It would be easy to write off Astro’s Playroom as just another pack-in game, but what Sony has put together to highlight the PlayStation 5 is still very impressive. Because the DualSense controller is arguably the biggest leap forward for Sony next after VR, there is a lot of ways that Astro’s Playroom shines. It’s much more than a one-trick pony and for a game that comes free with every PS5, it’s well worth giving a look.
The core concept behind Astro’s Playroom is to highlight the numerous ways that the DualSense controller can interact with a game world. Whether it’s the usual motion control, the adaptive triggers, or so many different haptic feedback permutations it’s dizzying, there is a lot of ground for Astro’s Playroom to cover.
Sony smartly separates Astro’s Playroom into distinct levels inspired by the various core components of the PlayStation 5. We won’t spoil all of them for those who like that sense of discovery in platformers, but the one that Sony has been using to show off Astro’s Playroom is called Cooling Springs. It's inspired by the cooling systems inside the PS5 and has a theme that blends the tropical with the frigid.
Each of these levels isn’t meant to teach the player about how those core components work, but rather to use them as inspiration for an overarching theme. Cooling Springs, for example, has a bunch of spinning fans built into the environment, but there are also sandy beaches and snowy mountains in the level as well. As far as their design, the levels are standard platform fare with tons of nooks and crannies to find hidden collectibles and alternate paths that players might only find on a second playthrough.
Astro Bot Rescue Mission is a legitimately great game that uses the PlayStation VR to great effect, but Astro’s Playroom is a little more familiar. There are some of those Rescue Mission design sensibilities on display in the game, especially with the more inventive platforming sections or the boss battles, but in terms of a general layout, there isn’t a lot that players won’t have seen before.
What makes Astro’s Playroom feel novel or even unique is its integration with the DualSense controller and its haptic feedback feature. Every few steps will uncover a new thing to interact with that will influence the DualSense controller in some way. Walking on the beach feels completely different than rustling through waist-high grass thanks to the way the haptic feedback of the DualSense works. These subtle vibrations (if it’s even fair to call them that) can simulate a number of sensations, from zipping up a giant monkey suit to the pitter-patter of rain on an umbrella.
The adaptive triggers on the DualSense perform a similar function in that they attempt to mimic different types of resistances while performing certain actions. Usually, the adaptive triggers work hand in hand with the haptic feedback to create one sensory experience, but there is still a noticeable change in the triggers depending on what Astro is doing. Climbing up a series of handholds, for example, has a point about halfway through the trigger pull that tries to simulate your finger clinging to a curved surface and then exerting force to lift up.
Compared to the feedback, where the response can be a little more subtle, it’s always obvious when the adaptive triggers are doing something different and Astro’s Playroom has a variety of instances where it shows off the DualSense feature. It’s obvious because the game wants players to understand the potential, and that’s certainly there.