Astro’s Playroom is Still My Favourite PlayStation 5 Experience

I revisit the transcendent tech demo that remains the system's best experience before the much anticipated launch of its expansive sequel ...

Whoever thought a game designed as a free tech demo, coming pre-installed on every PlayStation 5, would still be the best showcase of the console and controller almost four years later. Astro’s Playroom is a tutorial, an introduction to the PlayStation 5 and its DualSense controller, but it’s also so much more. It’s a genuinely great little platformer that is just as fun to play today as it was at launch. Yet now it feels less and less like the game was designed to show off the controller and more like the controller was designed for this game. The functionality of the DualSense has never been better utilised.

Don’t get me wrong, the PS5 is great. It’s everything I need it to be. I’m not going to pretend I understand the technical aspects or specifications of what’s inside the console; all I know is the games look and play great. I only recently got around to playing Horizon: Forbidden West and was blown away by the detail of the character models. It’s the quality of life improvements that continue to impress the most, however: the loading times and general speed. So Astro’s Playroom still being my favourite PlayStation 5 experience is less a slight on everything else and more just praise for the game itself.

At launch, alongside the console, is bought Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. I didn’t play a second of either until I platinumed Astro’s Playroom. I was planning to just quickly check it out, test out the controller while the other games installed, but couldn’t put it down until it was 100 percent complete. My joy of getting the new console is intrinsically linked to Astro’s Playroom, and I imagine that’s true for many. Astro Bot himself (itself?) is now a bona fide PlayStation icon.

It was a pleasure to return to Astro’s Playroom, especially with the new update of added trophies and content. The biggest difference however is that I’m now totally familiar with the DualSense controller. The controls and vibrations naturally don’t feel as revelatory now. In fact, I recently had to turn down the rumble settings or it would have been a race between what happened first: platinuming Control or carpal tunnel syndrome. I found the touch pad controls much easier to master this time around, and blowing on the speaker feels like the one gimmick in the game which, thankfully, I haven’t encountered in any other. It remains the more subtle vibrations that impress most: the patter of rain on an umbrella rather than explosions.

The game is still visually beautiful and plays beautifully, too. It’s not the most original game but it doesn’t need to be. Quick levels, basic enemies, easy attacks. But who cares when its executed so perfectly. It’s deeply satisfying to play. Simple, yes, but very fun. The music by Kenneth Young is also a highlight. If I had known how long I’d have the GPU song stuck in my head, I might have thought twice about replaying the game.

Astro’s Playroom is a celebration of all things PlayStation. It’s set inside a PlayStation 5, has multiple bots dressed as PlayStation characters, and has you chasing down collectable ‘artifacts’. These are old accessories and peripherals and turn the game into a nostalgia trip for older gamers. “Man, I remember that ugly PS Eye camera I blu tacked to the top of my TV.” I almost teared up when Astro walked into the PS2 main menu. These aspects could be in danger of feeling cynical; the collectable PS5 Pulse headset feeling like an advert more than anything. But the game is so strong and sincere and charming that it never feels cheap. But, to be fair, I’m pretty sure Astro could come out and sell me crypto and I’d probably go along with it.

Each of Astro’s Playroom’s four worlds are split into four levels, two of which are played with that world’s unique mechanic. These are a key part of turning what could have been a barebones tutorial demo into an actual game, but they’re also a mixed bag. The frog-hopping sections are a little dull, and the tension of the triggers liable to give you arthritis, and the climbing monkey limits exploration. When the core Astro Bot gameplay is so good, the extra sections feel unnecessary, at least for a game of this size. Although, hats off to the developers for mixing it up so much. The zip you have to zip up using the touch pad before entering these sections almost make them worth it though; it’s so satisfying.

It seems the only thing that could dethrone Astro’s Playroom as my favourite PlayStation 5 experience is more Astro Bot. Thankfully, that’s just what Team Asobi has been working on. The sequel Astro Bot is coming on September 6th and the trailer looks incredible. If Astro’s Playroom is what this team can deliver as a free tech demo, I can’t wait to experience what a full game is like.


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