Across all of them, you’ll still mostly be getting around with the basic running, jumping, punching, spin attacking, and hovering present in Rescue Mission. It’s a simple control scheme that anyone should be able to grasp easily, with Astro still having quite the sensitive jump and hovering window that really requires some precision. By keeping Astro’s basic movement options simple, Team Asobi is able to keep layering new ideas and new mechanics on top of those controls, which creates a continuous stream of inventive uses for them in Playroom’s various worlds.
All of that is, fundamentally, tied around the fun of using the DualSense controller. As the first real showcase of how its haptic feedback allow players to “feel” things like the trudge of a character walking through mud, or the difference between being in water versus on a grassy plain, Astro Bot does an impressive job of showcasing the variety of what it can pull off. Water emits a light, wavy pulse through the controller to mimic Astro’s swimming, while ice offers light, consistent taps of rumble that are coupled with a simulated ice sound coming from the controller’s speaker.One way Astro Bot cleverly sows the seeds of these concepts – which do a remarkable job of consistently tricking my brain into buying into the different topography – is the lobby hallway ahead of each world. Before jumping into any of the locales (all of which are just a simple animation away, with no loading screens in between), the portal to each world features the type of terrain you’ll primarily encounter. So, before hopping into Cooling Springs, there’s a small pool for Astro to splash around in, or ahead of SSD Speedway, I can stomp around the mechanical mesh platforms that will blanket the upcoming levels. They’re the most subtle uses of the DualSense, but it’s a nice way to set the scene.
But once you do dive in, there’s no shortage of joy that comes from how Team Asobi has translated in-game surfaces, objects, and movement into different DualSense sensations. Hail hitting my bot on the head causes little pops of rumble to strike all around the controller, the pull of a bow and arrow requires some added pressure on the trigger coupled with the satisfying plunk of release as the arrow shoots out. But perhaps the aspects that best show how developers can successfully elicit the feeling of swimming through water or pushing against a gust of wind is when Team Asobi combines multiple DualSense features to produce a result greater than the sum of its parts.
The combinations can be something simple like running a finger up the touchpad slowly to zip Astro into a new suit, while the realistic sound of a zipper cinching up plays and the DualSense thumps depending on how slowly or quickly you zip. Or it can become more complex, like the Memory Meadows-specific mechanic of a little spaceship suit Astro can wear, which uses both adaptive triggers to control the velocity of your ship’s thrusters, for which there’s also haptic feedback to indicate how much the ship is rumbling (or if you bump into any walls) while the rocket exhaust sound lowers and raises depending on how fast you’re going. Yes, the haptic feedback plays a big part in all this, like when raindrops start falling harder on Astro’s head and the pitter patter tremble of your controller simultaneously grows – but it’s the added hook of rain sounds emanating from the its speaker that really made me think “Oh no, I need to get out of this rain.”
Confirmed PlayStation 5 Games
Dressed for the Occasion
A lot of the ways Team Asobi integrates these features are experiential – feeling the flow of grass as Astro runs through a field, the gust of wind that tries to blow you off a platform, or the odd, rippling rumble as you swim through water. But the world-specific gameplay mechanics are where some of the studio’s genius most lies, in mixing fun platforming curveballs with some of the DualSense’s coolest sensations. Each Playroom world is structurally the same: two sets of two alternating levels, the first and third featuring more traditional 3D platforming and exploration, while the second and fourth offer a world-specific suit for Astro to wear. And it’s most of these portions where Team Asobi’s knack for inventive levels really shines.
My favorite of them is GPU Jungle’s full robotic monkey suit, which leads to vertically-scrolling, 2D-view levels. As the monkey, Astro scales upward by grabbing onto rock climbing handholds, which require you to alternatingly grab on with a trigger (representing one hand), physically turn the DualSense left or right to raise the other arm, and then grab a subsequent handhold. Broken up by cables the monkey can spin around and launch off of, some handholds necessitate you only squeeze the trigger slightly or risk causing them to crumble and drop you to your doom, making this mechanic a real test of delicacy.
Other suits have Astro hopping into the aforementioned ship, which actually controls quite like the ships of digital PS3 classic PixelJunk Shooter – it can be quite easy to overshoot and hit an electrified wall, so there’s a nice balance of joyously zooming around and precise movement needed to survive. The frog suit of Cooling Springs is an absolute treasure in its DualSense use, though the levels are not necessarily my favorites. The reproduction of a spring coil via haptics, the triggers, and the speaker is outstanding, but I also found it unwieldy to actually aim and pretty easy to overshoot or just miss a precariously small landing spot.
