a small rocket ship. I'm not a big fan of these stages. This is where the PS5's Dual Sense controller comes into play with all of its bells and whistles. The monkey, for example, is controlled through a combination of the adaptive triggers and the built-in gyro. Yes, it shows off what the controller can do but it doesn't make for the most fluid gameplay experience. I find most rather tedious to control and their respective stages not very enjoyable.

Speaking of how these ´vehicle´ stages show off what the Dual Sense controller can do, Astro has clearly been made to show off what the PS5 can do. We have the obvious controller show boasting but we also have the incredible load times that the game slyly throws in your face as well as just the general performance and look of the game. I thought that this tech demo aspect would start grading on me, perhaps even take away from the experience, but surprisingly it does not.

One of the 'vehicle' sections. Climbing a wall using a monkey robot suit.

Instead, it´s the thick layer of PlayStation easter eggs and nostalgia that does that trick. Yes, I understand that celebrating PlayStation´s history is the other goal of this game but at a point, it just becomes too much. The collectables, stored in a special room, are all PlayStation consoles and attributes. All the little trinkets are PlayStation themed and much more. It's nice in the beginning but the shine does wear off after a while. It started to feel intrusive.

If you, unlike me, might have been invested in the PlayStation for much longer. Having more than just the PS5 itself and a hand-me-down PS2 you might feel the nostalgia much stronger and be more invested in it. For my money, though I could've gone with a little less of this PlayStation pandering. If the game itself wasn't as enjoyable as it was I might have thought they were trying to use nostalgia to hide the shortcomings.


Conclusion

I've seen it written that Astro's Playroom is the best pack-in game since Wii Sports. I don't know if this is necessarily true or not but one thing is certain. It is a very entertaining one. The game is well made. It looks good, it plays well and is a lot of fun for its short length. You can clearly see it's made to be, in part, a tech demo for the console yet this aspect never felt intrusive. I myself did feel that the PlayStation pandering got a bit too much but that's a personal taste.

If you've got a PS5, you've got Astro's Playroom and there's no reason to not give it a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

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