Astro Bot Res­cue Mis­sion


EDGE - - CONTENTS - De­vel­oper Asobi Team, SIE Ja­pan Stu­dio Pub­lisher SIE For­mat PSVR Re­lease Out now

Some­times a game’s great­ness sneaks up on you. And some­times it’s an in­di­vid­ual mo­ment of bril­liance that con­vinces you of it. World 2-2 of Asobi Team’s VR plat­former, a stage called Beach­side Boo­gie, is one such mo­ment. It is that rarest and most pre­cious of things: an en­joy­able un­der­wa­ter level. And yet it’s as we emerge at the end that the magic hap­pens. Break­ing the sur­face, we be­come aware of fronds of sea­weed dan­gling in front of our face. Turn­ing to the right, we see a mir­ror: a ro­bot wear­ing a snorkel and a slimy kelp wig peers back. Our gaze is drawn to an­other ro­bot play­ing keepy-uppy: our tiny charge, Astro, en­gages it in a short-lived kick­about, be­fore we fol­low suit, de­stroy­ing a larger vari­ant with a game of steadily quick­en­ing head tennis. There’s just enough time to kick in a sand­cas­tle (re­warded by a cas­cade of coins) be­fore we head for the end-level goal, and re­alise we’ve not stopped smil­ing for the last five min­utes.

When play­ing any VR plat­former, it’s nat­u­ral to imag­ine what a de­vel­oper like Nin­tendo EAD might do with the tech. It says much for Astro Bot Res­cue Mis­sion that you’ll prob­a­bly find your­self think­ing, ‘Pretty much this’. Its trick is to give you a phys­i­cal pres­ence within the game. As in most third­per­son VR games, you ob­serve the ac­tion from a slightly el­e­vated po­si­tion, but here you take a more ac­tive role, with the con­troller in your hands also af­forded a place in the vir­tual world. While it’s mostly used to con­trol Astro in rel­a­tively con­ven­tional fash­ion, ev­ery so of­ten you’ll find a large chest into which you can slot it to un­lock a new at­tach­ment, aimed with the DualShock’s gy­ros and fired via the touch­pad. A noz­zle lets you wa­ter flow­ers and douse flames, while a grap­nel lets you latch onto hooks to pull out plat­forms or cre­ate tightropes for Astro to teeter across. With a shuriken launcher you can sweep a fin­ger for­ward to hurl throw­ing stars, cut­ting through spi­der webs and bam­boo canes and even cre­at­ing tem­po­rary plat­forms when you embed them in wooden sur­faces. It re­vis­its some of these ideas, but never so much that you tire of them.

When you’re not equipped with any ex­tras, the plat­form­ing it­self is fairly ba­sic. Ac­ti­vated by hold­ing X in mid-air, Astro’s jet heels are func­tion­ally sim­i­lar to Su­per Mario Sun­shine’s FLUDD, al­beit with a shorter hover time. De­spite a per­spec­tive that should make gaug­ing Astro’s po­si­tion in 3D space eas­ier, you’ll need to make plenty of mid-air ad­just­ments, and the jets let you see ex­actly where you’re about to land. Oth­er­wise there are no spe­cial tech­niques to mas­ter, and the odd spin­ning or col­laps­ing plat­form aside, not an aw­ful lot to re­ally test your twitch skills.

That’s less of a prob­lem than you’d think, be­cause there’s more to Astro Bot be­yond the straight­for­ward run­ning and jump­ing. You might be called upon for some­thing as crude as head­but­ting an ob­sta­cle, whether it’s in Astro’s way or sim­ply ob­scur­ing your view. If there’s a pro­jec­tile to hand, you can look at an en­emy to lock onto it, and your lit­tle friend’s aim will be unerring. Your ul­ti­mate ob­jec­tive is to re­trieve five pieces of Astro’s bro­ken ship, but un­til then your main aim is to res­cue your miss­ing crew­mates – var­i­ously rest­ing, hid­ing, tied up or oth­er­wise trapped in the non-boss stages. You’ll of­ten hear them be­fore you see them: your ini­tial in­stinct will be to reach for the right stick, be­fore you re­mem­ber that your head is the cam­era, and you can sim­ply turn around, lean and peek or even stand up to spot the hap­less bot. There’s still the small mat­ter of get­ting Astro over to them, at which point a boot up the back­side will send them fly­ing over to the in-game con­troller, with any oth­ers you’ve pre­vi­ously res­cued pop­ping up to greet them be­fore they cram them­selves back in­side. There are count­less charm­ing lit­tle touches like this, with new ideas in­tro­duced up to and in­clud­ing the fi­nal en­counter. You’ll ar­rive at a haunted house where the con­troller be­comes a torch, not only light­ing the way, but re­veal­ing translu­cent plat­forms, flash­ing ec­to­plasm-spit­ting ghosts and freez­ing gar­goyle stat­ues to trig­ger ris­ing plat­forms. There’s a minecart level of sorts that’s more like a roller­coaster, the track even­tu­ally snaking up to the ceil­ing so you’re gaz­ing up at it from be­low. You’ll duck and dodge mis­siles that are fired di­rectly at you rather than Astro, while in one thrilling late-game boss fight, you’ll need to shake off a squid that at­taches it­self to your vi­sor. On a re­turn visit to Beach­side Boo­gie, we glance around and no­tice the same boss swim­ming around in the back­ground: the kind of tiny de­tail a lot of play­ers will miss, but that makes these worlds feel all the more en­velop­ingly alive.

The things it gets wrong are equally small. De­spite the 3D au­dio, it can be hard to pin­point where the ro­bots’ cries are com­ing from – and easy to con­fuse them with Astro’s own chirps – and if you can’t find them quickly, the squeaky sound be­comes a nag­ging an­noy­ance. Now and again, check­points are spaced a lit­tle too widely, which tends to co­in­cide with an uptick in the num­ber of en­e­mies and haz­ards, or mo­ments where your at­ten­tion has to be in two places at once. And the reach of Astro’s melee at­tack feels a touch un­gen­er­ous, com­pounded by some iffy col­li­sion de­tec­tion and oc­ca­sion­ally un­help­ful views.

Oth­er­wise, Astro Bot’s big­gest prob­lem is that it will only ever reach a frac­tion of the au­di­ence for the likes of Crash, Spyro, Ape Es­cape – or, in­deed, any of the other 3D plat­form­ers that made their name on PlayS­ta­tion. And that’s a real pity, be­cause it’s bet­ter than any of them. There are some VR games that still make our stom­achs flip, but this cap­ti­vat­ing ad­ven­ture is one to make the heart soar.

There’s more to Astro Bot be­yond the straight­for­ward run­ning and jump­ing

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