Buying the “best” version of a multiplatform release has become trickier than sticking to the most powerful hardware.
Astro’s Playroom, which comes with every PS5, shouldn’t be dismissed as a simple pack-in title. In fact I’d go as far as to say that it’s one of the most essential PS5 gaming experiences available at launch.
Designed to showcase the PS5’s brand new DualSense controller, Astro’s Playroom is a 3D platformer with zones designed around components of the PS5. One level is the GPU Jungle, for instance, complete with subsections like Renderforest, Teraflop Treetops, Raytrace Ruins, and Mt. Motherboard. There are four of these zones, each with four areas. It’s a neat setup and each area is wonderfully designed around its theme.
As a pack-in title that’s skewed towards a family market you might be thinking of skipping Astro’s Playroom, but it really is a delightful experience that’s peppered with gleeful references to famous PlayStation titles and hardware through the years. I played along with my son (he didn’t sign the NDA, sorry Sony!) and enjoyed explaining to him what all the little robot tableaus represent. Playroom is full of collectibles, which are moved to a large museum of PlayStation history of sorts, but simply finding all the robot performances is a fun task in itself.
What makes this such a joyous experience is the PS5’s DualSense controller. I’m at risk of coming across like a shill here, but so far Astro’s Playroom’s use of the haptics in the controller is the most next-gen feeling experience I’ve had. When Astro gets blown sideways while walking across a tightrope you can feel it. When rain falls onto an umbrella the little robot is carrying, you can feel it. When you take part in the included gacha machine to spend coins on prizes, you can feel the robot arm straining to pull the lever then crush the prize ball to reveal what’s inside. The force feedback is superb, but the features carried over from the DualShock 4, such as gyro aiming are brilliant too.
I’ve been going back to Astro every now and again during my time with the PS5, the quick loading and options to launch to certain zones from the system’s main menu making it easy to spend a few minutes hunting down missing collectibles. But my main takeaway is that I really hope the DualSense is used properly for the life of the console and not just by Sony. I’m sure a lot of the third-party launch window titles will make decent use of its features, but if pushed properly this controller could be a huge selling point for Sony. The HD Rumble on Switch Joy-Cons was used well during the console’s early days, but has now seemingly fallen way down the list of developer priorities.
In a world where in reality most multi-platform titles from publishers will be similar across PS5 and Xbox Series X (perhaps with X having a small edge, but that remains to be seen), some neat DualSense implementation could make Sony’s new console my preferred destination for the big hitters like Call of Duty, FIFA, Assassin’s Creed, and the rest. I didn’t expect to love a controller so much, but here we are. The DualSense (and Astro’s Playroom) is the PS5’s secret weapon.
Disclaimer: Sony provided a retail PlayStation 5 console for the purposes of this article and related coverage.