There was once a time when pack-in bundled games were regarded as the very best games available for that new console. You bought a Super Nintendo to play Super Mario World because it came in the box. The Sega Genesis came with Altered Beast, but eventually they switched that to Sonic the Hedgehog. Those days are mostly gone since game and console bundles are instead used as marketing devices to boost sales mid-generation.
Luckily, Sony seems intent on reliving their past in more than one way with the launch of the PS5. Not only is Astro's Playroom a fantastic little 3D platformer that proves Astro has real mascot potential for the PlayStation brand, but it's also an excellent demo for the DualSense controller and a no-brainer recommendation as the first game anyone should play on their newly opened PlayStation 5.
At a glance
Bottom line: Since this is a free pack-in game there is no deliberation required on whether or not you should buy Astro's Playroom — you've already got access to it for free if you own a PS5. The question is should you play it and the answer is a resounding yes if you've ever found yourself nostalgic for PlayStation as a brand or if you enjoy 3D platformers. It's a great, albeit brief, adventure.
- Incredible showcase for DualSense controller features
- Bright, colorful art styles
- Cute and charming characters
- Simple yet addictive platforming gameplay
- Lots of collectibles after completing game
- Extremely short, can finish all levels in around 3 hours
- Story could really be fleshed out more
- Not much gameplay evolution
Disclaimer: Astro's Playroom is a free pack-in exclusive title that comes pre-installed on all retail PlayStation 5 consoles. You can access it from your Game Library.
What you'll love about Astro's Playroom
Without spoiling anything, Astro's Playroom essentially takes place inside the inner workings of a PS5 console. Each of the four main zones are themed after hardware concepts such as the SSD Speedway and the Cooling Springs. Each world is also themed after a particular era of PlayStation's past with a slew of collectible "artifacts" or pieces of PlayStation hardware you can amass into a collection back in the main lobby of the overworld. Cooling Springs for example is chocked full of various PS3 models, the PS Sharp Shooter gun, the PSP, Vita, and so on. A later zone has various PS2 iterations, memory cards, and more.
The DualSense is the most innovative update to game controller technology since the debut of the analog stick.
Gameplay is simple and straightforward, but still tons of fun. Astro can run, jump, hover, and charge up a spin attack. Each level also features a suit of some sort he puts on to take the form of something else, such as a spring-loaded robot or even a large metallic ball, reminiscent of Marble Madness. These segments are relatively short-lived but do a good job of shaking up the formula so the running and jumping doesn't get too stale too quickly.
Replaying levels is fun enough to find the hidden artifacts and jigsaw puzzle pieces to complete the mural in the lobby, but there isn't much incentive beyond that. Using the new PS5 hint system accessible from the overlay menu works well to track down tricky hidden objects and should make getting tricky trophies much more manageable in games like this going forward.
As someone that has owned and loved every single PlayStation console from the PS1 to the PS Vita and PS4, it was an absolute treat to play Astro's Playroom. I don't hide the fact that I'm a genuine PlayStation fan, wearing PS symbol t-shirts often and sporting my Crash Bandicoot controller holder — it's not really a secret. So getting to literally dig up fossils of the past and then have the physical representations of my nostalgia gamified within a game even further was just magical.
It was an absolute treat to play Astro's Playroom.
The final boss is a deep cut reference to a classic PS1 tech demo that you'll immediately recognize if you've been gaming with PlayStation long enough and it was a real treat to experience.
Once you finish all the levels at least once you'll unlock a series of "speed run" levels that are variants off of the game's main levels. I appreciated these because they weren't just the same exact levels with a timer added, but instead offered totally new paths and obstacles through a stage that was merely themed after the existing level. You'll recognize backgrounds and a few elements, but they may as well be new levels. Each of them can be completed in around a minute or less and there's a leaderboard to see how you stack up.
The difference in the DualSense
I mentioned this already in my Astro's Playroom preview, but it really can't be overstated how innovative the DualSense PS5 Controller is and just how effective Astro's Playroom is at showing it off. From the opening moments when it teaches you about the adaptive triggers and haptic feedback it never stops impressing all the way until the very end.
Usually rumble tends to fade away and eventually becomes something I stop noticing. In some cases I'll turn it off entirely so it doesn't distract me. But in the case of the DualSense, for the first time ever really, I feel like it actually enhances and changes the game for the better.
I used this example last time and I like to explain that with how precise the haptics are here I can actually tell the difference between when Astro walks on wood, metal, glass, and so on. It's really mind-blowing and is frankly impossible to articulate in words. And the way the adaptive triggers provide resistance for pulling down on things like a robot spring or the string of a bow is wonderful. The DualSense is the most innovative update to game controller technology since the debut of the analog stick.
What you might not love about Astro's Playroom
Honestly, the biggest complaint I have with Astro's Playroom is just that it's too damn short. I finished all 16 of the main levels, the final area, and completed each of the speed run trials in around three hours. That's not very much content — but I still have well over half of the game's collectibles left to discover, which could easily double the amount of time spent if I wanted to go for the platinum.
That being said, the fact that my biggest complaint is just that I really wish there was more, is almost more of a compliment. Astro's Playroom is an extremely well-designed platformer and getting access to it for free feels like a steal. Even as-is I'd wager Sony could easily charge $20 and most people would happily pay that without feeling ripped off at all.
On a related note, I'd have liked to see Astro gain some new tricks gradually over his adventure that would allow some of his limited upgrades such as the bow and arrow to become permanent. You only get to use these new powers very briefly before they get taken away again so it's only really a distraction and never an evolution at all.
I would have loved a more considered narrative.
As much as I love the adaptive triggers I wasn't a fan of the sections with the spring robot, but I really enjoyed the swinging monkey (which requires you to move the controller up and down to get momentum) and the metallic marble-style ball segments (for these you move the controller around using the gyroscope to navigate obstacles courses) and would have liked the ability to call on those powers at will. Or at least some more replayable sections for things I actually enjoyed.
Finally, as much as I adore Astro's cute nature and attention to detail with its celebration of PlayStation nostalgia, I would have loved a more considered narrative on top of all that. The groundwork is already here for some really clever meta humor about the robots that make PlayStation tick, so it would have only required a little writing and a few dialogue boxes to string the levels together — the rest is already done.
Should you play Astro's Playroom?
Instead of making a purchasing recommendation, with Astro's Playroom the only question is: Should you play it? Is it worth that precious hard drive space and time investment, or should you just delete it and save yourself the space for something else? Luckily, it's absolutely worth a playthrough at least once.
Astro's Playroom excels most in two very specific things: it's an excellent demonstration for what the amazing new DualSense PS5 controller can do and it's a memorable walk down memory lane for decades of pent up nostalgia. If you ever owned a PS1 - PS4 at any point, there's a good chance you'll find a handful of references sprinkled throughout this joyous adventure. It's simple and it's easy, but above all else it makes you smile.
For the players
The little robot that could
Since this is a free pack-in game there is no deliberation required on whether or not you should buy Astro's Playroom — you've already got access to it for free if you own a PS5. The question is should you play it and the answer is a resounding yes if you've ever found yourself nostalgic for PlayStation as a brand or if you enjoy 3D platformers. It's a great, albeit brief, adventure.
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