Astro’s Playroom is a free and short platformer installed by default on every PlayStation 5. The game was created by the Asobi division of the Japanese developer arm of Sony, the studio that also made renowned predecessor Astro Bot: Rescue Mission. That is a joyful fact, because this game shows what makes the PlayStation 5 next-gen. But not for the reasons you might think.
Sony currently only allows journalists to talk about one level: a small part of the game called Cooling Springs. So we have to be vague about the entire game. Fortunately, there is plenty to write about Cooling Springs, and in particular about how the level uses the new DualSense controller.
Cooling Springs is… cool
Cooling Springs is a kind of chilled oasis set around the literal PlayStation 5 fans (as in: fans, not YouTube’s comment section). It is a sunny, but at the same time freezing cold game world, full of swimming pools, ice floes and beaches. It looks incredibly beautiful. The HDR really pops off your screen, the frame rate does not feel under 60 frames at any time and the animations are incredibly comical and cute.
Exuberant: That might be the best word to describe this game. All around you those crazy Astros are playing with equipment or games. They play Botcharted or Bot of War, are hidden under a box because they imitate Solid Snake, or – in the case of Cooling Springs – are floating in the water with a drink to hand. There is a lot to see and discover in this level.
You guessed it in that sense: I would like to write a lot more about that, but that is not possible. Let me put it as gently as possible: based on Cooling Springs, I wouldn’t mind if a full, more expanded version of Astro’s Playroom came out later. In fact, Sony must be crazy not to do that. More about that later in the game’s full review, which is posted on this site on the day of embargo.
Anyway, why is Astro’s Playroom so cool? Well, not only because loading times between levels are almost non-existent and the game showcases the new power of the PlayStation 5 in every way possible. No, the real power of Astro’s Playroom, and perhaps this console, lies in the controller. You read that right: the DualSense is really next-gen. It’s an incredibly impressive controller.
The DualSense is an experience in itself
Of course the controller again has SixAxis and a touch-sensitive touchpad. There is now also a microphone in the controller. You have to blow into it to drive a propeller of an airship in Astro’s Playroom. But all those options are dwarfed by the new haptic feedback and adaptive triggers. This controller really put a smile on my face for the first few minutes. That smile only broadened when I found out how cleverly Astro’s Playroom responds to the new possibilities.
Starting with the most radical change: the haptic feedback. It is very difficult to describe the feeling that this controller gives the player. Think of it like this: every step you take and every drop that hits your character, you feel in the controller as a kind of tap. It is as if a very small rubber band is being fired into your palms, and precisely distributed between the left and right sides of the DualSense.
The haptic rumble feels like nothing I’ve ever felt in a controller. How the rumble now rolls through the controller and simulates exactly what you experience on the screen is very special. Different surfaces, such as an ice floe or a sandy beach, ‘feel’ different when you walk over them. But you also feel it when you pull on a power cable, for example. Those cables come up from the ground at various points in Cooling Springs and require you to pull them out completely. Every time you walk backwards while pulling the cable, you can feel the rumble ‘going off’ a little louder.
This controller really put a smile on my face for the first few minutes. That smile only broadened when I found out how cleverly Astro’s Playroom responds to the new possibilities.
Again: it is difficult to explain. It almost feels like the controller could actually shoot out of your hand. You know that feeling in Forza Motorsport or Forza Horizon when you drive over sand or asphalt with an Xbox One controller? You can feel that difference in the triggers. But with the DualSense you can feel that difference throughout your controller, plus much more intense, plus much more precise. It’s by far the best form of feedback I’ve ever experienced in a controller. By far.
That feeling is only enhanced by another great quality: the adaptive triggers. This is also difficult to explain, but see it this way: the new triggers can be very stiff or very flexible independently of each other. Suppose you pull on a cable. Thanks to the DualSense it is becoming increasingly difficult to press the triggers. The trigger simulates the increased tension on the cable. Unfortunately, there are not many other moments in Cooling Springs that simulate that effect. Are there other levels that show the triggers better? Who knows!
Astro’s Playroom (at least, Cooling Springs) is a very creative and roguish platformer that leans on PlayStation nostalgia. But above all, Astro’s Playroom is a showcase of the DualSense controller. I honestly didn’t expect to say this, but the controller of the PlayStation 5 really feels next-gen. You immediately have the feeling that you are playing something special; to experience something you have never felt before.
Obviously, Astro’s Playroom the showcase. It is still difficult to say how other games use the controller. It is to be hoped that developers, especially third parties, do not forget how impressive the possibilities are. Because that the DualSense has added value is completely beyond dispute.
Astro’s Playroom is free and will be included with every PlayStation 5 from its launch on November 19th.