The release of ASTRO BOT Rescue Mission, coming Tuesday, will be a genre-defining moment for VR platforming on PSVR. The game is expertly designed, animated, and rendered. Full of charm and the right amount of content, Astro Bot Rescue Mission is the first title we’ve scored 10 out of 10 since the launch of PSVR nearly two years ago.
ASTRO Bot Rescue Mission Review Details:
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: JAPAN Studio
Available On: PlayStation VR (PS4, PS4 Pro) [Exclusive]
Reviewed On: PS4 Pro
Release Date: October 2nd, 2018
Astro Bot Rescue Mission is a spin-off of a mini-game called ‘Robots Rescue’ that was part of The Playroom VR, a free collection of co-op mini-games bundled with PSVR and created by Sony Interactive Entertainment’s JAPAN Studio. While the co-op is gone, Astro Bot Rescue Mission brings a heaping helping of single-player fun as you guide the adorable ASTRO, the captain bot, on a quest to recover his bot friends who have been scattered among the stars.
Gameplay in Astro Bot Rescue mission is most closely related to a platformer, but instead of typical side-scrolling, you’ll actually be traveling forward through each level as you follow behind ASTRO (who is controlled with the PS4 gamepad). Even though you’re on rails yourself, levels happen all around you as you guide ASTRO up, down, under, and over in clever ways that do a great job of taking advantage of the rich depth and scale afforded by VR.
Hearkening back to seminal platformers like Donkey Kong Country (1994), Astro Bot Rescue Mission lures players around the environment with shiny coins to collect from one platform to the next, with eight of ASTRO’s little bot friends hiding in each level waiting to be found.
While the path forward is usually easy to see, observant players will find secret passages in places that others didn’t think to look. For the most part, the majority of the bots to be found in every level are easy to see if not hear, but a few are usually tucked away in these secret spots, making it almost a guarantee that you’ll revisit some of the levels to find the bots you missed the first time around.
The game is constantly introducing new mechanics and scenarios to the underlying platforming while managing the keep gameplay highly intuitive and not overwhelming the player, making the whole bout feel engaging and fun throughout.
Some of the most interesting and interactive gameplay comes with the virtual tools that are equipped to your gamepad in certain stages. You’ll come across a grappling hook, a water gun, a shuriken launcher, and more, all of which task you with aiming your motion tracked gamepad into the game world to help ASTRO along his way.
Light combat also graces the game, giving ASTRO two ways of damaging enemies: punching or lasering (with the lasers that shoot out of ASTRO’s boots, also functioning as a double-jump). There’s only a handful of enemy types, most of which die in one shot. While there’s a few sub-varieties of each enemy type, I would have liked to see a greater variety of enemies facilitating a wider range of player tactics.
Players will need to have collected a certain number of bots to unlock the boss of each world they visit, though in my playthrough I never once had less than the number of bots needed to unlock the boss, so this will probably only restrict less experienced gamers. Even so, after completing the game I revisited several levels to find some of the missing bots; the gameplay is so enjoyable that it doesn’t feel anything like a grind, and instead feels like a fun challenge.
Each of the six boss fights is a remarkable encounter with a giant baddie bot, expertly animated and filled with personality. The encounters put typical boss-battle structures to great use in VR, as bosses establish attack patterns that ramp up in complexity throughout the fight, escalating through several stages as the boss takes damage. The battles involve both ASTRO and the player, as you’ll need to use one of the virtual tools to help defeat the boss. While the game normally gives the player just one hit point, you’ve got three in boss battles. Hitting the right notes of fun and challenge, it’s very satisfying to win the fight on the first try.
Each level also has a single chameleon hidden somewhere which is collected by looking at it long enough to activate it. The chameleons blend in to whatever surface they’re on, but make a signature sound which will give you a good idea of where to start looking. Each chameleon you find unlocks 1 of 26 Challenge stages.
The Challenge stages are a significant addition to the game’s content, and instead of being mere filler (like timed or reversed versions of existing stages), most are completely custom mini-levels—some even including gameplay which doesn’t exist in any of the main levels—many of which are genuinely challenging and will have you trying over and over again to achieve either a silver or gold rank. The only repeated content in the Challenge stages are the game’s six boss fights in which you’re tasked to defeat the bosses without taking any damage. Frankly, the boss fights are so fun that this didn’t feel like filler either as they’re worth experiencing more than once.
The bots that you rescue in each level are all gathered back at the ASTRO BOT ship, which you can visit at any time. Inside you’ll find all of the bots that you’ve rescued, and you’ll be able to run, jump and play around with them as they follow ASTRO wherever they go. With hundreds of bots to be rescued, it becomes increasingly fun (and impressive from a technical standpoint) to watch the little critters swarm around the room, jumping on trampolines and going down slides in pursuit of ASTRO.
