Astro Bot Rescue Mission
Developed by: Japan Studio
Published by: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Available on: PlayStation VR
Judged solely on the number of monosyllabic exclamations I uttered to myself while playing “Astro Bot Rescue Mission,” it’s fair to say that few other games have enchanted me this year as much as this platformer. The developers at Sony’s first-party Japan Studio have created something that rivals the buoyancy of one of Nintendo’s games. Indeed, “Astro Bot” sticks to the classic Nintendo template of being easy to pick up, a joy to play and challenging to master. It's a game that can rekindle the wonder of gaming in the most jaded of hearts.
“Astro Bot Rescue Mission” evolved out of “Robot Rescue,” one of the free mini games available under the “Playroom VR” umbrella designed to show off PlayStation VR (PSVR). Apparently, the developers at Japan Studio agreed with the early adopters who thought the mini game would work well as a stand-alone title. Similar to its predecessor, in “Astro Bot” you conduct a robot (cute enough for a licensing deal) on a mission to rescue his cohorts who are stuck in nooks and crannies spread over different environments. What elevates the straightforward platforming gameplay (with all of its gold coin-collecting) into something special is the stunning way the developers use VR’s 3-D capabilities to toy with players’ perspectives.
Searching for robots will have you peering every which way around you. There is something fabulously mind-altering about gazing in a direction the mind knows to be the floor, but to the eye looks like a vertical drop you’d expect to see while gazing down a gorge. “Astro Bot” is designed so that your eyes are guided back and forth between objects that look to be within grasping distance and those that look far away. One of my favorite examples involves maneuvering Astro Bot onto a high narrow beam that runs along a wall in the background and then peering through the vines of a plant to follow the little guy’s progress.
Occasionally, you’ll be asked to place the virtual controller into a device that refits it with special upgrades accessible by swiping a finger across the touch pad. One ability allows you to create rope bridges that extend from the controller to a hook in the distance. Another allows you to fling throwing stars. These mechanics make the world a bit more tangible but the level design is the real star here.
I’ve never played anything quite like the Feed Willy stage which pleasantly messed with my sense of equilibrium. In that level you guide Astro Bot through a whale and watch as the water inside the creature rises above your head and falls in an ocean-like rhythm. The stage made me feel as though I was swimming in my living room.
Playing “Astro Bot Rescue” is like stepping into your own amusement park. It’s one of the handful of games that justifies the existence of PSVR.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.
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