Up to now, Sony’s PlayStation VR system has been more a quick pick-up-and-play experience with gimmicky games and apps that are used to showcase the experience of VR more than anything else. Sure, we have great games like Firewall: Zero Hour and Moss but there has never been a game where you can invest countless hours in as you are whisked away to a stunning world like no other. Astro Bot finally feels like the PlayStation VR killer app we have been waiting for and it is most likely the best VR game on the market. Yes, even better than Job Simulator.
Now, before I get into the details of the experience you need to know one thing. Astro Bot has been known for his cameos on the free Playroom game built into every PS4 and the Playroom VR experience which is also free but Astro Bot Rescue Mission is not a free game, rather is a chunky adventure game that finally gives Sony’s underappreciated mascot his time in the spotlight. Astro Bot is the cutest robot you will ever control and he is brought to life in this VR game like never before.
Astro Bot draws a lot of influence from the likes of Super Mario Galaxy. Set across a vast universe, Astro Bot’s spaceship gets attacked one day by an alien and his fellow bots get scattered across 5 distinct planets. He now needs to venture to each planet and its unique selection of levels to track them all down and save them. You, the player, take on the role of his guardian. A robot that follows him across these stages, and with your DualShock 4 as the controller, you need to explore these wonderfully-designed 3D platforming levels and seek out the missing bots.
Sounds simple right? Well, it is. The mechanics of Astro Bot Rescue Mission take about ten minutes to get used to. You fully control Astro Bot with your controller. He can run around, jump, hover, and punch enemy robots in the face. But it is the beauty within each level and the mechanics they rely on that make this journey so worthwhile. Your DualShock is more than just a controller as you stumble upon chests that open up and ask you to insert your controller into them. This then equips specific gadgets to use in each level that range from a pully to a shuriken. Those familiar with the Playroom games will remember some of these gadgets like the Shuriken that can be thrown by sliding your finger across the touchpad. You can even tilt the controller vertically to toss your shuriken through bars. It is pretty cool.
The water hose, for example, can be equipped and used by holding down the touchpad. This then sprays water ahead of you and can be used to put out a fire and even grow seeds into fully-fledged plants. The pully is a rope that you can flick out and it will grab a ring. You can then pull the controller towards you to pull down walls where the ring is attached or even use Astro Boy to jump on this rope and reach new heights.
These gadgets make up just a small portion of a much larger platforming experience in Astro Bot Rescue Mission. Each level is crammed full of charming platforming that you need to be able to explore by using your head to peek around corners, bash through walls and look around to see where these poor lost bots are so you can save them. There are eight bots in each stage and each level runs on a railing system and as you move Astro Bot around, you will move across with him. As you explore each level, enemies, platforming challenges and bots will be thrown at you and you need to tackle all of these at once. Climbing atop a giant scaffolding to reach a lost bot right above my head had me looking directly upwards so hard that the VR headset was pressed right up against my face. I had to reach off my couch to peek around a corner because I had a feeling I would find a bot in a cave to my right-hand side.
It also helps that these bots cry for their lives. It is sad but throughout the game, you will hear them say “save me” and “help me, please”. Needless to say that I could not help but feel ashamed when I got to the end of the level and heard a cry but could not find the poor soul. They really eat away at your feeling as these cute little bots sound so helpless at times. Some levels I thought I was on a roll by saving all of the eight available bots only to get to the end and realize I missed one. You have to use every sense to find them by listening out for their cry and making sure you really look around a level for every hidden crack and broken wall to direct Astro Bot inside and explore.
The level design also makes Astro Bot Rescue mission a superb experience. Each world you play through has five levels that ooze charm. From the cloudy beanstalks to a level where you are in a whale’s belly and the water flow hits you in the face as you try and direct Astro Bot through this perilous stage. While these levels may sound basic, remember, that this is a VR game and the immersion is like no other. The stage design feels like something out of the highly-rated Super Mario 3D World and I have to commend the developers for creating such well-thought-out experience. Each world is guarded by a final boss and even these battles made use of the VR in ways I never thought would be fun. These fights are the pinnacle of the game and although none of them are extremely tough, they kept the heart racing as I fought giant robot animals a hundred stories higher than me.
Gold coins also keep you exploring as they help unlock dioramas in the playground area. There are also hidden chameleons in each stage that you need to stare at for a few seconds to startle them. These then unlock the second best part of the game, the challenge maps. Just when I thought the game was over, the challenge maps then became my next go-to mission. These timed maps are set apart from the main game and see you race the clock to get to the end in time. They include gadget-based races where you need to quickly throw the grapple out and get Astro Bot to race across the rope in time to simpler bounce-based challenges as you control Astro Bot through a deadly maze of trampolines. These challenges are not for the weak-hearted and were truly the best end-game content I could ask for.
Astro Bot Rescue Mission is not your typical VR game and don’t let the name or the mascot fool you. Underneath it all, there is one of the best VR games I have ever played. Its stunning level design, charming platforming and challenging use of VR make it a must buy for all VR owners. Also, forget everything you have ever known or seen about VR up to now. This is the game you buy a headset for, it is simply that good.
This review is based on a review code sent to us by Sony Computer Interactive
Available On: PS4 | Reviewed On: PS4 Pro | Price: R629
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