Inside the ship you can also spend the coins you’ve collected to activate a virtual claw machine where you can fish for differently colored spheres, each containing a miniature vignette of the game’s environments and enemies. Each color corresponds to a treasure chest in the ship which upon activation replaces the ship’s interior with a play set that that ASTRO can explore. Unfortunately when the chests are loaded the rescued bots disappear, but as you collect more pieces of each set, the scenes become increasingly interactive with enemies and articulating elements.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Astro Bot Rescue Mission was a $60 game given its tremendous polish and excellent game design. And yet it’s priced at $40 which feels like an especially good value for what’s included. It took me nearly nine hours to complete all of the stages, including unlocking all of the challenge stages and achieving at least a silver rank in each. While I missed a few of the chameleons (which unlock the Challenge stages) in my first go through the main stages, it didn’t feel much like a chore to go back and find the remaining holdouts, especially because the reward was new Challenge stages to play.
Astro Bot Rescue Mission makes excellent use of scale and space. Not only will levels have ASTRO running on the left and right of the player, often times the bot will be high above or way below, forcing you to look far down you to see where you’re guiding ASTRO. These moments make great use of the headset’s stereoscopy, especially at times when ASTRO jumps on a trampoline and comes rocketing back up to the player’s level. Every once and a while you’ll need turn around, nearly facing backgrounds, to guide ASTRO to a secret. Sometimes you’ll need to lean forward to get a new perspective when it seems like there’s no way forward.
While the bulk of the action in Astro Bot Rescue Mission involves guiding little ASTRO around each level, the player exists in the world too, and the game creates fun scenarios which remind you of this fact. Importantly, the player’s PS4 gamepad, tracked by the camera, is always represented inside the game. Not only is this a smart and simple way to make sure players can see which buttons to hit as they are coming to grips with the controls, but it’s also used a smart opportunity to let the player feel like they’re reaching right into the game world.
That’s especially apparent in some levels where a chest appears in front of the player and asks to insert the gamepad as a key to unlock the chest. Upon doing so, the gamepad gets locked into the key slot as the chest opens up and reveals a virtual tool that will become equipped to the gamepad for use throughout the level.
One of the more frequently used tools is the grappling hook. Flicking the touchpad on the PS4 gamepad ejects the hook in the direction the gamepad is facing. Players will use the grappling hook to defeat enemies, reveal passages, and occasionally as a tightrope for ASTRO to climb across.
Your head is also at times an important tool, as you’ll be asked to headbutt certain obstacles, or look at which target that you want ASTRO to throw a ball. Thoughtful effects grace your visor, like water droplets that roll down your view after being submerged in water, or goo balls shot by certain enemies which obscure your vision (shake your head to throw it off!).
Although the player is made to be present in the world, I didn’t find any instances in the game where taking damage yourself (as opposed to ASTRO) would result in any real consequences. That said, if you get hit by something that would hurt ASTRO, a ‘broken screen’ effect is shown on your headset which gives you the small consequence of slightly obscuring your vision before it fades away.
While Astro Bot Rescue Mission doesn’t quite incite Presense (the feeling that the virtual world around you is actually real), it does create a rich and engaging world. Levels are flush with environmental details that respond to seemingly everything you do; whether that be the way that ASTRO’s lasers make ripples in lava or how enemies react to getting sprayed with water, everything feels alive.
From top to bottom, Astro Bot Rescue Mission is impeccably animated and rendered. Objects gleam with realistic reflections and glow, and explode or react with beautiful effects and sounds that are consistently satisfying, from collecting a chest full of coins to discovering a secret passage by destroying a false wall.
While spatial audio is used to help the player locate some of the more challenging hidden bots and chameleons, the audio channel is at times overcrowded with everything that’s happening, sometimes making it difficult to understand where sounds are coming from. Some levels start with no music and minimal sound effects, a nice respite from the otherwise heavily populated audio channel.
While the game’s music is certainly catchy in the moment, I didn’t find that it established particularly memorable themes, which is a shame considering that a great game deserves a great soundtrack. Still, the music was at least fitting throughout, matching the game’s fun and cheerful theme.
Although ASTRO winds up running all over the place, for the most part the player is floating forward at a steady rate along a perfectly straight invisible rail. Every few levels will have ASTRO and the player get on an elevator that takes them diagonally up or down to a new section of the level. While this could bother some of the most sensitive players, for me the slow and consistent pace of the movement was easily tolerable and I never found myself feeling any amount of nausea.
If you’re keen on digging up all of the game’s secrets, you’ll have to occasionally crane your neck straight up, down, or look directly behind you. This can be a little uncomfortable depending upon your seating arrangement, but it happens infrequently enough that it isn’t a bother.
Astro Bot Rescue Mission relies somewhat heavily on 3D depth to help players judge jumps, especially when ASTRO is far away from the player. Players without strong stereo vision may find the game more challenging than others. Smart cues like ASTRO’s lasers (which shoot directly downward from his legs while double jumping), are useful to help gauge landings.
Summary: Astro Bot Rescue Mission is a superb game; the promising result of tasking a group of clearly talented game designers and developers with building a game around a brand new medium like VR. The game expertly executes every idea it brings to the table. There’s charm throughout, derived from excellent animation, art direction, FX and SFX, right down to the interactive credits sequence. Astro Bot Rescue Mission claims our first 10 out of 10 because it’s full of smart VR game design, and plays to the platform’s strengths while avoiding its weaknesses. In addition to having the right amount of content to leave the player with a truly satisfying experience, it’s hard to imagine many ways in which the game could have been better made.
Gameplay: 10 | Immersion: 8 | Comfort: 9