If you were walking past a TV with Astro Bot Rescue Mission on it, you'd be forgiven for assuming it was just another platformer with a cute lead character and the old tried and true gameplay we've come to expect from the genre over the last decade. However, when you get your hands on it, it becomes something truly incredible. This simple unassuming game takes you on a magical journey that feels like it's the only way the genre should ever be experienced. I was constantly smiling and chuckling to myself over the course of the adventure and can't stop showing it to everyone that visits. For a game that seemingly came out of nowhere, Astro Bot has blown away my expectations for what doors PlayStation VR can open for conventional gaming.
You wont be watching long cutscenes or reading pages of character dialogue here. The story is about as basic as they come. The adorable little Astrobots we previously met in the PSVR Playroom are attacked by a comically nasty looking alien, who destroys their ship and scatters them throughout the universe. It's up to you and Captain Astro to travel across five different worlds to recover the little guys and rebuild their ship.
As the player, you're represented in the world as a limbless floating robot with a fancy in-game sci-fi DualShock 4. The unique perspective this provides is an absolute game-changer to the genre. On top of some precise jumping and enemy bashing, you'll have to physically look around for the best view. Some of the enemies wont even target Cap Astro. No, they're just out for you. They'll spit purple slime in your face, which will obscure your view until you physically shake it off. You can bob and weave to dodge these attacks and simultaneously move Astro across precarious platforms, all the while dealing with enemies of his own. It's one of the most beautifully implemented forms of multitasking I've experienced in a game since Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and had me grinning constantly.
Levels look beautiful with a great variety between worlds. One moment you'll be jumping across skyscrapers in the clouds and the next you'll swim alongside dolphins in a tropical paradise. These levels are a mostly linear affair with corridor-like sections interspersed with larger areas, inviting you poke your head around and explore. They're constantly a joy to look at but I do wish Studio Japan had gone just a little more "out-there" with some of the designs.
Boss fights follow the video game "rule of three", but are still a blast to play. You'll have to avoid deadly platforms, jump over shock-waves and and figure out the bosses pattern to time your attacks. The difficulty ramps up in the latter boss fights but anyone familiar with the genre shouldn't have too much trouble. An early boss has you avoiding a huge robot monkey's attacks, while waiting for the right moment to punch his teeth in. You then use the grapple on the controller to yank it right out of his mouth. It's both cartoonishly horrifying and hilarious.
Fighting foes with Captain Astro isn't the only way you interact with the world. You'll come across obstacles and enemies you'll have to physically head-butt. Some levels also introduce a gadget that attaches to your in-game DualShock 4. These are all used with straightforward swipes or presses of the touchpad. One level will see you using a grappling hook to pull down doors and create trapeze lines for Cap to get across large gaps while another has you putting out fires with a hose. The gadgets all feel incredibly tactile and respond perfectly. I'm not usually a fan of touchpad actions in games, but it didn't bother me once during my time.
Each level contains eight Astrobots, hundreds of coins and a hidden chameleon to find. Some of these little guys are so deviously hidden from plain sight that I found myself in some very unusual positions while trying to find them. My wife now has pictures that will likely be used as blackmail in the future. Finding the little bots is always amusing. After Captain Astro gives them a swift kick in the pants, they rocket into the sky and proceed to zoom down into the touch-pad of your controller. I never once got tired of seeing this, and it's testament to just how charmingly everything is presented.
Coins are used to buy attempts at the claw machine in the ship. These unlock different themes, each containing a multitude platform and obstacles for you to play in. It's essentially a small playground to test your skills. finding a hidden chameleon actually involves you having to look around each level with an eagle-eye. They're almost entirely invisible too, with just a bulbous eye visible. Once you stare at it for a few seconds, it'll unlock a challenging time-trial level. These levels are significantly more challenging than any obstacle the story throws at you and are a great addition for those wanting more.
It all sounds quite simple, right? That's because it is, and it's all the better for it. In an age where games are getting more and more complex, it's almost feels wonderfully refreshing to just sit back and play a game for sheer joy of it.
Japan Studios has a long history with the Playstation brand. They obviously have a deep understanding of the hardware and with Astro Bot, they're really starting to show it off. If you own a PSVR setup, you owe it to yourself to play Astro bot Rescue Mission. It's quickly become one of my most memorable gaming experiences of the last few years.