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July 2019

Astro Bot Rescue Mission

Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: SCEE (EU), SCEA (US)
Developer: Sony Japan
Release Date: Oct. 2, 2018 (US), Oct. 3, 2018 (EU)

About Andreas Salmen

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PS4 VR Review - 'Astro Bot Rescue Mission'

by Andreas Salmen on Nov. 30, 2018 @ 1:30 a.m. PST

Astro Bot Rescue Mission is a VR title that lets you take control of the bot Astro, who must rescue the ship's lost crew who are scattered over five planets. You run, jump and punch throughout 26 stages over five worlds.

Buy Astro Bot Rescue Mission

Virtual reality has been around for a few years, and while it has made significant improvements and gotten increasingly affordable over time, it was always lacking a must-have experience. In particular, PSVR, which is the cheapest of the bunch, was limited in the selection of available games. It needed its own Crash Bandicoot or Mario — a system-seller. When imagining the ultimate VR experience, it's easy to think of a high-budget action title, but the best VR title yet may be centered around a cute robot on its brave adventure to rescue a friends from a comical alien threat.

Astro Bot Rescue Mission is a deceiving title in the sense that it looks adorably harmless. The concept was born from the VR Playroom app, which is free to download for PSVR and sports a few minigames that introduced the robot minions and setting, both of which are now further fleshed out in Astro Bot.

As the game begins, we witness an alien life form rip a bunch of little Astro Bots to shreds before packing them in a spaceship and sending them into the stratosphere. The player controls Astro Bot, who needs to track down its missing friends, reclaim the missing building blocks for the spaceship, and defeat the alien bully.

All of this is done as a familiar platforming title, with players controlling Astro Bot from a third-person viewpoint as he travels across five worlds in search of his lost comrades. While doing so, we travel across varied landscapes and obstacles, and we meet a multitude of enemies that try to reduce Astro Bot to rubble. The basic gameplay loop leans on a mix of mostly known mechanics. similar to any platforming hero of decades past, Astro Bot can jump and attack enemies, and its ability to float for an extended period while shooting lasers isn't wildly inventive in the genre. The big catch in the gameplay isn't Astro Bot but the charm that makes the player an active part of the experience.

VR titles are usually in played from the first-person perspective, so Astro Bot blew me away with its inventive and surprising VR implementation.The game uses the DualShock 4 controller, which is animated in-game and actively used to direct Astro Bot's platforming. At the start of each level, Astro Bot waits on the trackpad until we fling it into the game world. From that moment, Astro Bot's eyes focus on you, and objects in the environment greet you with a smile. The first time Astro Bot passed me in a level and furiously waved in my direction was an incredibly minor but captivating moment that produced one of many smiles while playing through the six-hour campaign.

Our interaction with the game world doesn't end with some smiling and waving, though. Both the DualShock and the PSVR glasses are actively used in the moment-to-moment gameplay. Our viewpoint is fixed and follows Astro Bot on rails and in a linear fashion, with the only movement being our head. As a result, the game frequently plays with angles and obstacles and has us looking around the world and leaning around corners to keep an eye on the little robot while navigating a level. Looking around every nook and cranny is equally important to ensure we find all of the little robots that are hidden in the level. Once found, they joyfully float over to us and reside in our DualShock. Another collectible we have to seek out are chameleons, which are hidden in every level and can only be revealed if we look directly at them, but more on that later.

Our head isn't only for looking around. Certain enemies in the world won't target Astro Bot but target us instead, so we must dodge incoming slime attacks (we have to shake off the glasses if we get hit) or return a ball to its origin with a well-timed header. The environment also has certain materials that can be destroyed with a well-timed head swing to reveal secrets or the path forward. Add to that a multitude of effects, such as seaweed on our head when emerging from a water level, water running down our drying glasses, and other effects that give us a sense of place and introduce a physical connection to the world that doesn't distract from the actual game.

Occasionally, the player can access special items to assist Astro Bot. Over the course of the game, we receive a little grappling hook, a mini turret, a water hose, shuriken, and a flashlight attached to our virtual DualShock to solve minor platforming puzzles or to defeat bosses. They are fun additions to interact with the world and our protagonist. For example, we can create routes across larger gaps with the grappling hook, and we have to angle the controller just right for Astro Bot to reach it and walk across. There's also some multitasking, as controlling Astro Bot and using your special abilities can occasional coincide if you want to make a jump in time or not fall victim to an enemy creature.

The activities are refreshingly diverse and add to the layers of the game. We rarely do the same things twice, and tasks are as varied as the level environments. Filling basins with water to swim, throwing shurikens to build little platforms, or defeat ghosts by flashing them with your flashlight. All of the variety aside, some of the gadgets are criminally underused compared to others, and a bit of balancing would've been nice. The mini turret and flashlight see very little use.

Even if the gadgets seem unevenly distributed, the level design is mostly fun and inventive enough to keep us going. There were countless times when I would promise myself I would put down the game, but ended up feeling intrigued by the preview of the upcoming stage so I had to carry on. From underwater adventures to beaches, amusement parks, cloudy skies, and plain grassland, there are so many different and well-made experiences that they consistently stand out. They're not all amazing, but the average quality is incredibly high for a platformer. This goes hand-in-hand with the overuse of certain items over other gadgets, which I feel would have benefitted the game greatly. While boss battles in Astro Bot are one of the highlights since the larger-than-life battles feel well designed, the general enemy design is lacking, with many similar enemy types only differentiated by colors or costumes.

The entire game just feels right. It's as happy and innocent as any colorful platformer can be, and it even managed to instill a certain degree of naive wonder. It's incredibly well designed, cute, it plays great, it uses VR in an almost perfect way for a platformer, and it's a fun ride from start to finish.

Add to that an amount of content that's rare for a VR experience: 20 normal levels and six boss fight levels. In each normal level, players need to find eight hidden robots and a chameleon. Mastering a boss or finding the chameleon unlocks one of the 26 time trial stages that you can sink your time into. There's also a minigame to use the collected coins to fish game trophies out of a crane machine; it's way too easy but can add some additional playtime for the completionist in you.

Visuals are equally impressive, with a clean look and butter-smooth performance that increase the immersion. Some of the details, both on surfaces and character models, are as good as they get in VR, making Astro Bot one of the most technically impressive VR titles. You may be turned off by its colorful art style, but if you're into that, it's an amazing eye candy experience.

At the end of the day, Astro Bot Rescue Mission is an incredibly fun platformer that plays great and is even greater in VR. While not consistently mind-blowing, it often surprised me by its inventive level design and VR implementation, making it easily the title to own if you want a quality experience that is as innocent as it is fun to play.

Score: 9.0/10

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