Astro's Playroom Review: PS5 Welcome Wagon

  • First Released Nov 12, 2020
  • PS5

Transcending its role as an introduction to the PS5’s features, Astro’s Playroom is a quick and delightful celebration of PlayStation’s history.

In its opening moments, Astro's Playroom literally describes itself as a tutorial. Specifically, it explains that the Playroom's light and lighthearted platforming levels are a means of showing off the special features of the PlayStation 5's new DualSense controller. Some, like the adaptive triggers, haptic feedback, and built-in microphone, are new. Others, like the touchpad and the gyroscope, are not. But they all distinguish the DualSense from its Xbox- and Nintendo-based counterparts. While Astro's Playroom absolutely goes out of its way to offer clever proof of the PS5's potential--the DualSense's new tricks, the improved visuals, the quick load times--the disembodied text at the start of the game sells Astro short. Playroom is an incredibly charming jaunt through a PlayStation-inspired digital theme park, ensuring that your first hop, skip, and jump of the PS5 era is wholly, unequivocally joyful.

Astro's world--the literal playroom--is a cartoon fantasy-style interpretation of the PlayStation 5. The game's four levels and hub world are all named after the console's components, like "GPU Jungle" and "Cooling Springs." Inside, each is a dreamlike PlayStation playground; your typical platforming level locales, like "beach," "city," and "meadow," are decorated with computer chips and parts of PlayStations past woven into their fabric. Each one is densely packed with fun little scenes and interactive set-dressing. Astro's adorable bot friends hang out, play games, and cosplay as some of the platform's iconic characters, making every adventure feel like a party, too. Having the PlayStation hype-train baked into every nook and cranny of the world could have felt overbearing, but it's all very endearing. The level design is more clever than cloying, and the bots are all very cute and their happy vibes are surprisingly contagious.

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The PlayStation references are tied to collectibles, which fill up an interactive museum space called "PlayStation Labo." As you find puzzle pieces that turn to PlayStation-themed murals and giant virtual models, the space quickly turns into a very concentrated nostalgia hit for fans of PlayStation's history. It also gives you a place to use all the coins you've been grabbing: There's a gacha machine in the back that will sell you even more collectibles. That gives you a reason to go, but I found this to be the rare game where I actually wanted to survey the collectibles after I found them. That's partially because I enjoyed walking around and jumping on the giant PlayStation memorabilia, but it's also because the space, full of bots playing with PlayStation gear, felt more engaging than a plain menu or empty "viewing" space.

They are also a wonderful showcase for the PlayStation 5's enhanced visual and technical performance. [Editor's note: You can read our PS5 review for a full breakdown of its performance and more.] Playing on a 4K TV with HDR10, the levels are bright, colorful, and intricately detailed. There are tons of little bots running around in the background, foreground, and everywhere in between, the vast majority you can interact with by jumping on or punching them. Between the bots, enemies, and moving elements like platforms, running water, and floating clouds, the world is full of life.

And there are no meaningful loading screens. Jumping from the hub area to one of the levels triggers a short transition sequence for a couple of seconds, but it feels like a fluid part of the game rather than a distraction.

The levels in Astro's Playroom are populated by PlayStation references and expressive bots.
The levels in Astro's Playroom are populated by PlayStation references and expressive bots.

Though simply going to Astro's Playroom and looking around is a pleasure, the platforming is nothing to sneeze at. Astro's jumps and punches feel snappy and responsive as he makes his way through the world. Much of the platforming is simple, yet still challenging in spots. It helps that each level occasionally branches into two paths--a simple, direct path for new players and a more challenging one for veterans. Experienced players aren't going to have much trouble, even with the tougher sections, but it'll push you to try.

Each level also has two sections where Astro puts on a special suit that gives it a new means of getting around. Each suit is made to highlight one or more DualSense features. In one level, there's the spring suit, which jumps after you pull the triggers and let go, almost as if you were pushing down on an actual spring. In another, you become a giant ball, rolling around by swiping the touchpad. The DualSense's adaptive triggers, which can provide haptic feedback and varying levels of resistance when you pull them, get an especially bright spotlight. The resistance from the triggers, combined with the controller's new, more nuanced haptic feedback, can tell you lots of different things in context, like how much you've pulled back the string of a bow, the building force of a spring-powered jump, or that a locked gacha arm won't budge when you try to steal an extra pull.

All of these sequences are effective demonstrations of the DualSense controller, but not all of them are actually fun. A trigger-powered rocket ship effectively shows off the potential for using trigger resistance to give feedback on a vehicle's throttle, but it relies on careful boosting and, more importantly, unwieldy motion controls that feel frustratingly inaccurate compared to the responsive platforming controls. In fact, motion controls pop up in a couple of these sequences and have an uncanny knack for making any kind of gameplay more wonky and unpleasant than it has to be.

In one level, you scale walls in a monkey suit using minor motion controls and the adaptive triggers.
In one level, you scale walls in a monkey suit using minor motion controls and the adaptive triggers.

There are also fans scattered throughout the level that require you to blow into the DualSense's built-in microphone. It's a neat but ultimately benign trick. In fact, it's completely optional: If you mute the controller mic, the fans spin automatically. Occasionally, forced applications of the DualSense's feature set can hurt the game more than they help.

The best and worst thing I can say about Astro's Playroom is that its role as a demonstration feels a bit wasteful. It's a wondrous little dream world, and I would have loved to spend more time touring it. But that, in itself, is a tremendous achievement. Astro's Playroom, a game that makes no attempt to hide the fact that it is an excuse to show you what a gamepad can do, conjures a world that you will want to see and explore. More than that, its surprisingly delightful celebration of PlayStation and its video games is a great way to kick off a console generation.

Astro's Playroom is featured as one of the best PS5 games.

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The Good

  • Beautiful levels are chock full of clever, charming PlayStation references
  • Solid platforming, including inventive sequences that show off new DualSense features like the adaptive triggers
  • Incredible visual fidelity and highly populated areas bring levels to life, creating a sense of wonder

The Bad

  • Sequences that rely on motion controls don't control well

About the Author

Mike Epstein has owned all five PlayStations in their eras and has petitioned that he should be officially named a PlayStation All-Star... That’s a thing, right? He played Astro’s Playroom for a little over three hours using a PlayStation 5 provided by Sony ahead of launch.