Astro’s Playroom Review — Invigorating the DualSenses
As a showcase for the PS5 and DualSense, Astro's Playroom is more than just a tech demo; it's also a playful and remarkably fun platformer.
The tradition of pack-in games with a new console has often been a bit of a mixed bag. For every game like Wii Sports that comes to define a brand new system for years to come, there is just as much of a chance of crafting an experience that is more or less a tech demo with minimal depth. As a showcase for the capabilities of the PS5 and (more importantly) the DualSense controller, Astro’s Playroom is, thankfully, much closer to the former than the latter, and easily should be one of the first things to play if you have a PS5 at launch.
Astro’s Playroom comes pre-installed on the PS5, meaning that you have a really good incentive to start playing it while you’re waiting for the rest of your PS5 launch titles to download, whether that’s Demon’s Souls, Miles Morales, or anything else in-between. It also happens to be pretty short, only taking about 2-3 hours to run through each of the game’s five areas, making for a wonderfully short and sweet experience. But out of all the titles that I’ve played so far for the PS5’s launch, few have put as big of a smile on my face as playing Astro’s Playroom, and for the fact that it truly feels like the most “next-gen” of them all.
Featuring the adorable robot protagonist of Astro Bot Rescue Mission–a game that I unfortunately missed out on as someone that doesn’t have a PSVR headset–Astro’s Playroom is a non-VR experience focused more specifically on the DualSense controller. The game features four different areas that you navigate Astro through like you would in a traditional 3D platformer; there is also a fifth secret world that I don’t want to spoil, but it’s well worth seeing through to the very end. For the most part, Astro’s Playroom is an easy experience to jump into; it’s straightforward, not especially difficult, and charming in all the right ways.
While Astro’s Playroom is a solid platformer in its own right, the real trick that pulls it together is its integration of the DualSense controller, turning a pleasant experience into a magical one. It’s a difficult sensation to describe in writing versus having the actual controller in hand to play it, but more than most other titles that I’ve played on the PS5 so far, Astro’s Playroom made me get why the DualSense controller has so much potential for this generation.
Throughout each of its different worlds, Astro’s Playroom utilizes the DualSense controller to make playing it so much more immersive, fun, and just cool to feel in motion. From the starting area where you can feel the pitter-patter of Astro’s feet on a metal bridge, to later in the game when you can feel the tension of pulling back on a bow-and-arrow from the adaptive triggers, the DualSense’s capabilities elevate almost every part of playing Astro’s Playroom. Whenever I’d come across a new area or level that introduced some new form of rumble or sensitivity, I couldn’t help but feel a small bit of childlike wonder. It’s easy to feel giddy excitement while playing when the wind would brush past Astro on the beach, or when raindrops would fall onto his robo-umbrella and vibrate the controller in real-time.
During its brief running time, Astro’s Playroom makes a great case for how the small details of the DualSense controller can contribute in a big way to how we play games. From its effective use of the adaptive triggers and haptic feedback, to cute (though non-essential) touches like being able to blow into the mic to power fans and other objects, the game constantly finds new ways to show you the ropes of the DualSense controller in a way that feels organic and fun rather than simply tutorializing. If there’s one small gripe I have with it, however, it’s the integration of motion controls: the few segments that rely entirely on the controller’s motion controls can sometimes feel imprecise and frustrating to control, making me want to get through them as quickly as possible.
It’s also worth noting that for PlayStation fans, Astro’s Playroom is a nostalgic treat full of Sony Easter eggs and references to discover. By far one of the best parts about venturing through each of the game’s levels is finding the extensive references that span the entirety of PlayStation’s history from collectible “artifacts” that include the DualShock 4, PlayStation Move, and Vita, and even to the PS5 itself. I also couldn’t help but stop to take a screenshot of all of the adorable game references acted out by robots in each level, which includes everything from The Last of Us, Final Fantasy, Tekken, and Resident Evil, to more obscure references that are deep in the trenches of PlayStation’s past.
While it might be tempting to shrug off as a “tech demo” to delete off your hard drive, Astro’s Playroom is arguably one of the best showpieces for the PS5 and DualSense’s tech at launch. More than most of the other games available for the PS5 right now, Astro’s Playroom is a concise and effective demonstration of the potential for the DualSense controller, alongside being a fun and charming platformer in its own right. Whether you decide to jump into a title like Demon’s Souls or Spider-Man: Miles Morales at launch, make sure to set aside some time with Astro as well if you want a truly next-gen experience.