Callooh! Callay! At long last, the most frabjous of days has come! After two long years of waiting, I’ve finally got my hands on a PS5! While I’ve mostly been tinkering with the system, playing a few of the PS4 games I got with the intention of upgrading, I did take a bit of time to jump into Astro’s Playroom for the second time.
I’ve mentioned on the Pixels and Ink Podcast that I did get to briefly play around with the PS5 back in 2021, mainly focusing on the in-system tech demo: Astro’s Playroom. At that time, I was mostly mesmerized by the capability of the PS5 and its controller’s cornucopia of unique features. Even though the game was also very clearly a love letter to PlayStation, that was very much a footnote to the function of the game. However, diving into it a second time, I couldn’t help but wonder: why hasn’t Nintendo or even Microsoft done something like this?
Nintendo was arguably the first to pioneer the idea of bundling a system with a playable tech demo, starting with the Wii and Wii Sports. I know A LOT of people—including myself—who bought the Wii specifically because of Wii Sports, and while it was undeniably fun, it was a fairly basic showcase of what the Wii and its controller were capable of—especially if you consider Nintendo added the Wii Motion Plus years later to expand on what the Wii Remote could actually do.
Nintendo came pretty close on their second attempt at a legitimate tech demo with Nintendo Land on the Wii U, but looking back on it, it really didn’t live up to its full potential. For one thing, the game wasn’t a standard inclusion with every Wii U, instead being packaged with every Wii U Deluxe Set, meaning anyone who bought a Basic Set would have to buy it separately.
Secondly, much like the launch of the Wii U itself, the game was a bit of a mess—consisting of solo, cooperative and competitive mini-games, all of which needed a combination of Gamepad, Wii Remotes and Nunchucks to enjoy. So if you never had a Wii and didn’t collect a multitude of controllers, you couldn’t play at least half of the games available.
“Nintendo came pretty close on their second attempt at a legitimate tech demo with Nintendo Land on the Wii U, but looking back on it, it really didn’t live up to its full potential.”
Lastly, and most importantly, Nintendo Land isn’t really a celebration of Nintendo’s history in the same way Astro’s Playroom is. You can see glimpses of where it could have been, but the whole thing lacks the soul and creativity that Astro’s Playroom would come to have. The “theme park” isn’t actually designed like a theme park, and while the mini-games all find ways to uniquely adapt their properties while showing off what the system could do, it all feels kind of commercial and less of a tribute to Nintendo.
But Astro’s Playroom might be one of the most amazing proofs-of-concept I’ve experienced in recent memory. Developed by TeamASOBI and Japan Studio, the game not only incredibly showcases the hardware behind the PS5 and its new controller, but it’s also a genuinely fun platformer with a lot of love and care put into it. There’s a genuine sense of wonder in the way the game is taking place inside the PS5, and every level is a little, magical glimpse into how the whole thing works.
As you progress through each level, you find little trinkets that culminate the entire history of gaming that Sony and the PlayStation have amassed. Capping off each level is the nostalgic sounds of every PlayStation’s start-up music, and I’ll admit I got way more emotional than I should have when I heard the PS2 start-up sounds at the end of the SSD Speedway.
“…Nintendo Land isn’t really a celebration of Nintendo’s history in the same way Astro’s Playroom is.”
That was the moment when it really hit me. Astro’s Playroom is precisely the kind of game Nintendo SHOULD have made, if not for the Switch, than any other of its previous modern consoles. Nintendo’s ability to weave its console’s features into its premier games has always been exemplary.
This is seen in games like Metroid Prime 3 or Super Mario Odyssey—heck, for as much as I think The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a bad GAME, there’s no denying it’s a solid showcase of the Wii Motion Plus. But when it comes to their dedicated tech demos, they’ve mostly teetered between gimmicky and forgettable (how quickly did people forget about 1, 2 Switch?)
But a game that not only showcased the hardware but was also a well-designed platformer that functioned secondarily as a love letter to Nintendo’s long, storied history of gaming? How is that not something they’ve already done? Imagine something like that on the Switch—Nintendo already has an Astro surrogate with the Miis.
You could’ve had a little Mii running around, exploring the various parts of the Switch, or jumping in and out of the Dock (not that it does much, but still). Each of the areas could be themed around different consoles that utilize the gyro controls and HD Rumble. You could have sections based on different games or just have little references to them to find the same way Astro’s Playroom did.
Imagine finding little treasures filled with the Famicom Controllers, or the Virtual Boy, or the Nintendo 64 Expansion Pack, filling a whole room with iconic pieces of gaming history—although calling that room the “Nintendo Labo” might be a little confusing. I know this has been focusing a lot on Nintendo, but even Microsoft could and should have something like this.
“Astro’s Playroom is exactly the kind of game Nintendo SHOULD have made, if not for the Switch, than any other of its previous modern consoles.”
Microsoft’s focus has never really been on console gimmicks—the Kinect was their only real attempt at it, but it came long after the Xbox 360. Even though the Xbox One was initially bundled with Kinect, Microsoft later dropped it after interest in the peripheral fell off a cliff. But even Microsoft has had a long and storied history with games—finding a foothold in the PC space long before the Xbox. There’s no denying when the Xbox was first released, it was monumental; Halo alone changed the face of the FPS and gaming as we knew it.
But even if the Xbox Series X/S had a version of Astro’s Playroom, it could be used to showcase the power of the system since that’s its main selling feature. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a contained, simple platformer—it could be a little bit more ambitious, but it should at least be a tribute to the legacy of the Xbox and Microsoft as a gaming platform. Something that reminds players this was the system that gave us Halo, Gears of War, Fable, and even the first major mainstream introduction to The Elder Scrolls series.
My point is Astro’s Playroom showcases that these kinds of tech demos can not only be competently made games in their own right, but they can be exactly what getting a new system is supposed to be: a celebration. They can not only be an introduction to the vast history of gaming that has amassed over the years for new gamers but a reminder to long-time players why they fell in love with these consoles and game series in the first place.