Preview

With Astro Bot, PlayStation Finally Has the Mario Rival It Needs

The Game the PS5 has been missing is almost here.

Astro Bot
PlayStation

Back in the days of the PS2, PlayStation had a slew of great platforming titles, from Ratchet & Clank to Sly Cooper. But those glory days have faded as the company shifted its focus to narrative adventures and multiplayer epics. Nintendo rushed to full that void, pretty much dominating the genre ever since. Enter: Astro Bot.

Astro Bot feels like the game PlayStation needs right now. It’s an adorable and ambitious platformer that’s simply a delight to play in every regard and a reminder that PlayStation’s games can still be simple fun. More than that, after an hour hands-on I get the feeling that this might be the rare gem that can give even Mario a run for his money.

During Summer Game Fest, Inverse had the chance to play through a lengthy demo of Astro Bot consisting of two main levels, a boss fight, and two extra platforming challenges. That’s a lot of gaming to get through but it goes surprisingly fast. I genuinely found myself wishing I could play more when I was done — a good sign at Summer Games Fest when there was a wealth of other titles waiting to be played.

Each Astro Bot level opens with you rocketing in on a PS5 controller, which you can control using by tilting your own controller.

PlayStation

First and foremost, Astro Bot is a visual smorgasbord, an absolute delight to behold. Each level is packed with vibrant colors, weirdo enemies, and hilarious gags. In the first level, I had to jump on a ballooned octopus and grab a zipper to pull down, thus deflating the alarmed beast who now sat in a shriveled pile. The second level, titled Construction Derby, had me weaving through a massive worksite where crane robots moved beams to and fro. This level had a unique gimmick where I could pick up magnet pieces and smash them into the crane bots to make them move. After a momentary shock, the crane bots would give me a quick thumbs up and a wink for helping them demolish the construction site. It’s these kinds of little details that make Astro Bot come alive, and the levels I played were littered with them.

It’s clear Astro Bot wants to be a stress-free platformer, something players of all skill levels can jump into and have a blast. To that end, the controls are extremely simple, only requiring a few buttons. If you’ve played Astro’s Playroom it feels essentially the same, with a jump, attack, and boost. Each level is a collectathon that has you rescuing a number of other Astro Bots, some of which are other PlayStation icons like Kratos or Parappa the Rapper. Of course, there are a wealth of other things to collect and interact with along the way.

But where the complexity of this game comes in is with its clever gimmicks. Each level features a cute animal companion that has a unique ability. The first animal companion I found was an octopus that let Astro inflate himself like Kirby and float high into the air, before letting the air out and coming crashing to the ground. This opened up a whole new side to platforming, letting me reach high-up areas and pull off huge jumps to bypass obstacles.

Boss battles in Astro Bot are climactic affairs that take place on a surprisingly large scale.

PlayStation

The second animal was a little bulldog that worked like a jetpack, letting me rocket ahead. This opened up new combat options that let me smash right through enemies and glass walls, and again gave me new platforming skills by working as a lengthy dash. The final animal was a frog that gave me springy boxing glove arms that could be used as grappling hooks. This companion was also essential for the boss fight, a massive multi-step fight with an octopus that wore gloves on his eight arms.

This boss had a few different phases that required some quick dodging and attacking. In one part, I’d have to hit the octopus’ incoming punch with a flurry of my own, while in another I’d have to get the boss to throw a punch into his own ink, slowing the arm down and letting me get in a few hits. The battle was complex but intuitive, never leaving me feeling confused, but never outright spelling out what I had to do either. Finally overcoming the octopus gave me a little boat to swim over to, which then surprised me as a bot version of Kratos and Atreus smashed into the scene, unlocking a whole new seemingly God of War-themed world that I, unfortunately, couldn’t play.

For those who want an extra challenge, it seems like Astro Bot will have that in spades as well. The final two levels I tried featured difficult platforming meant to test my skills. One had a gimmick of slowing down time to overcome its rotating platforms and enemies, while the other was focused on making super tight jumps to land in specific areas.

The level gimmicks are what really excite me the most about my time with Astro Bot. The basic controls and platforming mechanics feel fantastic to use, but the variety packed into each level with these gimmicks is a blast. Astro Bot is overflowing with charm and fun, and if every level can keep up that same level of variety and invention, this could be an all-timer of a platformer.

Each level in Astro Bot grants you an adorable animal companion with a unique gimmick, which can be used for specific mechanics but also integrally changes your combat and platforming abilities.

PlayStation

Astro’s Playroom, which launched free with the PS5, was an ingenious little platformer that celebrated PlayStation history. With Astro Bot it feels like that experience has been blown up into a massive full game. It’s also clear the development team has put abundant thought into how the Astro Bot experience can be evolved, not just put on a larger scale.

Astro Bot feels like the kind of killer app the PS5 desperately needs right now, a joyous experience that can appeal to players of all stripes. It’s an inventive and infectiously fun platformer — the kind of thing we usually only see from Nintendo itself.

Astro Bot launches on September 5 exclusively for PS5.

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