Astro's Playroom Might be the Perfect Game in 2023

Contributed by DJMMT

How do you define the perfect game? I’m not talking about trying to determine what makes a 10/10. I don’t want to discuss if God of War Ragnarök is better than Elden Ring, neither of which I’ve actually played yet. This isn’t about defining a video game masterpiece that excels in gameplay, writing, graphics, audio quality, music composition, and replay value. That’s a different discussion, which I’ve written about more than once. I’m talking about defining the perfect gaming experience. A game, regardless of how it compares quality wise to other games, that is perfect for you as the player in the moment you’re playing it. That’s a much different conversation, and quite possibly the more important one. And it doesn’t happen nearly as much as debating the highest quality game in a given year.

I think time period is a huge factor in defining the perfect game. I’d say the age of the player matters quite a bit as well. When I first started gaming as a boy in the days of the NES, what I wanted from games was very different compared to myself gaming now as a married man in my 30’s working two jobs. Obviously, my expectations of gameplay quality have increased since then, but I wouldn’t say that graphics matters as much as companies like NVIDIA and AMD want you to believe. The most popular, and profitable game of the last several years has been Fortnite. One of the most profitable and overrated games of the last decade is Minecraft. Neither of these games look particularly good. Yet they’re loved and played almost religiously by millions of players.

Consider the Pokémon franchise. I’ve heard many people say that the recently released Pokémon Scarlet & Violet look and run horribly. Yet the games sold at record breaking numbers and have been called “the most fun mainline Pokémon games ever made” by more than one person. Thinking about my own relationship with graphics, I definitely love great looking games like Ghost of Tsushima, which I’m currently revisiting, on PS5 for the first time, to play the DLC. However, the game I’m currently hooked on and getting the most overall value from is Vampire Survivors. I got this game in a Steam sale for $3 back in November. Since I started it in December, I’ve played it for 20 hours. And I’m not even close to finished with it.

The thing I’m most impressed by with Vampire Survivors is that my gameplay time is not based on replay value. I hate replaying content and have no interest in playing this, or any other game, after I’ve reached my completion goals. And no, my completion goal for Vampire Survivors is not 100% achievement completion. I just want to unlock all the characters and stages, and presumably find and kill Dracula. I haven’t actually looked up if you can do that, but the game continues to imply that you can. For $3, I will have gotten more than 20 hours of gaming that I actually enjoyed without replaying anything. For me, that’s money well spent, and the best type of game design. Yet the graphics look like shit compared to things like the aforementioned Ghost of Tsushima, God of Ragnarök, Elden Ring, and many other games I hope to play in the near future. And that in no way has detracted from my enjoyment of Vampire Survivors. So again, I ask, what is the perfect game?

Recently, I got a PS5. I was hesitant about the console, which is why I was waiting for the PS5 PRO. But I have to say that I have already fallen in love with this latest generation of PlayStation gaming. It’s objectively better that the PS4 in every way. The UI is better, the speed is better, the management is better, and the list goes on. The only thing I don’t like about the console is how large and oddly shaped it is. But it fit on my entertainment center with no issues, so who really cares? The first game I played on the PS5 was Astro’s Playroom as recommended by SONY and pretty much everyone I’ve talked to about starting the console. Now that I’ve played it, I can say that it’s the perfect game in 2023.

Astro’s Playroom is an action platformer that comes pre-installed in every PS5. It’s a short little romp that you can finish with 100% completion in just three hours, or less, if you know where and how to get the trophies beforehand. I had heard nothing but praise for this game, and now I absolutely understand and agree with this positive overall assessment from the PlayStation community.

Let me be clear, Astro’s Playroom is absolutely not a 10/10 game. While I would argue it does have a story, it’s not a traditional narrative. And since I don’t buy into the “Elden Ring has a great narrative” argument, I have to acknowledge that Astro’s Playroom doesn’t have a great narrative either. More on that later. Astro’s Playroom also has little replay value if you manage to find all the collectibles in a single playthrough. To imply that it was anywhere near a 10/10 game would be an egregious lie. Nevertheless, I consider it a perfect game. Especially for adult gamers that have been playing video games since the first PlayStation console, or even earlier, as I have.

