Astro’s Playroom makes an extremely convincing case for Astro Bot to become a legitimate mascot for the PlayStation brand as a whole. And yet, despite his previous game being a VR exclusive, this one’s VR support is conspicuously absent.
Go to this time stamp (3:00) in the video above to see some Astro Bot gameplay and DualSense controller impressions
From the bit that I’ve played so far, basically just the opening ‘Cooling Springs’ level (full playthrough here), Astro’s Playroom seems like a really excellent game. It follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, the excellent PSVR-exclusive Astro Bot: Rescue Mission, and brings a bright, cheery, and colorful 3D platformer adventure to life. It’s a genre that’s often neglected these days, but it clearly still has a lot of life left over.
In Astro Bot on PSVR (for PS4) the DualShock 4 controller and PSVR headset itself were used in a litany of novel ways. You could headbutt objects in the environment to interact with them, dodge things thrown at you, or sometimes lean and peek around corners to find hidden collectibles. It was a great showcase for why not every single great VR experience needs to be a first-person action game.
When Astro’s Playroom was revealed, as a free pack-in for PS5 no less, we noted the lack of VR support immediately. Ever since The Playroom VR and then the subsequent full-fledged Astro Bot game, he has felt like a VR mascot. But now, he has left the immersive realm behind — sort of.
There are plenty of references to PlayStation’s past throughout Astro’s Playroom. In the Cooling Springs level alone I found 3D model replicas of every iteration of the PlayStation 3, as well as the Navigation Controller and the PS Move Sharp Shooter rifle — the predecessor to the PS Aim Controller. These collectibles are known as “artifacts” and I’d be willing to bet there are plenty of VR-focused artifacts to find as well.
The opening beach environment has floaties in the shapes of PlayStation symbols, other bots litter the background of levels re-enacting scenes from iconic PlayStation games, and the entire premise of the game is that you’re adventuring into the inner-workings of a PS5 itself. It’s very meta, very silly, and extremely charming.
Yet, despite the lack of formal support, it would be inaccurate to say Astro’s Playroom is a sign Sony doesn’t care about VR. If anything, the litany of Easter Eggs (like the fact that Astro himself will put on a VR headset if you idle the controller for long enough) proves Sony recognizes VR as a core tenant of the brand. Or at least that it’s top of mind enough to not forget about.
But ultimately that’s what makes it all the more frustrating that Astro’s latest adventure is missing the peripheral that helped make him so lovable in the first place. In my mind, Astro and VR are intrinsically linked. Playing Astro’s Playroom without a VR headset just feels incomplete. Like an imitation of something else.
I miss being able to lean in and wave at my little buddy or lean around corners scoping out enemies. I miss how interactive it felt and that feeling that I was right there in his world with him. Seeing him through the window of a TV screen just isn’t the same — even in native 4K resolution.
Generally, I feel like the lack of VR support here, from a studio that has made VR a bit of a specialty in recent years, is just an enormous missed opportunity. I can’t think of a reasonable reason to not put in optional VR support other than Sony decided it wasn’t worth the time, and that’s a shame.
Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions here and once the PSVR 2 arrives there will be another new Astro adventure or, at least, VR support added to Astro’s Playroom. Maybe.
At the end of the day Sony appears to be adapting the character to appeal to a broader audience by removing the shackles of a VR headset and I think they’re going to succeed in that regard — but I just hope it doesn’t come at the cost of their support for VR as a medium.
Astro’s Playroom will be included on every PlayStation 5 console for free and is a great showcase for the new DualSense PS5 Controller — we highly recommend you play it if you get a PS5.