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Hands on with Astro Bot: creative, beautiful and authentically PlayStation

A game of the year contender.

Astro's Playroom was one of the highlights of the PlayStation 5 launch, showcasing the DualShock's haptic feedback features, creative level design and a lot of good old-fashioned platforming fun - and now a proper full-fat release, called Astro Bot, is coming to PS5 in September. I went hands-on with some of the game's early levels for over an hour at a preview event in Frankfurt, and I'm genuinely impressed at how good it looks. In fact, Astro Bot is now the game I'm most looking forward to this year.

From the off, Astro Bot feels creative and fun, as you pilot a (DualSense-shaped) spacecraft around a galaxy map, with different systems and planets scattered around. Enter a system, of which only one was available in the preview, and each planet within represents a different level. Our preview included two main stages, a boss fight and a couple of smaller challenge levels that reminded me of those in Super Mario Sunshine. The transition from spaceship to on-the-ground gameplay is extremely smooth too, as your ship comes out of warp and flies through a short section under your control, before crash-landing as the level proper begins.

It looks like the game is using the same basic technology as Astro's Playroom, which is to say, slick and attractive with a distinctive Team Asobi style. The internal resolution of the game looks to be around 1872p - somewhere north of 80 percent of a full 4K, similar to Playroom - and looked good on the large 4K TV at the event.

Astro Bot looks superb in motion, so give this video of our impressions a try. Watch on YouTube

What sells the game for me is the amount of physical interaction and creativity in the level design, which is something we don't see that in modern games. There's impressive fluid simulation, with one section requiring you to fire a paint cannon to highlight invisible platforms, with multi-coloured paint running off the walls and the platforms in satisfying blobs. In another section, you come across a walkway packed with a huge number of metal bolts, and they fall down or jostle around each other as you walk through them. There's also a glass destruction system that shoots shards out at the point of impact at different speeds depending on the velocity of your Astro Bot as you bust through a window. All of these systems make the world feel alive.

Another place Astro's Playroom impressed was in its use of the DualSense controller, and Astro Bot looks to have gone even further. Talking to the developers, the idea is that everything you can interact with in the world, whether it's relevant to the gameplay or not, should provoke a tactile reaction on the controller. There's constantly a wide range of sensations, often quite subtle ones, rather than the strong but almost one-dimensional rumble you tend to expect in other games. You can easily tell the difference between materials while walking on different surfaces, which is super impressive. In fact, if the demo is any indication, this might be the game with the best haptic feedback ever.

Beyond the force feedback, the controls feel as snappy and responsive as you'd hope from a top-tier platformer, and the whole demo has the same feeling of polish, fluidity and overall quality that you'd expect from a first-party Nintendo release. Combined with the more PlayStation-like creativity and callbacks, it feels like Team Asobi really understand what made these consoles great in the past. The initial trailer shows the bots that you can run into and rescue based off characters from past and present PlayStation franchises, and I was delighted to run into Um Jammer Lammy from the '99 PS1 game of the same name.

In every inch of the game, it feels like there's always something to notice; everything you can interact with push back and interact with you too. I'm sure this is where a lot of the development time has been invested.

Speaking of development time, it looks like Astro Bot may arrive in the same time window as the rumoured PlayStation 5 Pro. If these two releases do coincide, there are some obvious areas where the game could run better on more powerful hardware - for example, the circa 1872p internal resolution could be pushed to a native 4K, 2160p, for an even sharper end result. We also wonder if there's a case for ray tracing effects - the existing build is RT-free.

Perhaps more interesting would be a 120fps mode, as platformers tend to benefit substantially from the lower input lag and increased responsiveness that higher frame-rates provide. The game already feels responsive at an almost perfectly locked 60fps - I only noticed one moment of obvious slow-down in the hour-long demo - but it would be great to see a high frame-rate option if CPU performance isn't too much of a constraint.

Here's the Astro Bot reveal trailer, which shows off the game in action and gives you a good sense of its flavour. Watch on YouTube

As well as impressing on the visual front, the game's soundscape seems well done. The score is fantastic, with some really catchy tunes and fun integration of Astro Bot vocals. As with the game's other elements, it's clear that a lot of time and attention was spent on making everything just right.

It feels bold to say so early on, but if the demo's quality is representative of the full game, Astro Bot looks like a strong candidate for the top spot on my own game of the year list. Astro's Playroom certainly shows a similar level of polish and fun game design, so I'm optimistic that the full release will be equally good if not even better.

In fact, if Team Asobi can execute on the vision the demo provides, this might be one of the best 3D platforming games ever made. There's a huge amount here that's unexpected, imaginative and absolutely joyous, and I can't wait to play the full release.

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