What makes Astro’s Playroom perfect is not that it necessarily does anything better than other games. The platforming is very good. But I wouldn’t say it was better than other well-made platformers such as modern 3D Super Mario games, Ratchet & Clank games, or other competent modern action platformers. The music is good. Much higher quality than I would have expected from a short freebie like this. But it’s certainly not better than other modern titles like Mario +Rabbids Sparks of Hope with work from video game composers like Grant Kirkhope. The graphics and loading times are phenomenal, for what they intend to be. But again, I wouldn’t say they were any better than other PS5 games with kid-friendly art styles, such as Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. What makes Astro’s Playroom the perfect game is that it managed to do all these things as well as other modern games and distill a high-quality gaming experience into its purest form so that it could be fully appreciated in two to three hours.

Astro’s Playroom has basically everything a modern AAA experience needs to deliver, including a platinum trophy. When you finish Astro’s Playroom, you get the full AAA emotional experience. You’ve worked through multiple levels/sections in multiple worlds. You’ve seen vastly different settings as you traveled from world to world. You’ve fought multiple types of enemies and faced more than one boss, with an epic multiple phase final boss fight. You’ve found multiple types of collectibles with varying levels of difficulty to locate them. You’ve encountered and interacted with tons of NPCs, many of which are quite memorable. You’ve completed multiple timed-trial challenges and worked to achieve a record time for a trophy. You’ve even sat through the interactive credits sequence. It’s the entire full-game experience delivered in the most efficient way possible.

While I will admit that Astro’s Playroom cheats in order to deliver on the story portion of the fully fledged AAA gaming experience, I think it does it exceptionally well. Astro’s Playroom doesn’t have a traditional plot, but there is absolutely a fulfilling story experience. It’s the story/history of gaming on PlayStation. As you progress through Astro’s Playroom, you will find collectibles called “artifacts.” Each artifact is a literal piece of PlayStation history, as they’re interactive digital models of PlayStation devices and accessories. Controllers, consoles, cameras, memory cards, and so on. You’ll also encounter I don’t know how many NPCs that directly reference past PlayStation games. Kratos and Atreus, Aloy, Ratchet, Crash Bandicoot, and so many other noteworthy PlayStation characters spanning all the way back to PS1 are represented in this game. And meeting each of them lets you relive those stories, both as the games themselves as well as your experience of playing them over the years.

Unless the PS5 is your first PlayStation console, the experience of playing Astro’s Playroom is the narrative and historical experience of playing every past PlayStation console and major exclusives. Even the trophies make reference to past games from PlayStation’s history. Some of them being extremely obscure or niche references that only the most seasoned PlayStation gamers will get. For instance, there’s a trophy called ‘The Last Guy.’ This is a reference to an old, low budget PS3 game by Japan Studio from 2008 that most people probably haven’t even heard of, much less played. For me, it was one of my favorite smaller budget games from the PS3 era. In fact, I did Let’s Play of the game back in 2015. Nods like that fill in the blanks of the story experience that a larger budget standalone game probably wouldn’t be able to do as easily or effectively.

Playing Astro’s Playroom is a joy in that it works for the player rather than making the player work for it. The game is accessible, easy to pick up, kid friendly, both in the gameplay and the content/art style, and awards you a platinum trophy without taking too long. Yet it doesn’t feel unearned like with shovelware trophies like the platinums for My Name is Mayo 1 & 2. Astro’s Playroom is a real game in every sense of the phrase. It just happens to be a short one. And that’s exactly what’s so great about. Parents can find the time to play it and get the full game experience. Busy adults working multiple jobs, students with several classes and lots of assignments, and pretty much anyone else can find the time to finish this game; and experience the thrill of popping that platinum trophy. And it doesn’t have to be done in one sitting either. In fact, I’d say that you shouldn’t try to do it all in one sitting. I believe I got the platinum in three or four.

I hope they make more games like Astro’s Playroom. If not with this IP, then at least in this style. In the busy world of 2023, it’s much easier and just as fulfilling to play a game built efficiently like this than to try to find 200 hours to finish a massive open world with countless side quests and collectibles. If they made a new Astro’s Playroom every year, I’d absolutely play them all. I’d even be willing to pay for them, but certainly not at a $70 price tag. The most unrelatable part of Astro’s Playroom is that it’s as good as it is without charging you anything to play it. Well, anything other than the cost of a PS5 anyway.

XPG Terrence

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