Review: VR robot revenge with Astro Bot Rescue Mission
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting Astro Bot Rescue Mission to be good. Turns out I was right — it’s not good, it’s great!
If you own a PlayStation VR headset then chances are you’ve tried The Playroom VR, a free collection of mini-games downloadable off the PlayStation Store. Astro Bot is based off one of those mini-games, Robot Rescue, though it’s vastly expanded in scope and scale.
There’s a certain underlying charm that’s pretty hard to explain. Perhaps it’s the cartoon art style, the whimsical soundtrack, or maybe even the cute enemies and bosses you encounter. It doesn’t really matter when the end result is more than worth its asking price. It’s hard not to smile and enjoy yourself in Astro Bot’s world, even if you’re a jaded gamer who’s seen it all.
It starts off simple. The bots and their PS VR-wearing ship are flying through space when a UFO appears and lays the smackdown on them. It wrecks the ship, swipes off its PS VR visor, and scatters the tiny bots throughout space. Your job is to guide the lone surviving bot in rescuing its stranded brethren and repairing the ship.
From afar it’s a standard 3D platformer. You enter a stage, release Astro Bot from your in-game DualShock 4 controller, and then guide him around to find the other stranded bots. You punch enemies, dodge hazards, and jump around. At the end of the level, you fight a huge boss.
It’s a decent game but the VR element makes it much more than that. Skyscrapers loom over you, bottomless pits spread out under you, enemies swarm you… VR just brings a sense of immense scale that you can’t get anywhere else.
Suddenly you’re not just an observer into the world, you’re actually there. You’re in control of Astro Bot but, in a twist, not the camera — it moves on a fixed track following the bot. While it may sound restrictive, it’s actually handled well most of the time. The game intelligently guides the camera along in such a way that there’s no motion sickness, a must for VR gaming. In fact, the game moves at a blazingly fast and stable framerate on PS4 Pro, so there’s very little chance of feeling sick or dizzy. I managed to play with the headset on for hours at a time.
There’s sadly no way to backtrack the camera, even when you move Astro Bot back. You don’t really need to backtrack in this game, but for the times where you do want to it’s quite an annoyance. However, the static camera does give the developers the freedom to hide stranded bots in places you might not expect. Sometimes you’ll even need to physically move your head and peer over an edge, only to discover a hidden platform underneath. Other times you might need to headbutt a wall to progress. It can lead to dramatic shots too, such as when the robot walks across a tightrope overhead, making you crane your neck up for a proper look.
Luckily, with all the platforming you can’t actually fall off a ledge. You can fail from mistimed jumps, but running off an edge isn’t something you need to worry about. The game just doesn’t let you. It might seem like a cheat but there are certain sections that benefit greatly from this, especially when you can’t really see where Astro Bot is going.
Jumping is done intelligently too. Astro Bot can hover by firing a laser, which kills enemies directly under him but also serves as a position marker so you don’t overshoot platforms. That’s actually an issue as the camera placement is not always optimal, either by design or accident. Mostly, though, it’s due to the in-game controller blocking the view.
This controller is ever present in-game and serves as your interaction hub. It’s where the rescued bots return to when they’re saved (they even do a cute little celebration when they come back) and it can also be used as a slingshot, grappling hook and more, depending on the stage and location.
Ideally, it’ll turn transparent whenever Astro Bot is obscured by it. In practice, that sometimes doesn’t happen. It usually fritzes out when you’re looking down and moving him at the same time, which can make some gameplay sections problematic.
The in-game controller also tends to drift off-course over time. There’s no button to reset its virtual placement, but I’ve found that moving the physical controller in and out of view of the PS Camera (I just place it behind me) is usually enough to fix things.
There’s an undeniable charm to the art style, as the cutesy enemies and other background objects — like the funky mushrooms with eyes — easily makes you chuckle or even laugh out loud. There’s a perfect amount of absurdity at fighting a huge King Kong-esque robot by punching out its teeth, only to then rip out the stumps with a grappling hook. Which is just one of many, many examples of the kind of boss fights in this game.
The tone of Astro Bot matches perfectly with its score as well. It’s upbeat and jovial, and some tunes are catchy enough to make you sing or hum along. It may not win any awards for best music but at least it’s just plain fun. In a way, they remind me of the Katamari Damacy games — weird but incredible.
What it all boils down to is this: if you have the PS VR then Astro Bot Rescue Mission is one game you simply must get. It doesn’t cause motion sickness, it’s damn fun to play, and it’s great to just look at and listen to. What else do you need?
Astro Bot Rescue Mission is out now for PlayStation VR.
Developed by SIE Japan Studio. Published by Sony Interactive Entertainment.
A digital copy was provided for review.