Remember when Mario went from being a side-scrolling 2D platformer to being the free-roaming 3D plumber of the Mushroom Kingdom plains? Remember the thrill of seeing Peach’s castle in its towering, grand glory, or the first time you caught Bowser by the tail?
If those Mario 64 moments cemented the power of jumping from 2D to 3D with the Nintendo 64, then the PlayStation 4’s PSVR exclusive, Astro Bot Rescue Mission, does the same for virtual reality. Running and jumping will never be the same again – well, assuming VR eventually becomes as widespread as it deserves to be.
Japan Studios magic
When Sony has new hardware to show off, it turns to Japan Studios. Remember when the DualShock launched on the PS One, and Ape Escape turned up to show us the potential magic of a dual-stick analogue controller? That was down to Japan Studios. Sony again turned to its Japanese in-house teams, with great effect, for Astro Bot Rescue Mission, handing the reins over to its ASOBI Team to push PSVR to its limits.
What it delivered, on paper, sounds generic – take a ‘mascot’ character (in this case the titular Astro Bot that’s previously appeared in Sony’s PlayStation Eye and Playroom experiences) and build a 3D platformer around them. You run, jump, collect coins, find secrets, take on bosses over the course of increasingly challenging and complex levels.
So far, so Gex. So Croc. So… Bubsy.
But there’s an X-factor to Astro Bot Rescue Mission of course, and that’s virtual reality. It is a transformative experience.
With Astro Bot Rescue Mission, you’re not only in control of Astro Bot himself, but you too have a presence in the world. As a looming overseer, you’re tasked with scanning the game world for the optimal, safest route for the Wall-E like robot, leaning in and around obstacles to make sure Astro Bot can come through unscathed. Peering around ledges and down ravines, there’s the sense that secrets can be hidden all around you, with levels that often require Astro Bot to run above, behind and below you, dodging enemies and making death-defying leaps from all angles.
Me and my Bot
Your presence in the game can be quite a physical one too. As Astro Bot’s giant pal, you’ll be head-butting walls to clear paths for him, as well as dodging screen-gooping projectiles shot from bad guys onto your visor to obscure your view. Making sure you’re physically in the best spot to help Astro Bot, never mind directing him to the best position on the map to get through a level, is a careful balancing act, as your attention is split.
And, to be fair to the little space-faring dude, he’s pretty charming. Being able to nod your head up close to him, seeing his little screen light up when you offer a helping hand, it’s easy to love him. The sense of scale against the bosses too endears you to Astro Bot – here’s this tiny little robot guy, taking on giant baddies that loom over him at a scale that could only be imagined via any other medium. You get big ‘I would do anything to protect him’ Baby Yoda vibes.
Now, on the eve of the PS5 launch, however much there is to be said for native 4K resolutions and super-speedy SSD loading times, there’s nothing more exciting than the prospect of a PSVR 2 headset and another trip around the galaxy with Astro Bot. This game sells you on VR's ability to create simple but effective experiences – ones that will sell anyone on the magic of the technology.