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Astro Bot Hands-On Preview: Greatness Awaits…

Triple-A 3D platformers need to make a comeback in some form. Don’t get me wrong: I do still want indie game devs and smaller companies to make more tributes to the 3D platforming games of yore (circa late 90s), but having one such genre of game fully-backed by a platform whose legacy was set by said 3D platformers would be a nice full circle moment. Remember, the PlayStation wouldn’t go past its first iteration without titles like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro building its foundation and making the mascot platformer genre work at the time.

Until Nintendo announces a new 3D Mario game,PlayStation may be the lead in this contestant-barren race right now with the upcoming Astro Bot. However, it’s starting off the track with its best big-budget foot forward.

 

A New Play(Station)ground

We had an hour-and-a-half hands-on with the latest build of Astro Bot for PlayStation 5, and by golly it is gorgeous as heck! It’s not just the game’s graphical fidelity in motion here, but also Team Asobi’s clear direction of keeping Astro Bot’s visuals and art style clean, cute, and cool at the same time. From the animations of Astro Bot and its rescue companions as they cram into your DualSense controller for transporting (with you being able to interact with them for a bit by shaking the controller) to just the multitude of background activities happening while you’re focusing on the 3D platforming; it’s a stark contrast to the recent load of teen-to-adult games that have been out in this budget and stylings, and I’m all for its playfulness.

I was enamoured for half the time with what’s going on and also spotting the cameos and references the Astro Bot games are known for. At least I don’t have to look hard enough: the Astro Bots you rescue during your platforming sometimes sport a PlayStation character costume. So far we’ve found the following in my playthrough of all five stages (which we’ll recap in a bit):

  • Ratchet from Ratchet & Clank
  • Rivet from Ratchet & Clank
  • Parappa The Rapper
  • Unjammer Lammy
  • Jak from Jakk & Daxter
  • The robed figure from Journey
  • Kratos & Atreus from God of War (2018)

As with all-ages platforming games, you need a control layout that anyone can jump into. The controls in Astro Bot are very simple: you have your jump and attack button, along with a double jump/float combo move that also has a thin laser shooting from your feet. This staple from the earlier Astro Bot games not only tells you visually where you will land, but also deals damage to enemies below you. When you get one of the Astro Bot pack powerups, you use their abilities with either the L2 or R2 triggers (or both at the same time). These are acquired usually halfway in the game, though in boss levels you get them early on so that you can try them out before the big fight.

After entering the Tentacle System (there are 7 in total), we tried out the first planet/stage: Sky Garden. This is the beginner level where you try out Astro Bot’s tools and jumping, while also going through easy platforming and enemy-disposal. The power-up here lets you inflate and float upwards, as well as deflate and descend super-fast. The level is breezy enough for you to mosey along and have fun in while just seeing Astro Bot expanding with hot air and careening upward, making you wonder what the robot is really made of.

And in an off-chance you fly off into the bottomless void, you just restart at the nearest checkpoint which so far seems generous enough. Death is trivial; it just makes you pick up and retry again until you’re done with the stage. I’m glad Astro Bot here adopts the standard from better-than-Mario platformers like Rayman Origins and just not let the concept of lives and death ruin your platforming momentum.

The second planet is the Construction Derby, which features a couple of unique mechanics. One involves a magnet that attracts metals around you and forms into a heavy-enough ball to hit construction switches to trigger the next platforming segments.

Another is the Dog Jetpack powerup that lets you rocketdash AND air rocketdash in a straight line. You need this to traverse through long wide gaps between platforming on the stage and also deal with the evil robot sumo wrestlers since they cannot be hurt with your standard melee spin.

The third planet is focused on a boss called Wako Tako -a giant octopus- and a new powerup which I would refer to as the Frog Punch. Not only do these stretch Astro Bots’ limbs to deal long-ranged punch attacks, but also grapple onto monkeybars, and slingshot to new areas and through things. We had to use this power-up to deal with the octopus menace, which has weak spots on its boxing gloves that can only be broken with Frog Punches.

The boss fight comes in a couple of phases: the fighting portion where you have to trick the octopus to reveal its weak spots, be it luring its tentacle punching gloves to oil or just tire it out. This is then followed by a platforming section that requires me to use the Frog Punch’s swinging and grappling mechanics as fast as possible while avoiding the rushing tide caused by Wako Tako.

We also had a chance to finish two of the toughest stages in the Astro Bot demo: Swinging Sentinels and Slowdown Showdown. These planets are represented by the PlayStation face buttons -former with the Circle and latter with the X- and they have no checkpoints, meaning you have to complete the entire stage in one go. Since Astro Bot can only take one hit before starting over, deaths are inevitable in these tough-as-heck challenges. Swinging Sentinels has you avoiding swinging traps while skating on thin ice and jumping onto launchpads with electric obstacles closing in and out of them.

Slowdown Showdown has you using “time grenades” that slow down time momentarily upon being thrown. You’re given one per obstacle, and have to slow them down so you can at least traverse them normally before the slowdown effect wears off. These stages have a particular trick to beating them, but generally are meant to test your platforming guile and wits to the fullest. We predict that each galaxy in the game have their face buttons extra challenges planets, with each of them getting harder than ex-Sony CEO Jim Ryan when talking about live service PlayStation games.

I should also note that you will always enter and exit the stage in your Astro Bot DualSense glider ship, which you pilot using your -surprise, surprise- DualSense motion control tilting. You also boost through the stage using the L2 and R2 trigger.

 

Rise Of The Robot

Since the game has a multitude of PlayStation mascots and iconic characters from the trailers and on our playthrough of the demo, we also suspect that the game may have PlayStation exclusives-themed planets, possibly with their own mechanics and gimmicks. It’s only a natural evolution of Team Asobi’s game design and level design skills since the team has shown that it can handle it with its previous free PS5 game back at the console’s launch days.

In any case, this PlayStation exclusive may be shaping up to take the 2024 gaming landscape by storm just because it’s taking a tried-and-true idea from the early golden ages of the PlayStation and just making it more joyful to play and experience in a 2024 current-gen context. The first five levels we played featured a huge range of difficulties, so we hope the rest of the game and its six systems (with 14+ stages/planets per system give or take) offer creative challenges and gimmicks to keep us thrilled and in awe.

Astro Bot will be out exclusively for PlayStation 5 on 6th September 2024.

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