EDITOR'S NOTE: Astro's Playroom won a "highly recommended" honor for best game design at the Tom's Guide Awards 2021 for gaming.
Every new console needs a great technical showpiece, and Sony hit it out of the park by including the infectiously adorable Astro's Playroom with the PS5.
This sunny, optimistic adventure transcends the boundaries of platformer and bounds happily into the realm of complete PlayStation tribute. Sure, it plays like any other visually lush and expansive platforming title, but for what was surely intended as a demo or a quick way to get players acclimated to the DualSense controller, it’s got more heart than games you’ll pay upward of $60 or $70 for.
- Check out our PS5 review
- Spider-Man: Miles Morales review: A web-slinging wonder
- PS5 issues: All the PlayStation 5 problems and fixes so far
While intended to settle into the background as something of a footnote for players to explore as they make their way throughout what are worlds that resemble the inside of a PlayStation 5, Astro’s Playroom takes on a life of its own as one of the PS5’s most charming adventures this early in its life cycle.
Astro is a character spawned out of the popularity of The Playroom, a 2013 assortment of augmented reality mini games that came preinstalled on all PlayStation 4 consoles. It was originally meant to help players get to know the PlayStation Camera and how it could be used for various activities. The Playroom starred the robotic Asobi, but introduced the same robot squad that would ultimately influence the PlayStation VR-centric Astro Bot Rescue Mission, developed by SIE Japan Studio's ASOBI Team division.
Astro Bot Rescue Mission did much the same for VR as The Playroom did for the PlayStation Camera, putting little Astro front and center as well as a squad of his robot buddies that needed to be rescued throughout the high-flying adventure. Now, it’s all come full circle with Astro’s Playroom. There’s no problem to be solved here, no rescue mission to embark on, and no minigames. You’re just exploring each world and fending off enemies, finding treasures, and taking in some seriously awesome nods to PlayStation.
There's so much more to the game than what constitutes a demo or tutorial. This is a real, solid game that's well worth your hard-earned cash. It's astounding that it's free, because from top to bottom, it's a creative and inviting platforming adventure that anyone can step into and get enjoyment from, even if it's mainly meant to introduce people to what the PlayStation 5's DualSense is all about. It does all that much, much more.
Read on for our full Astro's Playroom review.
Astro’s Playroom gameplay
Astro’s Playroom introduces players to a living, breathing world populated by adorable little robotic creatures. Captain Astro is their leader, a fun little robot companion who toddles around on his bowling pin-like legs and interacts with the world around him.
He can jump, hover with rockets, pick up weapons like the bow and arrow (don’t worry, they’re plungers) or gumball gatling guns, and use some light melee against the cheery enemies found throughout each area. Hold down the button to punch, and Astro will let loose a more powerful spin attack.
From the moment you take over and start moving the tiny robot around, there’s a noticeable difference between this game and others of its ilk. The DualSense is doing an incredible amount of work, and it’s immediately apparent. You can feel the weight of Astro's feet as he walks around the room, as well as the thrust of his jetpack. His robot friends call to him from the controller’s microphone. For a moment, you feel as though you really are controlling a tiny little robot.
The game is a platformer through and through, and while there’s no real narrative to speak of, there’s still plenty to see. There are four complete areas to dive into, with a secret fifth to explore after you complete the game. Each area is surprisingly diverse, at least considering it's all meant to be a facsimile of the internals of a PS5. For instance, Cooling Springs features a water theme. Memory Meadow is rife with clouds and a spring theme, with soft breezes. SSD Speedway is a fun jaunt into space. GPU Jungle appears to take inspiration from Inca-like architecture and ruins.
Each section has two platforming levels, where Astro is tasked with getting from point A to point B while avoiding obstacles, staving off enemies, and collecting fun treasures that will ultimately result in a PlayStation fan’s dream by the end of the game. It’s a light, breezy affair that never feels too complicated or frustrating. Older players may not find much of a challenge here, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. Just the same, it can get a bit repetitive with that in mind, but it’s over so quickly that’s hard to notice.
Things eventually switch up with two additional levels in each zone that find you hopping into special suits meant to show off the DualSense's special abilities. Yes, it's all meant to ease you into using the controller, but these animal-like suits don’t feel shoehorned into the action.
