Astro’s Playroom wasn’t supposed to leave my jaw aching. Candidly speaking, I thought I’d spend a couple of minutes on it and swiftly move onto something more ‘worth my time’. But boy, was I wrong – embarrassingly so.
Despite my initial reservations, Astro’s Playroom left me grinning from ear to ear at the sheer abundance of charm, invention and delightful nods to PlayStation’s past that developer Asobi Team has packed into it. There’s so much detail and careful thought crammed inside this excellent PS5 platformer that it’s infectious to look at and an absolute pleasure to play. It’s an enthralling experience, and one that thankfully everyone can try.
While it might be easy to dismiss Astro’s Playroom as a pre-installed tech demo that’s rudely taking up space on your shiny new PlayStation 5, trust me when I say this is the game you’ll want to show off to your friends and family. It’s been specifically designed to demo the game-changing effect that the DualSense controller can have on gameplay, as well as the PS5’s super-fast SSD.
Though load times are indeed noticeably quick, it’s Sony’s new controller that comfortably steals the spotlight. Perhaps worryingly for the competition, it’s going to be hard to use anything else once you’ve held the DualSense yourself, it’s that damn good.
Let the fun commence
From the moment you boot up Astro’s Playroom and step into one of its many creative levels, its playful nature hits you like an exploding pinata. It’s main character Astro is jaw-clenching levels of cute – with his translucent blue cape fluttering behind him as his mechanical legs scamper along the ground – and the world around you is bright, vibrant and teeming with hidden collectibles. Throw in some crisp, razor sharp 4K visuals, and the end result is a striking game that certainly looks next-gen.
But Astro’s Playroom’s graphics are frankly insignificant. From the moment you’re asked to engage the DualSense’s adaptive triggers, which provide differing levels of resistance using haptic feedback, don’t be surprised if you inadvertently let out a small childlike ‘ooooh’ in amazement. This phenomenon happened countless times during my time with the game, as I let out frequent gasps of wonderment over and over again.
In the game’s Cooling Springs stage, which is all I’m allowed to talk about here, you’ll experience your fairly standard platforming affair. There’s jumping, swimming, fighting and coins to collect as you navigate various stages that are designed to mimic elements of Sony’s hardware. These familiar elements are nothing new, then, but they’re fundamentally transformed thanks to the haptic feedback inside the PS5’s alien-esque two-toned pad.
Handle with flair
As soon as Astro’s robotic frame splashes into the inviting clear blue sea which surrounds an equally sumptuous sandy beach, the power of this new immersive technology makes itself known. My brain had expected the typical, standard rumble sensation that we’ve been used to for decades – or worse the overexuberant buzz that the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Con tends to deliver. But no. When Astro hit the water, I genuinely felt it. The buoyancy of the water, the impact coming off the slide… all of it. Cue minute one of prolonged, crazed grinning, courtesy of yours truly.
After my umpteenth bounce and subsequent smile, I proceeded to step onto the glistening sandy shore. Again, as hyperbolic as this may sound, it really does feel like you’re walking on sand. More impressively, though, is that no matter which materials, situations or self-contained biomes I encountered, each sensation felt wholly unique. It’s a flabbergasting experience, as time and time again I internally vocalized that, ‘yep, that really feels like I’m walking on metal’ or ‘whoa, I can feel the grains of sand blowing against the controller’.
But isn’t it just a gimmick? Absolutely not. The game, and in turn, the DualSense controller, continued to deliver the more I played. I kept waiting for that lingering sense of disappointment that the initial joy would wear off or that I’d somehow find a flaw in the haptic feedback’s implementation, but it never came. Instead, waking up god forsakenly early just to relive it all over again.
Astro’s Playroom is one of those milestone moments in gaming that don’t come around very often, then. At an age where video games can tend to feel routine and overly familiar, to be left giddy with excitement, nay, overwhelmed with optimism of what the future holds, is a rare and significant feat indeed. Who’d have thought it would be a pack-in game on the PS5 that would deliver my first real next-gen moment. Thanks, Astro.