I'm one of the few people in the world who already has a PlayStation 5 in their home, and I could be doing anything. How does it feel to play old games on new hardware? What's like to truly experience 4K resolutions for the first time? Instead, I'm spending my time doing this:
Editor’s Note: The sound is off by default on these videos. Put the sound on by clicking the little button in the bottom corner! It’s worth it.
Zip up, zip down. Zip fast, zip slow. My finger slowly slides along the DualSense, the impressive and quirky new controller Sony's produced for the PlayStation 5, and it moves the digital zipper in real-time. The controller quietly rattles as the zipper slides along its path, producing a satisfying little oomph as I progress through each of the interlocking teeth. A series of chk-chk-chk noises rattle through a tiny speaker attached to the DualSense, working in concert with the much quieter chk-chk-chk that comes through the TV speakers.
It's not a new way to play video games, really, but it feels so goddamn cool. And given how incremental some parts of this generational transition feel, especially in the early days, having something that feels noticeably different and unique ends up standing out quite a bit.
It's a tiny but seductive detail, among countless others, in Astro's Playroom, one of the rare next-gen exclusives for either Xbox or PlayStation this fall. In this case, Astro's Playroom, essentially an elaborate technical demonstration for the DualSense, is bundled with every PlayStation 5. Its attention to minutiae is not surprising, as it comes from Astro Bot: Rescue Mission developer ASOBI Team, who produced one of my favorite games in 2019 and a stellar showcase for how technologies like virtual reality can be more than just a gimmick.
I can't tell you much about my time with PlayStation 5 yet, nor can I even say much about my time with Astro's Playroom. But I have been allowed to discuss the opening areas of it, and when I think about Astro's Playroom, all I end up doing is thinking about the controller.
The thrust of Astro's Playroom is discovering delightful nods to PlayStation history, while interacting with little rooms that, in one way or another, show off what DualSense can do.
One example is the increased "resistance" that's present on the triggers, wherein developers, if they choose, can demand players to exert more force on the controller in order to make an action occur. In this case, it's a springy robot whose tension is wound up in the DualSense triggers, and forces you to, at least relatively speaking, apply real pressure in order to produce a big bounce. The less push you give the trigger, the smaller the bounce.
It's hard to explain how this works without physically holding the controller, but watch this:
This particular gimmick outlives its novelty pretty quickly, but much like Astro Bot: Rescue Mission, Astro's Playroom is well aware it's stuffed full of one-trick ponies, and it moves on rather quickly. It's an idea for someone else to run with, and see if there could be more.
The presence of a speaker also isn't new to PlayStation 5—it was present in PlayStation 4's controller, too. But it's how DualSense, or at least Astro's Playroom specifically, combines the various technical experiments together that feels like it gestures at something new.
It's most impressive during a few sequences in particular, like when you have to press through a tiny desert storm, and it feels like specks of dust are rattling around your hands:
Or the taptaptap as you twirl on top of the ice and navigate from one frozen block to the other, compounded by the constant whhhhrrrr as your robot effortlessly skates through:
The problem is that much like 4K and HDR, none of this is conveyed particularly well in an article like this. You need to experience it yourself.
One neat trick is to turn off the TV speakers, close your eyes, and only take in what's happening via the DualSense, a combination of the sound piping through the speaker and the nuanced rumbling on your wrists. There's enough to put together what's happening.
Gotta be honest: historically, I am not a fan of PlayStation controllers. I've always preferred using an Xbox controller, largely because of the placement of the analog sticks. This is despite my preference for games aligning with Sony's narrative-driven focus! It'll take some time before I can say much about where I fall with the DualSense in that regard, but part of what I've always appreciated about Sony, at least, is their desire to play with the form, and Astro's Playroom, even in this tiny slice, nicely emphasizes its more experimental side.
Astro's Playroom is a toy box for expensive tech, and so far, those toys seem very fun.