Finishing Thoughts: Astro Bot Rescue Mission
A truly glorious platformer that brings VR to life
Astro Bot Rescue Mission is a Sony-produced PSVR exclusive. The quality that comes from being delivered by Sony is apparent. This is an extremely slick and perfectly executed 3D / VR platformer.
My main takeaway about Astro Bot is that it is just fun. I am easily won over by a game if it is genuinely fun, as so many big-budget games take themselves way too seriously these days. Astro Bot is filled to the brim with charm, creativity and humour. I frequently found myself laughing out loud or just chuckling contently to myself. Sometimes the moments were obvious, other times they were just when I noticed a nice touch that could easily have been missed, but that a developer chose to spend the time creating. It demonstrated a level of craftsmanship that I admire and it permeates the whole experience of playing this game.
Astro Bot is a spiritual sibling to a game like Super Mario Galaxy 3D, where you run and jump around a variety of cute worlds, bashing mostly-harmless baddies on their heads, collecting coins, avoiding puzzles, and trying to ace each level. Each level theme is gorgeously realised, from volcanic dungeons and spooky graveyards to cloud cities and underwater paradises. Each theme introduces different gameplay elements, baddies and puzzles all tailored to give each level a unique and fitting feel. There’s even an inter-level base you can visit where you can mess about and unlock collectibles with coins you’ve earned — another nice touch borrowed from the stable book of platformer ingredients.
The mechanics themselves, and the controls, and the way you navigate the levels, are so wonderfully elegant. Everything fits together so well that it just becomes a joy to play. Your robot’s movements are so fluid and satisfying, as is the enemy bashing, hovering and other things you get up to. Every time a new level loads, I just got this feeling of excited anticipation of a) being able to just play more of it and b) to find out what new tricks were in store. While there were a few moments I had to redo a few times to get right (its a platformer after all), I never once got annoyed with the controls or anything like that. My desire to keep playing came from the fun I was having rather than any sense of duty or achievement.
There are some great elements introduced by being a VR game. One of which is the way you are not just an invisible observer in the game. You manifest in-game as another robot, overseeing and controlling the main character, who you constantly hover just behind. And this character often acknowledges your presence, you see yourself in in-game tv screens, and you can even interact with some level objects by smashing them with your head or dodging projectiles that might obstruct your field of view. These are all really nice additions to make the VR experience feel more relevant than just a nice to have. Oh and also the bosses are just awesome — challenging but hilarious and so much fun.
Additionally, your in-game avatar holds a virtual representation of your controller, which moves exactly as your own controller moves (even the buttons depress exactly in sync with what you press). This virtual controller again helps connect you with your virtual presence in the game. The nicest part is that throughout the game this controller gets upgrades like water cannons and shrunken launchers, which allow you to further interact with the level to help out your little robot. It all adds to the connection you have with the world, and the acceptance and buy in you develop with the VR element. This aspect is important — asking the player to put on the headset to play the game is an extra ‘ask’, and so the effort has to be worthwhile. Astro Bot exceeds expectations here.
Theoretically Astro Bot could be a non-VR game. It would need to sacrifice a number of the VR-specific elements, be a bit longer, and perhaps add another layer of collectibles or challenges into the gameplay, but if done, this game could have mass appeal. At its current length and simplicity, it suits VR better, as VR games generally are shorter for some reason (quite possibly as it is just harder to stay in the headset for prolonged periods of time).
All in all then, I absolutely loved playing this game (to the extent that I Platinum’d it). It was a bit short, and the level progression didn’t follow any particular structure (it just felt like I was playing a load of random unrelated levels), but I there aren’t many games that make me reach for my controller when I find even a few minutes of spare time, just to get a few more minutes of playing in, and this was one of them (others of note being Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War).