Astro Bot: Robot Rescue is fantastic. As a game it’s not usually particularly challenging and the platforming itself is honestly rudimentary but it’s so creative and fun to just be inside of. Every level introduces some new visual idea that surprises me and showcases different ways VR lets you play with perception in third person games (in this case a 3D platformer in the vein of the 3D Marios). Typically a game’s camera is fairly restrictive and focused- you usually want it to be showing you all of the important information on screen at once so you can make your jumps clearly, because typical camera controls are not quick and precise enough to convey multiple angles and views clearly.
But a lot of those issues go away with VR. You gain a depth perception regular TV can’t convey, allowing movement from camera angles games would typically shy away from. You can quickly and easily look around in any angle, gaining a broader awareness and understanding of an environment rather than focusing on just what’s in your character’s vicinity at the moment. And just the act of turning your head to see things imparts this sense of discovery over everything, like you are exploring the environment and discovery the nooks and crannies with your own ability rather than what’s allowed to you by the camera controls.
There is this one part where you are stuck standing on a pedestal as a giant beanstalk grows in front of you and carries Astro Bot far, far above you, and you have peer up and navigate him across the beanstalk leaves. Eventually Asto Bot activates a switch that raises your pedestal but you end up going even higher than Astro Bot and you’re then tasked to peer far, far down underneath you to guide Astro Bot his way back up above you to gradually get you both to the top of the bean stalk. The sense of height and distance is striking but the perspective is never problematic. The vines grows around you, encircling your back, and you get this 360 degree playfield of Astro Bot jumping around and you yourself having to dodge robo bees who are trying to sting your face and crack your VR visor. And then it only does the radical height shift maybe once or twice more in the game.
Instead, it does something like this other part where you’re stuck in a room that’s half submerged in water with passage ways that weave up and down, in and out of the sea. The undulating of the water distorts your view underneath it but you can physically poke your head under the water for a clearly view, mapping out the various pathways around the room. Combining the information you can see from above and below the water is fun instead of annoying because moving your head is natural and easy in a way maneuvering a camera would not be. And it only does this simultaneous water/dry level design once or twice more in the rest of the game.
Because it also does this other thing where you controller turns into a shuriken shooting machine and you get full aiming and rotational control of how the shuriken impact the walls, letting you create platforms at different angles along a rotating wheel. You’re simultaneously platforming with Astro Bot while shooting with your controller like a lightgun, and it’s such a delightful combination. And it does it maybe two or three times elsewhere in the game.
The game is constantly playing with new ideas that charm or wow you. Any of these things could definitely be developed further into more challenging tests of the concept, but Astro Bot instead explores new things rather than letting anything overstay their welcome. And because every new thing is just as fun as the previous ones you’re never left dissatisfied by level. A lot of this stuff could be smushed down or altered to fit onto a regular TV screen, I’m sure, but I don’t think they would be anywhere near as good without the presence and perspective VR allows.
I couldn’t find a gamepro face in the emoji so I give the game a hair standing up on your head.
Edit: Oh, and Tetris Effect comes out in like two or three weeks with Gungrave coming shortly thereafter.