We always knew what VR was going to bring to first person games, putting you in the eyes of your character. What has surprised me more is how VR has improved platformers. Moss showed this power as Quill acknowledged your existence in the world, and Astro Bot Rescue Mission takes it a step further by making you an active character in the world.
Astro Bot Rescue Mission tells the story of a spaceship filled with bots which is attacked by an alien. The alien steals part of the ship which sends the little bots flying. You, a weird robot thing with a PlayStation controller, must help a bot with a cape to save them. I’m going to call him Astro.
It’s a-Bot time
Most of the gameplay is making Astro run around beating up enemies, and platform his way through a linear level. Somewhat regularly, you must use your floating controller to help by use of gadgets which pop up in designated levels, such as a torch to shine a light on invisible blocks, or a water gun to cool lava. You can regularly use these to stun or beat specific enemies. Don’t worry though; Astro is going to do the bulk of the heavy lifting.
Astro is a chirpy little robot, who makes happy squeaks all the time, and acknowledges you when he sees fit. This is important because he’s so damn charming. It’s hard not to smile and root for the little fella, which had me not wanting to leave at the end of a session. The game is so cheery that, even after a moody level, getting to the end and seeing Astro and the saved bots dancing to disco music makes you feel accomplished as a player, even if it’s not that hard.
There are five worlds, which true to platformer style have a few levels and a boss fight. The boss fights follow the tried and true formula of a boss doing a pattern like creating waves to jump, where you need to beat the wave, hit the boss, and then get ready for a new pattern. Because they all involve you using a gadget, they can get brutal, but they never took too long to overcome, though I was helped by a dollop of luck here and there.
Enter the world
The real win and, justification for VR, is the level design. Levels have environments that vary from graveyards and ancient ruins, to caves to jungles, or even underwater. These have all been beautifully built for VR, regularly having you look around, peer around corners, and watch Astro as he runs under, you, and behind you. It’s especially important to take the time to look around, as that is how you will find your bots, and the hidden chameleons – more on them later.
Each level has eight bots, but you don’t need to find all of them to beat it. This is good, because some of the bots are hidden very, VERY well. Astro may need to go off the beaten track a bit, or the player may need to headbutt a rock, or use a gadget on a suspicious wall to find a path. One thing helping you is the 3D sound design, allowing you to hear them calling for help. I spent plenty of time looking at and around walls trying to pin down the source of those calls. It’s the perfect way for your family or friends to laugh at you, as you explore the nooks and crannies in the middle of your lounge.
Each level has a chameleon which you must spot and stare at until they explode, which rewards you with a new challenge level to beat. Chameleons can be hidden in plain sight or behind an object, so you need to keep your eyes peeled for them. Challenge levels are generally time trials as a simple level, made harder by the time restriction. It’s an entertaining way to give way more play time to the game, but some involve beating bosses without losing lives. Not today, thanks.
Astro Bot Rescue Mission is clearly a labour of love from a talented set of developers, who had too much joy in their hearts to keep bottled up. The attention to detail, the tense music punctuated with a happy disco tune at the end of each level, and so much robot dancing makes it an absolute joy to play.