Has PlayStation Finally Found a Mascot?
Sony has been trying for decades to establish a mascot to lead their charge through the video game industry. Since the PlayStation’s inception, there have been countless iterations of the face of Sony. 1995 saw the angular Polygon Man, his grotesque, polygonal, disturbing visage proving too much for the general population. Crash Bandicoot, Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter, Sackboy, Spyro, and even Kratos have all been contenders to the Sony mascot throne.
One by one, however, they slowly fell from the forefront, contented with advertising their own brands instead of being plastered all over Sony’s merchandise. Recently, however, another combatant has appeared to take the coveted title of Sony mascot: Astrobot. The difference is that this one could actually have some real staying power, at least if Sony plays their cards right.
November 12, 2020, saw the release of the long-awaited PlayStation 5. The mammoth console (seriously look at how big it is) represents the fifth installment in Sony’s eponymous PlayStation franchise. The original PlayStation hit store shelves just before Christmas on December 3rd, 1994, to massive critical and commercial success. The PlayStation 2 sold more than 150 million units, still the best-selling video game console of all time. The slightly underwhelming PlayStation 3 gave way to the powerhouse that is the PlayStation 4, and finally, nearly three decades removed from Sony’s first outing, is the coveted PlayStation 5.
Throughout PlayStation’s near 30-year run were peripherals, add-ons, exclusive games, content, portable systems, innovations, and even a few failures. Despite being the benchmark for millions of players everywhere, Sony never quite found that one figurehead to represent their company. The culmination of these experiences is the excellent PlayStation 5 launch title known as Astro’s Playroom.
For those who haven’t been fortunate enough to acquire an elusive PlayStation 5, Astro’s Playroom is a free title pre-loaded onto every console. Designed to ease players into the new console, the game sees you traversing the PlayStation 5 itself, circumnavigating all manner of circuitry and hardware. You do so by platforming, fighting, and taking advantage of the sublime DualSense controller, along with its specialized haptic feedback, precise gyroscopic motion controls, and adaptive triggers.
The game could have easily been a run-of-the-mill tech demo to introduce new hardware and console capabilities. Sony took Astro’s adventure seriously though, crafting a gorgeous, sublimely playable, well-paced love letter to the days of old. You can really sense the care and love the developers put into every Easter egg, every reference, and every unlockable artifact. Currently sitting at an 83% on Metacritic, the effort clearly wasn’t wasted.
Between the Horizon: Zero Dawn, Resident Evil, and Tekken references, there’s the design of Astro itself. It ticks off all the boxes: a bubbly blue robot with big eyes, a bouncy antenna, an adorable cape, cute emotes (minus the Flossy Dance), a hilarious toddler-like running animation, and serotonin-inducing yips and hoorays. Astro’s aesthetic immediately brings to mind Nintendo’s titan, Mario.
The similarities are pretty astounding; both games are comprehensive, colorful, good-hearted platformers with plenty of life. Both show off the capabilities of their hardware, be it Mario Odyssey’s hat toss utilizing the Switch’s well-implemented motion controls or feeling each one of Astro’s footsteps in your hands as you run with the DualSense’s impressive haptic feedback.
Both have interesting premises, with Mario games seeing you traverse all matter of worlds in search of the Princess-In-Another-Castle, while Astro physically traverses the new hardware packed within the PlayStation 5 itself. It’s obvious Sony took inspiration from the legendary plumber, but they did so without making it feel like an imitation. Astro and his titular Playroom are their own rightfully enjoyable entities, and they definitely feel like handcrafted experiences, despite plainly borrowing from Nintendo’s face.
Obviously, someone dethroning Mario as the King of the Mascots is about as likely as Half-Life 3, but the idea that Sony may use a cute mascot in 2021 isn’t incredibly far-fetched. A 2016 study from the World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology showed that individuals who were exposed to a brand mascot were more likely to purchase from that company, and in greater quantities. The study even shows that consumers consciously knew they were more likely to make purchases from companies that had likeable representation.
Mascots are proven to effectively influence consumer marketing, which would explain why for so many years every memorable character became Sony’s potential next face for the company. The issue seemed to be that these characters were not directly linked to Sony itself. Crash Bandicoot was developed by Naughty Dog, Spyro was the brain-child of Insomniac, and LittleBigPlanet was Media Molecule’s baby. While being exclusive to Sony consoles, none of the studios was owned by Sony whence those characters sprang to life, though all three studios have since been purchased.
Though relatively intrinsic to the brand, they weren’t Sony’s own IPs. Mario is developed by Nintendo, so there is no middle man to potentially skew the understanding of the relationship between product and company. The recognizable nature of Astro lends itself well to remedying that conundrum.
Will Sony capitalize on the exponential capabilities of a lovable intellectual property like Astro’s Playroom? Probably not. In all actuality, Sony has been getting along just fine without a loveable little scamp plastered across their branding. However, they’ve never had an opportunity quite like this to leverage consumer thought processes as they do with Astro. Only time will tell if Sony recognizes the veritable goldmine they’ve developed for their latest piece of tech.
With any luck, the little robot will catch on, and we can be graced with a wonderful, full-fledged adventure in Astro’s Playroom 2. If not, Astro can still be remembered as a gorgeous little game worth playing. Perhaps, with time, it can become a benchmark in PlayStation’s history, included in the next tribute to the company’s accomplishments in an ironic paradigm cycle of love-letters forever becoming in and of themselves, love-letters.
I’d buy a t-shirt with Astro’s face on it, at least.
Hello everyone! Thank you all for reading. If you’re lucky enough to have gotten your mitts on a PlayStation 5 and you haven’t had the opportunity to sink your teeth into Astro’s Playroom, I can’t recommend it any higher. Thanks for reading!