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‘Astro Bot’ Delivers Fun Masterclass With Bigger, Bot-ter Playground – Preview

The annals of gaming history have introduced many innovations and technological leaps over the years, but one thing remains unchanged through it all: the essence of evoking an emotional response. While visuals, gameplay, and story undeniably serve as the core pillars of the experience, sometimes all that counts is having fun. 

Geek Preview: Astro Bot

It isn’t necessarily a complicated affair, either. Arcade titles, retro platformers and Nintendo adventures, in particular, are proof that there’s beauty in simplicity, operating on a formula that marries accessibility with enjoyment. True to its namesake, Team Asobi continues to be a master of fun, delivering one scintillating jaunt after another – first with 2018’s Astro Bot: Rescue Mission, then Astro’s Playroom, released two years after. 

As it turns out, the exploits of the adorable titular robot are far from over. Astro Bot, first announced during the May 2024 PlayStation State of Play showcase as a full-fledged sequel to the 2020 game, is expected to feature over 80 levels spanning six galaxies, complete with the same toylike allure from its predecessors. Like before, the platforming romp doubles up as a tech showcase for the DualSense controller, but history has shown that the series is much more than what it looks to be. 

The sentiment seems to ring especially true here, with a hands-on preview proving adept at feeding one’s inner child self. It opens in a world map that sees Astro cruising through space on a DualSense controller-shaped spaceship, and where playful energy thrums in the veins of six colourful deftly-crafted galaxies. Only one is accessible though, donning the appearance of a red octopus.

Geek Preview: Astro Bot (2)

Jumping in reveals a sky filled with pink flamingos that can be avoided by tilting the controller, the main mechanic for steering. The first level, Sky Garden, begins after landing on a lush, grassy patch, which offers enough room to run around, use the character’s signature hover jump, gather collectibles strewn around the area, and punch enemies or smite them with his laser feet. The execution of these sensations feels crisp and punchy, with the controller’s haptic feedback conveying a distinct response for each. 

Upon diving into clear pools, the adaptive triggers will deliver greater resistance, and the difference is significant enough to elevate gameplay. Scattered along the way are stray bots waiting to be rescued, puzzle pieces, and Astro’s first power-up – a beach ball backpack that inflates him to drift quickly to higher areas, proving especially handy for getting out of underwater settings. 

Geek Preview: Astro Bot (3)

It’s a testament to the team’s creativity that a well-trodden genre can still pack refreshing surprises, visually or otherwise. Apart from traditional platforming elements, Astro Bot breathes life into wildly imaginative and whimsical ideas, including unzipping giant octopuses. Basking in the sights never fails to evoke a sense of delight, accentuated by the infectious charm that easily brings a smile to one’s face.

The stage design is incredibly intuitive, too. Where navigation can sometimes be a challenge without a minimap, it’s a breezy affair here, even for the directionally-challenged. Areas of interest are clearly signposted, following a linear path that occasionally branches out into a secret location. The best part? It’s a whole loop, so don’t worry about getting lost. 

The next stage, Construction Derby, is no different. An equally pleasant experience, it features gorilla-themed enemies, a new power-up, and a new item, introducing welcome variety to gameplay. Instead of an inflatable, Astro is equipped with a cute dog backpack ability that propels him forward, akin to an air dash, and destroys obstacles, as well as giant magnets to attract clusters of metallic items and throw them at targets. Like the first level, there are locations waiting to be discovered, including one that requires some paint-spraying action to reveal hidden platforms. 

Geek Preview: Astro Bot (4)

Breaking up the flow is a boss fight against the formidable giant octopus, Wako Tako. With a pair of frog-themed gloves in hand, the darling mascot can punch enemies from a distance, swing across beams, and launch himself like a slingshot. The showdown is a culmination of these mechanics, unfolding in multiple phases that put them all to good use. It’s a familiar platforming rhetoric, but Astro Bot impresses with a surprisingly dynamic feel – which takes away the tedium of rinse-and-repeat battle cycles – and a difficulty that less experienced players can handle. 

In total, all three stages took around 45 minutes to clear, and this brevity makes a lot of sense. The duration is just right for players to explore an area without growing tired of the novelty, allowing them to be constantly exposed to new environments that are teeming with life. For the completionists, the playtime also confines the easter egg hunting to a reasonably-sized space, making it more enjoyable than what a bloated map may otherwise offer. 

Indeed, there are plenty of references to discover in Astro Bot. Keeping in line with tradition, the sequel continues to honour PlayStation history by welcoming bots themed after its many titles, such as God of War, Jak and Daxter, and PaRappa. Keep an eye out, and you may just cross paths with Kratos and Atreus-inspired companions. 

As a bonus, the game preview included a special platforming challenge – and it doesn’t pull its punches. There are no save points here, and players will have to run across crumbling glass surfaces, outmaneuver various obstacles, dodge rapidly spinning enemies, and pull off some precise leaps. While it’s entirely possible to complete with sufficient practice, the stage is undeniably more difficult than the base levels and will likely require some patience. 

Here’s the thing, though: it never spills over to frustration or rage quit territory. Despite multiple unsuccessful tries, the fast respawn time and general liveliness of the in-game environments made it enjoyable to try and fail again. It’s unclear how much these challenges will eventually scale in terms of difficulty, but their optional nature offers a way out for newcomers and less confident players.  

Perhaps the greatest charm of Astro Bot is its magnetic effect on both mature and young players. In embracing the Nintendo creed of simple fun, Team Asobi looks to be well on its way to deliver yet another memorable and scintillating experience. Brimming with bright, mischievous charm, the title encourages players to unleash their inner child and indulge in the sheer delights of life, where the world’s their playground.

Nothing marks a promising, strong start than being a beacon of joy and light, and hopefully, it will persist into Astro’s full journey. 

Astro Bot launches 6 September on the PlayStation 5