I have had the game Astro’s Playroom stuck in my head the way most people get songs stuck in their head. (That means it’s more infectious, more hilarious, and more energizing than the tune it recently replaced, the original TikTok diddy that spawned the unofficial Gen Z Ratatouille musical.)
It seems that every console innovation must come with it a first-party game, either given away for free or sold at a significant discount, that functions entirely as a way to teach the general public — and third-party developers — exactly why they should value whatever gimmick the console producer is pushing that generation. The high watermark for such titles remains Wii Sports, which is still being played by grandparents and small children in living rooms across the world to this very day.
Well, for the first time in a long time: Sony has out Nintendo’d Nintendo.
And the game that did it is the sequel to the 2013 PS4 game The Playroom and 2018’s PSVR game Astro Bot Rescue Mission, with which I was also obsessed. Astro’s Playroom comes free as a pack-in with the purchase of every Sony PlayStation 5 and follows a small, pudgy, adorable little robot as it collects coins, stomps enemies, and unlocks artifacts from PlayStation history.
This does not properly explain to you, reader, exactly what makes this game so addicting. The key to its success is its utilization of the PS5’s new DualSense controller, which touts immersive features like a built-in microphone and speaker, advanced haptic feedback, touch controls, motion controls, and adaptive triggers. To get an idea of what this does, imagine you’re playing a game and suddenly you see a flash of lightning. Then, before you can even visually register it, you can hear and feel raindrops falling on to your controller. Your character begins to slip around the environment so, to steady yourself, you use the triggers to direct it to grab on to something. But the triggers start fighting you back since it’s not always easy to get a grip in the rain. That’s the DualSense experience. It’s mesmerizing.
As capable as this feature set is, third party devs aren’t really incentivized to put any time or energy investing into features that won’t be included in the release of their game for other platforms. Which is what makes Astro’s Playroom Sony’s secret weapon. After playing this game, you’ll be begging for everything you play going forward to keep up with it.
The game takes place entirely within a fantasized version of the PS5’s internals, with each area of the console’s architecture functioning as a gateway to a themed location in which Astro will need to don a new robot suit in order to rise to new challenges. I had more fun zipping little Astro into tiny outfits and learning how to use them than I have playing a Mario game in many, many years. There’s a wonderful sense of discovery when you put on a giant spring, realize that you need to tilt the controller and squeeze your triggers to pressurize it, and aim Astro in whatever direction it needs to go in. It literally feels like nothing else I’ve ever experienced before in the medium of video games.
Both the gameplay loop and the immersive feedback of the DualSense are addicting and, like any other drugs you try, become more than the sum of their parts when used in combination. Sony had a critical darling on their hands with Astro Bot Rescue Mission but, for whatever reason, the DualSense is making a far more convincing mass-market case for itself than virtual reality has so far. The company would be wise to green light a full-fledged series of Astro games sooner rather than later. Also to roll out some Astro merch, since the little bot is practically perfect plushy material.
While the PS5 is difficult to get your hands on this holiday season, it won’t always be. So when you get the chance, please do not judge this game by its price tag. It will make you into a believer in the DualSense and in Sony’s new little mascot.