Read the full Astro Bot Rescue Mission review
Lastly, the final suit turns Astro into a ball that requires you to constantly flick a finger across the touchpad to propel yourself forward, pressing it to stop the ball’s momentum entirely. These levels are… fine. They’re challenging enough to test your reflexes as you try not to fall into a cloudy abyss, and the screeching halt of a stop allows for some pretty precarious sections, but it’s not too different from any sort of rolling ball puzzle I’ve played in plenty of other games.
These varied suits nicely keep the pace from ever slowing down, with the first level featuring any of these mechanics often being a good place to learn the ropes and the second offering some sincere challenge. The more traditional levels between them are less about challenging you and more about exploring every nook and cranny, though they still offer some fun variation with weapons like a bow and arrow that adds resistance to the adaptive triggers as you pull the string back, and a paintball machine gun that sputters the DualSense with every fired round.
PS5 Console First Look, Size Comparison
Astro’s Playroom’s little details like that ensure the DualSense lives up its name –- it’s not just called the DualTouch (which, let’s be frank, would be a terrible name) – genuinely making what I saw on screen more immersive. In fact, the only use of the DualSense that seemed superfluous to me was the microphone. I’ve seen uses like blowing into a mic to get an in-game fan to move since the days of the original Nintendo DS, so it doesn’t necessarily bring anything all that fresh here.
Of course, it is worth mentioning that any DualSense uses here, and in all future games, likely can and should never be the only way to experience a game. For many, simply holding the controller through all its intense rumbling and trigger resistance could be difficult or damaging, while others may not be able to hear what’s coming through the speaker. The PS5, at a system level, lets you shut off or adjust the DualSense’s added feedback – and if you were to play without that feedback, Astro’s Playroom is still a fun and at times challenging platformer with plenty to discover thanks to its loads of collectable puzzle pieces and artifacts to uncover, a host of unlockable speedrun levels to keep aiming for better times on, and an absolute abundance of PlayStation Easter eggs. It certainly raises many questions for me about the necessity of what the DualSense has to offer, but I can’t deny how enjoyable all of its bells and whistles are.
Trip Down Virtual Memory Lane
But the joy of Astro’s Playroom, while largely focused on its use of the new controller, is also thanks to Team Asobi’s dedication to turning this pack-in into a mini-museum of PlayStation history. The hidden puzzle pieces come together to form wall art murals tracing PlayStation console history all the way back to the original, while each of the main four worlds hold hidden artifacts belonging to the four respective eras of past PlayStation hardware. (And don’t worry PSP and Vita fans, you aren’t forgotten.) Some of these are more expected pieces, like recreations of the DualShock 4 or the PS2, but there are some appreciable deep cuts, like the PSP GPS plug-in, or throwbacks like the PocketStation. All of them are put on display to be looked at or hit to produce sound effects, pop open disc trays, and more.
As you’re exploring Playroom’s levels you’ll also stumble across Astro Bots wearing a blue cap and holding a camera. That’s the signal for a reference to a PlayStation game, and levels are littered with them – for example, you might find a boat with a robot inside that has a familiar tattoo, axe, and BOY alongside it, or a larger robot head made up of many smaller ones in a nod to LocoRoco. They’re mostly there for the fun of it all rather than to accumulate anything, but every single one of them made me smile, even the few that I had to take a moment to try and guess at. I won’t spoil any more here so as to not rob anyone of the joy of first discovering them. But, much like with the hardware artifacts, every era of PlayStation is represented in some truly hilarious ways.
While hunting for realistic depictions of PlayStation systems or spotting a robot wearing the costume of a beloved PlayStation mascot may stick out, it all feels of apiece with Astro’s charming overall design. Running at a smooth 4K 60fps, Astro’s world may not be massive and require huge draw distances or populate the screen with hundreds of enemies, but it’s certainly pretty. Natural environments come together with PS5 internal parts and other pieces of hardware in a beautiful blend of the environmental with the technological. A grassy plain looks beautiful in 4K, only for the plants to be topped with PlayStation face button symbols rather than flowers. A rocky wall you need to climb has cliffs jutting out that… are actually recreations of trigger buttons. It is yet another sign of Team Asobi’s dedication to imbuing Astro with a sense of nostalgic fun when coming across the many ways they insert PlayStation references into the world. And that’s on top of the way it blends some audio Easter eggs into the world that are perhaps best discovered while playing.