At the beginning, Astro’s Playroom literally describes itself as a tutorial. Specifically, he explains that Playroom’s nimble and easy-going platform level is a way to showcase the special features of PlayStation 5’s new DualSense controller. Some are new, such as adaptive triggers, tactile feedback, and built-in microphones. Others like touchpads and gyroscopes are not. But they all distinguish DualSense from its Xbox-based and Nintendo-based counterparts. Astro’s Playroom is absolutely unobtrusive to provide clever evidence of the PS5’s potential (DualSense’s new tricks, improved visuals, faster load times), but it’s dematerialized at the start of the game. The text will sell Astro short. Playroom is an incredibly fascinating journey through a PlayStation-inspired digital theme park, ensuring that the first hops, skips and jumps of the PS5 era are completely, clearly enjoyable.
The world of Astro (literally the playroom) is a cartoon fantasy-style interpretation of the PlayStation 5. The four levels of the game and the world of hubs are all named after console components such as the “GPU Jungle” and “Cooling Spring”. Inside, each is a dreamy PlayStation playground. Typical platform-level locales such as “beach,” “city,” and “pasture” are decorated with computer chips and parts of the PlayStation that have been woven into fabrics in the past. Each is packed with fun little scenes and interactive set dressers. Astro’s adorable bot friends hang out, play games, cosplay and make every adventure feel like a party as part of the platform’s iconic characters. Burning PlayStation hype to every corner of the world can be overwhelming, but it’s all very adorable. The level design is more subtle than the closing, the bots are all very cute and their happy atmosphere is surprisingly contagious.
The PlayStation reference is associated with a collection called “PlayStation Labo” that fills the interactive museum space. When you find a piece of a puzzle that turns into a PlayStation-themed mural or a giant virtual model, the space quickly turns into a very focused nostalgic hit for fans of PlayStation history. It also gives you a place to spend all the coins you’re holding: there’s a gacha machine behind you that sells more collectibles. It gives you a reason to go, but I found this to be a rare game that I really wanted to investigate the collectibles after I found them. This is partly because I liked walking around and jumping around the huge PlayStation souvenirs, but the space full of bots playing with PlayStation gear is a plain menu and an empty “display” space. Because it was more attractive than.
It’s also a great showcase of PlayStation 5’s enhanced visual and technical performance. [Editor’s note: You can read our PS5 review for a full breakdown of its performance and more.] When played on a 4K TV with HDR10, the levels are bright, colorful and intricately detailed. Lots of little bots run around in the background, in the foreground, and everywhere in between. Most of it can be manipulated by jumping or punching. The world is vibrant among moving elements such as bots, enemies, platforms, running water, and floating clouds.
And there is no meaningful loading screen. Jumping from the hub area to one of the levels triggers a short transition sequence of a few seconds, but it feels more like a fluid part of the game than distracting.
It’s fun to go to Astro’s playroom and look around, but the platform isn’t sneezing. Astro’s jumps and punches feel like he reacts snappy as he traverses the world. Many of the platforms are simple, but still spot-challenging. This helps each level branch into two paths. It’s a simple and direct pass for new players and a more challenging pass for veterans. Experienced players don’t have much of a problem with tough sections, but they should give it a try.
Each level has two sections, and Astro wears a special suit to provide a new means of transportation. Each suit is designed to highlight one or more DualSense features. At some levels, there are spring suits that jump when you pull and release the trigger. This is as if you are pushing down on the actual spring. Alternatively, swipe the touchpad to create a giant ball that rolls. DualSense adaptive triggers can provide tactile feedback and varying levels of resistance when pulled, resulting in a particularly bright spotlight. The resistance from the trigger, combined with the controller’s new, more subtle tactile feedback, tells you how much you pulled the bowstring back, the ability to build a spring-loaded jump, and much more in context. The locked gacha arm does not move when trying to steal an extra pull.
All of these sequences are effective demonstrations of the DualSense controller, but not all are really fun. Trigger-driven rocket vessels effectively show the potential to use trigger resistors to provide feedback to the vehicle’s throttle, but with careful boosting and, more importantly, responsive platform control. It relies on awkward motion control that feels frustratingly inaccurate in comparison. In fact, Motion Control pops up in some of these sequences and has a mysterious trick to make all sorts of gameplay unnecessarily unstable and unpleasant.
There are also fans scattered throughout the level who need to breathe into DualSense’s built-in mic. It’s a neat, but ultimately benign trick. In fact, this is completely optional. When you mute the controller microphone, the fan will rotate automatically. Occasionally, forcing a DualSense feature set can do more damage than is useful to the game.
The best and worst thing I can say about Astro’s playroom is that its role as a demonstration feels a bit useless. It’s a mysterious little dream world, and I would have wanted to spend more time traveling it. However, it is a big achievement in itself. Astro’s Playroom is a game that doesn’t try to hide the fact that it’s an excuse for what you can do with a gamepad, reminiscent of a world you’ll want to see and explore. More than that, the amazingly fun celebration of PlayStation and its video games is a great way to start the console generation.