Let’s be honest for a moment; you don’t generally expect to receive a free high-quality video game when you first purchase a new system. Historically, you may have been lucky to receive a demo disk bundled with your console. This trend shifted with the seventh-generation of consoles with the release of Wii Sports on the Nintendo Wii. This simple mini-game collection delivered hours of quality family fun while highlighting the capabilities of the Wiimote. While this was more a once-off for Nintendo, Sony Interactive Entertainment has since the eighth-generation, delivered these games for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR and now the PlayStation 5.
All developed by SIE Japan Studio’s talented Asobi Team, this started with the PlayStation Camera’s The Playroom and Astro Bot Rescue Mission for the PlayStation VR. Both bucked the assumption that “they are free, therefore half-assed”, serving as not just tech demos but fully-fledged games – especially the latter. Outshining both on the PlayStation 5 however, is Astro’s Playroom. This several-hours long platformer strikes a right balance between challenge, showcasing the DualSense Controller’s capabilities and evoking a boundless level of nostalgia for long-time PlayStation gamers.
In Astro’s Playroom, you take control of Captain Astro, who is tasked with exploring four themed worlds contained within your PlayStation 5 console. These include from the tropical to arctic setting within Cooling Springs, the foresty expanse of GPU Jungle, the picturesque nature of Memory Meadow and the information superhighways of SSD Speedway. Each are split up into multiple areas, some of which take the shape of standard platforming levels and others which explicitly involve a particular DualSense controller functionality.
Like many platformers even today, while the initial goal of these stages is to get to the end, they are littered with a variety of collectables obtainable to those who are willing to deviate from the linear path and find all sorts of hidden areas. These include puzzle pieces which can be used to progressively unlock art and artefacts based on previous PlayStation console hardware and accessories. Each of the four worlds, while being based on one or two themes, contain artefacts based around a particular console. There are a few minor accessories such as the PS3 WonderBook which are left out, but a majority of PlayStation console units, controllers and accessories can be unlocked. It can be at times, a nostalgia overload. For me, this was seeing the PlayStation 2’s EyeToy Camera, something which is what brought me as a younger gamer to the PlayStation in the first place.
Each world takes the most of an hour to complete, meaning that alongside a final stage and dedicated speed run levels, you can easily 100% Platinum Astro’s Playroom in a good five or six hours. While that is hardly the length of other platformers on the market today, disregarding that this is a free tech demo, each area features top-level, enjoyable platforming that I think is worth playing through multiple times.
Furthermore, there are so many easter eggs to discover, from environmental references to set recordings of other robots reenacting scenes from a variety of different video games. Oh, and the trophies also reference various games in the PlayStation library. If you ever needed to get the line “Jasoooooon!” from Heavy Rain stuck in your head again, Astro’s Playroom makes sure that happens. Given that PlayStation has never had a long-term mascot equivalent to Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. characters or Xbox’s Master Chief from Halo, it can sometimes feel hard to be nostalgic behind their first-party IPs which have been explored on-and-off over the years. Yet, Astro’s Playroom lovingly brings many of the games and experiences we have loved over the last twenty plus years into one fun game.
Collecting each world’s collectables is not only just about maxing out your completion level. Through the in-world hub, players can access the PlayStation Labo, a place where all your collected artefacts and puzzle pieces reside. Most of the items have some interactive element to them, so if you feel nostalgic about the beep when a console turns on or love the different colours a PlayStation Move controller can switch between, then you will enjoy messing around in this mode. But it is a little ironic that the game involves you being in a PlayStation 5 with worlds referencing the PlayStation 1, 2 and 3… given that unlike the Xbox Series X which has backwards compatibility across their entire library, the PS5 is only backwards compatible with PS4 games.
Astro’s Playroom may not be as of much interest to you initially as the new games you spent $100 AUD plus on purchasing. But when you have some time, I would whole-heartedly recommend this fun romp through Sony Interactive Entertainment’s history with the PlayStation line-of consoles. Easter eggs aplenty, solid platforming and incredibly high visual and audio production values make this, arguably, the best quality free game to showcase a console’s capabilities to date – maybe even the most enjoyable!