Retro Respawn – Astro’s Playroom Gets the Nostalgia Balance Right

I have yet to bother getting one of the ninth gen home consoles, mainly because there isn’t much on them that makes me think they are worth it, and I really don’t fancy jumping through the assorted hoops that one needs to in order to acquire one. I was recently at the house of a friend who has a PlayStation 5, however, and he introduced me to Astro’s Playroom, a game from Team Asobi that comes pre-installed on the console itself. Astro’s Playroom is essentially a tech demo designed to show off what the new PS5 control pad is capable of, but it’s also drenched in PlayStation nostalgia.

Taking two somewhat different approaches in the same game could have led to Astro’s Playroom feeling overly weighted in one direction over the other, but Team Asobi have done an excellent job of balancing the nostalgia along with the basic principle of showing off what the new console can do, thus creating a game that can appeal to different types of players. If you’re just there to take a trip down PlayStation memory lane, then you have every reason to keep playing in order to unlock everything you want to see, whilst if you’re just there to get your teeth into what your brand spanking new console can do, then you can focus on that, and the trip down nostalgia lane is just a nice additional side attraction.

For those of you who haven’t had a chance to play Astro’s Playroom (and there’s probably a lot of you who would like to, but you can’t get your hands on a PS5 due to Sony dropping the ball on getting enough of them out and scum of the Earth scalpers buying up a bunch of them to sell at an insane mark-up, but if I keep going on, I’ll rant for the rest of the evening), the game focuses on the titular character as he visits four different levels and picks up classic PlayStation artefacts as he goes. Along the way, Astro will find himself mixing standard platforming puzzles with additional sections where he suits up into a special power-up outfit designed around using the features of the PS5 “DualSense” controller.

These sections will see Astro using the shoulder buttons to grab onto ledges whilst in a monkey suit, with certain sections where you will need to apply just the right amount of pressure on the button in order to climb successfully. Another sees Astro in a space rocket, with another seeing him in a ball and needing to use the touch pad in order to move. By far one of the most frustrating sees Astro in a Frog/Toad suit, where the shoulder buttons need to be held down in order to jump, and the controller itself needs to be moved in order to choose the direction in which Astro moves. Despite some of the more frustrating moments in the special suits, I found Astro’s Playroom to be a lot of fun to play, especially in some of the more fiendish platform sections.

One of my overriding thoughts about Astro’s Playroom, in fact, was that it felt a lot like Team Asobi had taken inspiration from some of the big Nintendo releases in recent years, Super Mario Odyssey in particular. The game certainly has all the hallmarks of an early-in-the-console-lifespan Mario game from Nintendo at points, with Astro’s Playroom working as a very effective showroom floor for the PS5’s capabilities. Speaking to my friend, he gave me the impression that not a lot of the big third-party releases have really made as good a use of the “DualSense” features, but hopefully we will see more of that as the ninth gen rolls on. Team Asobi seem perfectly happy to wear their inspiration on their sleeves, and I can fully appreciate that.

The nostalgia element in Astro’s Playroom is handled really well, with plenty of Easter eggs to be found in every level where some of the Bot characters are acting out scenes from famous PlayStation games. Probably the most fun I had was looking at each one and trying to work out which game it was paying homage to. These little nostalgia nuggets are not only a lot of fun, but they also give you additional impetus to explore every nook and cranny of whichever level you happen to be on, as does unlocking the artefacts, which will then fill up your “Labo” area so that you can admire them to your heart’s content.

Astro’s Playroom probably has about 2-4 hours’ worth of gameplay, depending on how serious you are about going 100% on it, but for what essentially amounts to a free pack-in game designed to show you what your new machine is capable of, that’s more than adequate a run-time, in my opinion, and I certainly had fun with the game. It didn’t make me desperate to get a PS5 anytime soon, but I was suitably impressed with what the kit can do. I’m still not sure when I’ll dip into the ninth gen, and I’m also not sure which console I will eventually go with, but Astro’s Playroom was a fun trip down memory lane (especially when it came to the game’s final boss, which I won’t spoil here), and it brought a smile to my face to see some classic PlayStation clobber on the big screen like that.

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