The suits are a gimmick, to be sure, but there isn't gimmickry to be found here. It all fits within each stage’s theme. In Memory Springs, you'll hop into a fun robotic frog suit that combines adaptive trigger and haptic feedback to make it feel as though you're using tension to use its spring to jump back and forth.
GPU Jungle features a monkey suit that lets you use the DualSense's motion controls to swing back and forth as well as climb up structures. The rocket suit in SSD Speedway is all about speed and power to reach new heights as you control the suit's thrusters with both triggers. The rolling suit in Memory Meadow is controlled via touch pad, for an experience not unlike Super Monkey Ball.
While exploring, you’ll collect puzzle pieces and coins that are integral to both completing the game the way it’s meant to be finished and snagging a Platinum trophy, which is extremely simple to do (and may mean some players’ first Platinums). Puzzle pieces go toward unlocking parts of a massive mural that shows the history of PlayStation, and the completed mural is certainly something to behold.
Collecting enough coins mean you can spend money in a gacha machine to earn new dioramas. There are a finite number of them, so you will eventually run out as it’s not random, but it’s fun to collect items and place them all together in one central location. If you get bored with searching for these extras, though, it’s always entertaining to see what PlayStation Easter eggs you can spot while exploring each level. You’ll find some truly surprising cameos throughout, including a tribute to Vib Ribbon and even Death Stranding that will put a smile on your face.
Astro’s Playroom is simplistic by all measures, but that doesn’t make it any less joyful in its endeavors or less of a delight to simply sit back and take in with a big grin on your face.
Astro's Playroom features
In addition to exploring the main worlds, you can go visit the PlayStation Labo hub area at any time to check on the progress you’ve made toward filling it up with fun PlayStation references. That’s certainly a bizarre name, given that Nintendo Labo is such a popular and prominent part of the Switch’s library, but here we are.
PlayStation Labo houses all of the dioramas you’ve unlocked with coins as well as the large mural you’ll eventually complete as you pick up puzzle pieces throughout the game. Once complete, it's a veritable visual history of PlayStation as a whole. If you play enough and replay levels, you should have no problem putting it all together.
Dioramas on the other hand are some of the most satisfying setpieces in the entire game. They’re clearly meant for players who harbor the same kind of love that the developer clearly has for PlayStation. You can find everything from miniature PS Vitas to working PlayStations with Multi-Taps set up in the Labo once you’ve unlocked them.
Speed Run mode lets you race against the clock to complete areas as quickly as possible, adding a timer to see how proficient you really are. Unfortunately, there are no additional co-op missions or multiplayer modes. It’s a bit barebones beyond the main game mode and collectibles. Replayability comes in the form of wanting to show off what the DualSense is capable of, something that you likely won’t want to stop doing once you’ve tried it.
Astro's Playroom graphics and sound
Toddling around as Astro is an eye-popping experience with gorgeous hues, exquisite environments, and creative levels to explore. It's absolutely beautiful, with 4K output at 60 frames per second and HDR support. Water effects are especially hypnotic, as well as the smaller effects that you can't help but notice while making your way through the game: your robot friends chilling in the background, some of them up to no good and others hanging out with the robots dressed up as popular PlayStation franchises.
The soundtrack is absolutely mesmerizing as well. Though most of it is relegated to soft tinkling tones (the melancholy theme at the PS5 menu has an inexplicable yearning to it), there are a few vocal-centric songs that you won't be able to stop tapping your toes to. They didn’t have to go so hard on the soundtrack, but you’ll appreciate that they did.
Astro's Playroom verdict
Astro’s Playroom may be a free pack-in title, but it has the heart of a full-sized platformer. It’s an absolute delight to play, and if it’s your first brush with what the PS5 has to offer, you’ll fall in love rather quickly. The only issue? There just isn’t enough of it. Astro has been established as a full-fledged PlayStation mascot by now, and this sampling of delectable levels is fun and all, but it’s time now for another Astro-centric platformer with some meatiness and depth. For now, enjoy this savory treat as your first introduction to all things DualSense.