The little bot that could
One of the first ‘games’ you get (or should get) with PlayStation VR is called The Playroom VR. Essentially a few mini-games showing off the VR tech, The Playroom VR is a great introduction to different nuances of VR gaming.
One of these mini-games is Japan Studio’s Rescue Robots. The idea is simple – you control a single robot through a 3D world and try to find all your missing friends through the level.
The catch – you are actively in the game. Your avatar is a (relatively) huge vacuum looking robot that floats through the level on a set path. Your controller is visible on the screen at all times, as it is part of the game. You can shoot out a rope and grappling hooks to create tightropes and pull down walls.
It was a very immersive experience and a highlight of the package.
And now Rescue Robots is all grown up
Now, Rescue Robots has evolved into its own game – Astro Bot Rescue Mission.
The basic gameplay is almost identical, but a bit of polishing has happened. On starting a new game, you get to see the Bots and their sentient mothership attacked by an alien. The ship is ripped apart, and the alien makes off with the ships PSVR visor.
So you control Astro, captain of the ship, and set off to explore five different worlds and find your friends.
Story-wise, this will never win awards. It’s all a thin premise to get you where you need to be for the platforming, and that is where Astro Bot Rescue Mission shines.
On the surface, it’s a very straightforward platformer. Control Astro and explore the stages, collecting coins and finding your missing crewmates.
Some crew are out in the open, some are hidden in various ways. The great sound of the game lets you hear the bots cry out for help, and the 3D sound makes it easy to home in on where you should be looking.
What it doesn’t do is home in on how you should be looking – and that is a great element of Astro Bot Rescue Mission.
If you think of yourself as a camera moving around on a dolly, that would be fairly correct. But you aren’t fixed in your seat. There will be times you will want to stand and look ahead or behind you for secrets and hidden paths that your initial view hid with perspective.
And that’s just part of it. Some of the bots are hidden, but not all of them are calling out for help. Some are quietly lazing around, minding their own business until you knock something or turn around to see them.
This kind of thinking is slowly introduced through the levels of the game. In the first level, the fact that a bot in it that is lazing next to an enemy subtly teaches you that just because enemies came from there, doesn’t mean that a crew member can’t be around.
Then you get into the environmental controller bonuses. Some levels give you different ways of interacting with the world directly.
The first tool is the grappling line, similar to Rescue Robots. Create tightropes or pull down walls to make Astro new paths. Shurikens are another bonus, allowing you to embed them in certain walls to make platforms. Another is a water hose, letting you grow plants and vines as paths in the Garden levels, or cool lava to make a path in Volcano levels.
And of course, there is the old fashioned mini-gun ball launcher, to knock over everything in your way 🙂
But it’s not just the gameplay
Astro Bot Rescue Mission is a great traditional platformer with not so traditional twists. And as I have said, the story isn’t going to win any real prizes.
But the characters. Initially, you think ‘Oh cute’. But I actually started caring about not only the Bots but the ‘enemies’ stopping me and the others that help you along the way.
Having Astro look at you and wave as it makes its way around the level was fun, and a few times I actually found myself waving back! This is a world that you don’t think about when you start playing, but truly pulls you in completely.
The cutesy graphics style may make Astro Bot Rescue Mission look like a kids game, but don’t let that fool you. There is a lot happening here, and the simpler graphics not only establish the world but let it play smoothly on the PlayStation hardware.
On the whole, the controls worked great. There were a few times that I would go ‘out of field’ with the headset, but just moving back fixed that and it never happened at a critical moment, only when I was physically walking around exploring.
Once you put the PSVR on, you are in the world of Astro Bot Rescue Mission, and that is an accomplishment in and of itself.
So what’s wrong with it?
Honestly – not much. The controls have a little bit of a learning curve, as the direction you push to send Astro is relative to where you are looking.
The biggest complaint I would have is the game length, and even that is a relative complaint.
There are five game worlds, each with four levels and a boss. Once these are cleared, there is one ‘final’ boss – the alien from the start. This is a pretty short game to get to the end overall.
But there is a lot more to do. Each level has a chameleon you have to find, and finding these unlock challenges. This adds 26 extra levels to the game, adding a couple of hours overall. It’s a welcome addition and requires skill and practice, but unfortunately, it also feels a little like padding.
There is also a ‘grabber’ mini-game where you spend your coins. This lets you rebuild levels inside the mothership to play and explore in.
Grab a bomb, waste some coins. Levels can be replayed to farm coins, so it’s not a massive issue, but the mini-game is more for novelty than gameplay value.
That said, I have put Astro Bot Rescue Mission on the ‘I am going to Platinum this’ list for 2019 – and hopefully before the end of January!
Even though the game is relatively short (a dedicated day to finish everything is my guess), it is a lot of fun to play and well worth the price of admission.
As long as it’s on sale. AUD$55 is a bit much I think for the amount of game you get, but the AUD$31 until 19/01/2019 is pretty much spot on.
But there really is no better way to understand Astro Bot than by playing it yourself. And while it’s not as good as having the controller in your hands, below is my first video of 2019 – finishing the first level of Astro Bot Rescue Mission with all the secrets!
It’s fun, immersive, and has that ‘one more go’ factor that makes great games great.
In small doses, Astro Bot Rescue Mission might even be a good trainer for getting your ‘VR legs’ if you experience motion sickness in VR. Either way, a heap of fun and another great game from Japan Studio.
Until next time,
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