‘Astro’s Playroom’ review: a thoughtful introduction to the PS5’s power

ASOBI Team’s love letter to the past is also a bold stride into the future

When you first power up your PlayStation 5 this week, I’m sure you’ll be tempted to kickstart your next-gen journey with one of the many fantastic launch titles like the Demon’s Souls remake or Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. But before you even consider playing anything else, I urge you to sink some time into Astro’s Playroom to make your first next-gen experience truly meaningful.

Here’s a game that has been built from the ground up to delight its players and tease out every technical extremity that the PS5 and its fantastic DualSense controller can offer. Developed by the masterminds behind PSVR sleeper hit Astro Bot: Rescue Mission, Astro’s Playroom is a tour de force, providing nourishing nostalgia and ground-breaking gameplay in equal measure.

Astro's Playroom
Astro’s Playroom. Credit: ASOBI Team

Astro’s Playroom is a love letter to five generations of PlayStation consoles, and if you fit into that timeline, even in some small part, it’s going to take you back to those serene memories and make you realise why you got into video gaming in the first place. More than anything, Astro’s Playroom reminds me of that scene from Ratatouille, where the food critic takes a bite of the eponymous dish and is transported back to the dinner table of his youth. This game evokes the same feelings because it understands play at its purest form, with all the childlike silliness and imagination that we’ve left behind as adults.

You’re inside a PlayStation 5. No, really, look up in the hub. You’ll see the walls pock-marked with the iconic symbols. This is your new home for the next five or six hours, as you come to understand what makes this new console tick. From the SSD Speedway to the GPU Jungle, every sense is going to be stimulated as you get up close and personal with the hardware that is powering the experience. Despite already being a genius premise — with areas like Cooling Springs being themed like a beach resort — the game doesn’t settle for being just slightly clever.

Every asset in this game is basically a reference to some kind of PlayStation hardware or memorabilia. Astro Bots paddle through the water clutching PlayStation Portable UMDs as buoys. Tundra-tacked trees are made up of coiled wires. The bouncy platforms you need to access a new area are the literal adaptive triggers your fingers are resting on. And the list goes on.

The entire game is in a constant state of wonderful homage that never gets old. It’s a magnificent feat of creative freedom, and a means to augment the literally gripping gameplay. No conjecture, you’ll feel every step Astro takes through the DualSense controller, as well as the influence of the wind and the crunch of a plastic box against his minuscule metal fists.

Astro's Playroom
Astro’s Playroom. Credit: ASOBI Team

What is essentially a demo for the incredible DualSense should be the blueprint for an entire trilogy of full games, in my opinion. The developers at ASOBI Team are clearly dreamweavers, and I’m totally stoked for their next game after spending hours obsessing over every trophy in Astro’s Playroom. It may not be the ultimate test of strength for the PS5’s GPU as far as realism is concerned, but in terms of art direction, it’s got everything beat.

If your defence is that it’s just for kids, I feel deeply sorry for you. Even if that was the case, there’s enough attention and care given in this game that even the most straight-faced of adults would fall for its charms. Every level has at least a dozen references to PlayStation games of the past, from obvious forerunners like Uncharted to obscure gems like Vib-Ribbon. Collectible artefacts like PlayStation 2 controllers and PSP peripherals wow with their material sheen and meticulous detail, from the glossy sheen of the old PS Button to the dogs-nose thumbsticks of yore.

It’s hard to even pigeonhole Astro’s Playroom as a platformer given the range of gameplay it provides. You’ll tilt your controller and squeeze the triggers to hang on to precarious rocks as you scale the console’s motherboard in a monkey suit. Later on, you’ll be deftly scrubbing the touchpad to direct a perilous pinball through an ever-changing track. It’s utter magic, and more pure and charming in its execution than most of the platformers I’ve played.

Astro's Playroom
Astro’s Playroom. Credit: ASOBI Team

Last but not least, we must touch on the soundtrack, which is one of the many stars of this superb show. From the robotic “SSD” chant heard throughout the speedway to the magnificent jingle of the GPU Jungle, every area feels tweaked to prick your ears in excitement as you’re exploring. A pair of good headphones are well worth it, but you should also try muting the sound when you’re replaying a level and just listen to the surprisingly powerful speakers in the DualSense, which fizzle and pop with the actions of our beloved Astro.

And when you wrap up the short but sweet main missions, there’s still plenty to collect and unlock via the vending machine in the PlayStation Lab, which releases its treasure with an otherworldly thump as you yank on the left trigger. Even after earning the Platinum trophy (which I highly suggest you aim for) there’s a speedrun section where you can race through cute gauntlets and fight against your friends through the leaderboard system.

I’m not sure if Sony will be updating the game in the future, but I’d put down top dollar for an expansion and especially a full-blown platformer developing on the same premise. This mini marvel is not to be missed.

‘Astro’s Playroom’ comes pre-installed with every PlayStation 5 console.

Our Verdict

Astro’s Playroom is a mindful little wonder that makes you appreciate every piece of the PlayStation puzzle, providing an experience that will stay with you long after the six-hour runtime. Come to learn more about your new console and leave with a cannon-blast of nostalgia, alongside a lasting impression about the next-generation of immersion and gameplay. This DualSense demonstration is more than just the game baked into your console, it’s an unmissable audiovisual delight that all ages can enjoy.

Pros

  • A meticulously detailed world that shines on the PS5
  • Writes a poetic love letter to the past that will make any PlayStation fan smile
  • Superb soundtrack and brilliant longevity thanks to the speedrun system

Cons

  • Should’ve been longer!
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