astro bot

Astro Bot Is A Non-Stop Rollercoaster Of Pure Joy

PlayStation's new platformer is coming for the crown.

I’ve been a sucker for a platformer for as long as I’ve been gaming, first cutting my teeth on 2D SEGA titles like Sonic the Hedgehog and Alex Kidd before eventually finding some of my all-time favourite games in PlayStation’s early 3D stable – your Crash Bandicoots and Spyros, Ratchet and Jak, Sly Cooper and the like. While a lot of these games very much do their own thing within the genre and have unique qualities to offer, Team ASOBI’s upcoming Astro Bot feels like the first time a PlayStation platformer has met a certain Italian plumber on his own turf and genuinely managed to crack the formula. The key ingredient? Pure, unfiltered joy.

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That was my biggest takeaway after being fortunate enough to spend some hands-on time with Astro Bot at the PlayStation Australia offices this week. This is a game that’s inherently, intrinsically joyful in a way that so few games manage to capture. This is Team ASOBI firing on all cylinders, but the cylinders are filled with glitter and confetti and they’re being operated by puppies wearing helicopter hats. That’s the level of joy we’re working with, here. I told myself I wouldn’t make the comparison but it’s honestly unavoidable – just a short time with the game has already given me the same feelings as Super Mario Odyssey did back in 2017.

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Right from the moment I picked up the controller, presented with a map of one of the game’s six galaxies and the ability to fly around it in Astro’s DualSense rocket, it was clear that ASOBI doesn’t want to waste a single second in-game where something fun isn’t happening. As I fly to the first available level icon and select it, Astro’s ship descends down and in just a few short seconds I’m flying right into the level itself, still fully in control thanks to the real-world DualSense’s gyros. Once I’ve landed, things start to feel nice and familiar to Astro’s previous outings, making it an easy thing to pick up and play following 2020’s free Astro’s Playroom experience.

This first stage in the preview build, dubbed Sky Garden, is marked as one of the easier of the 80 that’ll ship in the full game, helping me dip my toes in both figuratively and literally – quite soon into the level I discover that Astro is now able to fully immerse and swim underwater. It’s in this level that I also get access to one of the game’s new gadgets, which seem to be typically tied to the DualSense’s triggers and used as one-off gimmicks to add flavour to the platforming. In this case, I got hold of an inflatable suit that would shoot Astro into the air and then allow him to gently float down, classic balloon-deflating sounds and all.

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This came in handy for traversing the level’s critical path but naturally also for finding secrets and collectibles. The next stage, Construction Derby, was much the same – this time equipping me with an adorable robot pup that acted as a jetpack for crossing large distances and smashing through tough obstacles. Both of these made great use of the DualSense’s haptics and adaptive triggers to provide a lot of immediate and detailed feedback that made using them a blast. 

Through these gadgets, as well as other moments built into the stages that played on the unique features of the DualSense, Astro Bot goes to great effort to constantly reward players for their curiosity and platforming skill, whether it’s with collectible items, visual gags, fun PlayStation references or bonus challenges. Often it’s in the name of rescuing the many bot friends trapped in each stage, which is Astro’s main mission through this whole thing. 

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Most of these are your standard bots, but each level has at least a couple that are cosplaying as iconic PlayStation characters. In Sky Garden it was Ratchet and Rivet of Ratchet & Clank fame, in Construction Derby it was PaRappa the Rapper and Um Jammer Lammy, and then in the boss stage I played it was none other than God of War’s Kratos and Atreus. What’s most exciting is some of these look to be more than just surface-level cameos, with Kratos and son putting the finishing touches on the huge octopus boss, Wako Tako, before shooting off to what seems to be an entire stage dedicated to the world of their games – something I unfortunately wasn’t able to access as part of my preview. I’m very keen to find out more about what’s going on there.

The big battle leading up to this moment was a total blast in itself. What started out as standard pattern-recognition 3D platformer boss fare quickly proved to be more exciting and engaging than that thanks to another of the new gadgets, a pair of adorably frog-themed, extendable boxing gloves that I could operate individually using the left and right triggers, to pummel Wako Tako with as well as swing from certain platforms and fling myself into him for a devastating finisher.

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More than anything I’d seen yet, this was the moment in the demo that proved just how visually and musically spectacular Astro Bot is shaping up to be, as well. Things are high-fidelity, sure, but more than that it’s all animated with a ridiculous amount of personality and energy. ASOBI is cooking in a way that I would absolutely expect of Nintendo if it had access to the power of the PS5’s hardware. And it’s the sheer number of bespoke, one-and-done details and flourishes that really drive home the care being put into this thing. If what I’ve seen is the kind of standard that can be expected through the entire game, it’ll truly be something special. I’m especially pleased to report that the soundtrack is somehow even more bop-worthy than Astro’s Playroom’s even this early on.

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After churning my way through two full stages and a boss, all that was left was to tackle two of Astro Bot’s “challenge stages,” which are succinct and abstract little tests of platforming prowess that exist to deliver some added spice to players that feel ready for it. The first of these, titled Swinging Sentries, pushed my platforming coordination and timing to the limit in a race to save Naughty Dog’s legendary Jak, while Slowdown Showdown handed me the means to very briefly freeze enemies and osbtacles in place and clear a path with the tightest of margins on my way to save Journey’s Traveler. It’s great to see that there’ll be excitement to find for all ages and skill levels, and these harder moments were welcome proof of how fluid and tight Astro’s core platforming is.

And really it all comes back to that initial concept – joy. I couldn’t show you even 30 seconds during my time with Astro Bot that didn’t feature something new and exciting for me to see or do. It’s a celebration of what makes 3D platformers so compelling as much as it is a celebration of all things PlayStation, and powered by the platform’s new de facto mascot it’s entirely emblematic of the sheer wonder to be found in video games. If the final product has me grinning and cheering even half as consistently as these handful of stages did, it’ll be tough for anything to beat Astro Bot out as the most joyful game of the year.