We’re here at E3 2018, and I got chance to play Sony Japan Studio’s upcoming platformer Astro Bot Rescue Mission. As a thematic extension of the little bots that were first introduced in The Playroom (2013) and later in The Playroom VR (2016), you use the DualShock 4 controller to control your little bot-buddy to jump, run and bash your way to through the world to the end of each level. If this doesn’t sound like it needs to be in VR to be fun, that’s where you’re wrong. This is very much a VR game from the ground-up, and introduces fun and engaging ways to immerse yourself in the bright, beautifully realized world.
Astro Bot Rescue Mission follows a deceivingly simple formula that iconic platformers such as Super Mario Bros. (1985) have prepared me for since I first held a gamepad: run, jump, collect coins, bash not-so-difficult baddies, finish the level with style for extra points. Astro Bot goes an extra mile though, and gives you a reason to use your point of view to your advantage, and making you engage with the world directly by using special gadgets collected along the way.
Taking control of Astro, an adorable little captain of a ship on a mission to rescue its lost crew, I run through increasingly difficult maze-like levels, requiring me to make Astro jump, hover, and smash enemies along the way. Trailing behind him, I eventually find myself craning my neck, peering around corners, and looking far up into the sky to guide him through a death-defying saunter along metal beams connecting buildings and interesting contraptions. Looking even closer, I find hidden areas that I might have otherwise missed had I not taken my time; more contraptions, more coins and bots to rescue, more long jumps to make on my way through a world I can only describe as AAA quality.
One such contraption, a panel that you have to physically bash your head against, activated a suspension bridge for little Astro to cross over to a secret area. Keeping your composure is important when playing a game; I try not to give into the ‘wow’ so I can take in everything possible in the short amount of time I have with a game, but here I was smiling and giggling at the thought of having to ram my head into a big panel emblazoned with a big “pow” sign. There are of course switches and buttons to activate too, but there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a challenge and literally taking it head on.
The game’s baddies at the beginning are mostly standard ‘goombah’ types that you can kill either with a direct attack, or by activating your hover jump, which shoots out little booster lasers underneath you that do damage to enemies below. Later on in the demo, I encountered enemies with retracting spikes and an electric variant that would do damage on contact, necessitating a hover-booster attack.
The end of each level presents you with a mini challenge, which plays out somewhat like the flagpole in Mario. Here though, you slingshot Astro through a series of golden rings to a goal using your touchpad in search of the highest extra score.
Playing through two levels, I was then jumped ahead to the world’s final boss – one of six giant beasts you fight at the end of each world (a total of 5 world, 4 levels per world and 26 ‘extra challenges’ throughout). The giant mechanical gorilla towered over me, his head nearly 15 feet tall, dwarfing me and Astro completely. Called the ‘Tooth Fairy’, I had to dodge his flame attacks and smash his teeth in, revealing a hook under each tooth that I would have to yank out with the help of my newly acquired gadget, a grappling hook that shoots out and you physically pull with your controllers to retract.
Beating the Tooth Fairy after dying once, my demo was over. Even though I only had about 15 minutes with Astro Bot, nearly every interaction I had was immensely rewarding, something I’m looking forward to in the full game, which is said to last between 8-10 hours. While I haven’t had a chance to play with any more gadgets outside the grappling hook, I expect more fun ways to interact with the world directly to help Astro along his way.
Astro Bot Rescue Mission is slated to release on PSVR Fall 2018 with the launch price of $40, and if what I experienced today is reflective of the sort of fun ahead, then it’s going to be worth every penny.