In anticipation of Horizon Forbidden West, I set about to try and get myself a PS5 and, after several tries, got one. I’ve started playing Deathloop (which is a delight) and do look forwards to playing the upgraded Spider-Man soon, but what’s really charmed me is Astro’s Playroom. It’s included on the console and is effectively a tech demo for the fancy new DualSense controller that the PS5 has, but it’s also a love letter to the PlayStation system.
You play as an adorable robot and you explore the innards of the PS5 in a platforming adventure game wonderfully reminiscent of Crash Bandicoot. You go through gorgeously made biomes (remember, this game’s technical raison d’être is to show off how pretty the PS5 is) and catch cameos from other robots dressed up as characters like Solid Snake and Nathan Drake or recreating scenes from Shadow of The Colossus. Like any good adventure game, there are little hidden secrets to find along the way. These secrets are all callbacks to the PlayStation’s history. Like the Multitap, an add-on for the PS1 that let you play with more than two players. It’s surprisingly nostalgic for what could be a very corporate game, maybe because I’ve been gaming on a PlayStation of some form or another for over twenty years, and seeing the Multitap reminds me of playing Crash Bash with friends years and years and years ago.
It’s perhaps a shame, then, that the main way to interact with the world of Astro’s Playroom is by hitting stuff. The DualSense controller has so many neat features (the R2/L2 triggers having variable resistance is so cool) that are used for climbing walls or solving jumping puzzles, but when you see a robot dressed up as Crash Bandicoot, the only way for you to trigger a response is by hitting them, the same thing you do to open capsules and fight bad guys. I get it, it’s part of the whole throwback nature of the game (and some of the reactions are quite cute), I guess I just wish that there was something besides punching. I think of the chapter in Uncharted 2 where you explore a Tibetan village. Nate can’t punch, being tired and injured, but you can wave at the locals and shake hands. It’s a small detail that emphasizes the reprieve of the chapter. I can’t help but to wish that Playroom had made fun little prompts for interacting with the easter eggs. Maybe instead of punching Aloy, you get to see the world through the Focus, maybe Joel and Ellie give you a brick to toss at the Clicker. I guess I just feel like punching lacks imagination, which feels incongruent for such an imaginative game.
All this to say, I’m still absolutely delighted by Astro’s Playroom. It’s a cute game and brimming with joy, plus, as a tech demo I really dig the new features of the PS5’s controller. I love video games and I’m always keen to see how the medium develops. I can’t wait for shooters and action games to really take advantage of the DuelSense, but I also really want to see games that give us more ways to interact with these wonderful, virtual worlds.