I Spent An Hour With Astro Bot And Video Games Are Good Again

I Spent An Hour With Astro Bot And Video Games Are Good Again

When the reveal trailer for Astro Bot dropped during the last State of Play, it felt special. Based on nothing more than a gut feeling, I said, “Now, this is a goddamned video game.”

Having now spent an hour with it at PlayStation’s Sydney offices, I can confirm that feeling was bang on.

Astro Bot is a 3D character platformer, a kind of game the AAA industry rarely produces anymore. With only a handful of exceptions, Nintendo has been the sole guardian of the genre for nearly 15 years. Now, PlayStation’s Team Asobi is taking a crack at it, looking to Mario as inspiration as it expands Astro Bot from a PS5 pack-in title to a fully-fledged genre competitor.

In the short hour I spent with Astro Bot, I found numerous nods to the Super Mario games that had inspired it. There’s a bit of Galaxy‘s spatial platforming; there’s a bit of Odyssey‘s more open-plan world design. There were even some challenge levels straight out of Super Mario 3D World. If you’re going to crib from anyone, crib from the best to ever tinker with the genre.

I played through three early game levels and was impressed by what I saw. If you enjoyed Astro’s Playroom, the small but remarkably solid PS5 pack-in game, you’ll find more to like here. It displays the same reverence for the PlayStation brand that Playroom did, which may be important to the more rusted-on fanboys. It also looks for ways to function as a DualSense tech demo, the way that Playroom did. None of that mattered as much to me as getting the fundamentals right, and it does. There has been serious attention paid to platforming pillars like rhythm and momentum, and that was what sold me on it.

The Astro Bot preview build’s three levels felt like an obstacle course to be tackled at speed. The controls felt carefully tweaked to give you the confidence to barrel through even the trickier sections. However, there are multiple parts of each level to be explored, and many are off the beaten path. It’s easy to miss these branches if you’re speedrunning it.

Each level follows a tried and true approach to platform design: There are a number of collectible Things you can find in each level. You don’t NEED to find all the Things, but hunting them all down will dramatically extend your total play time. For Astro Bot, there are two primary Things to collect. The first Thing is the little Bots strewn about the place, all in trouble and in need of your help. Find them, give them an uppercut, and they’ll be rescued into your spaceship. Some of these bots are dressed as famous PlayStation characters — this may be important later. There are about six of these in each level. The second Thing is the puzzle pieces from Astro’s Playroom. There are four of these to find in each level. I don’t actually know what these do yet either, but if it’s the same as Playroom, they’ll become part of a large mural in the game’s hub area.

The challenge levels at the edge of the galactic map were perhaps my favourite part of the preview build. There were only two of them, but each took me about 10 tries to get right. They never infuriated me, and the PS5’s fast load times meant any blown run was quickly reset. Like the challenge levels in Super Mario 3D World, it was about knowing the rhythm. String together the right moves at the right time and you’ll sail through — you just need to make a few attempts to learn what they are.

At the end of my hour, all I wanted was to keep playing. Astro Bot feels familiar in a way that’s comforting and nostalgic, but because the industry doesn’t make many games like this anymore, it also feels oddly fresh. In a world of online, live service, 5v5 shooters that put you on an endless content treadmill, it’s nice to see someone respect the classics and eschew all that nonsense. Yes, it carries a full $109.95 AUD price point, but that initial buy-in will be the game’s sole income stream. So yes, the price is high, but it’s also not going to ask for another dollar after that. And from what I’ve seen, Asobi is doing everything it can to make it worth the expense.

Astro Bot launches exclusively for PS5 on September 6, 2024.

The author travelled to Sydney as a guest of PlayStation AU.

Image: PlayStation, Kotaku Australia

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