Although it doesn't always look that way, PSVR is slowly and quietly becoming a minor success for Sony. Now, with the help of some cutesy robots, another exclusive hit now lands to broaden the appeal of virtual reality on PlayStation 4.
Although some have already written off VR as a flash in the pan, the PSVR is constantly evolving. With three million units sold, it has further extended its lead over its two main competitors among the major head-mounted displays, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. But as far as first-party support goes there was fair criticism directed at Sony because after the first wave of promising titles there were hardly any titles of note. But this drought is over now because with Astro Bot Rescue Mission Sony's Japan Studio has shown just how much creativity they can beam into a white plastic headset.
Sony has listened to its fans, because Astro Bot Rescue Mission is the full version of the sweetest appetiser from Playroom VR, itself a small collection of games that was made available free of charge at the launch of the PSVR. Even then, a brilliantly polished white mechanoid, reminiscent of Sony's real-life Aibo robots, collected its lost colleagues in an idyllic grassy landscape.
The reason for this mini-game is now explained in this new intro sequence: 160 of the cute robots were on their way through space when they were attacked by an ill-tempered and slimy alien. The creep had it in for the huge VR goggles that the ship had mounted on its bow and tore the space vehicle apart. Its occupants were then spread across five different nearby planets.
The missing robots must, therefore, be reached by the last remaining crew member (under the direction of the player) in an adventure where breakneck bouncing and fighting skills are required. As with the VR hit Moss, we control the main character with a controller, but sometimes we also see ourselves on displays mounted in the landscape or in reflective surfaces as an oversized being responsible for the fate of the small droids on-screen.
As we know from the Playroom version, we're now getting down to business. We begin again in a dreamy meadow landscape with the search for our robotic colleagues. However, this world has grown considerably in Astro Bot Rescue Mission. It stretches both upwards and outwards and contains numerous hiding places for robots, as well as gold coins to be collected (which alternatively become valuable giant coins or are stashed in colourful containers).
In order to reach them, our robot can jump, hover briefly using jet propulsion, strike, and execute a vortex attack. The latter is quite useful against the many opponents you encounter. However, the most elegant way to get rid of these pests is to roast them with the flames from your jet engine while gliding overhead. As with any platforming title, perfect timing is required. The game offers the usual challenges of moving and rotating platforms, falling or breaking blocks, fire, lava, and deadly spikes.
Astro Bot Rescue Mission doesn't reinvent the wheel, then. Many elements are reminiscent of Super Mario or Rayman, but the special thing is how these elements are explored. Above all, it's the integration of VR that gives the game its own unique charm, because the player is physically involved in the action, with your head serving as the "camera" of the game. If the Astro Bot is hidden behind a corner, you have to lean forward to see it, for example. In general, actively moving and looking around is an essential part of the game if you want to find all the bots and the almost invisible chameleons hidden in each level.