The platformer has been a video game staple for decades and for good reason. Understanding the genre’s mechanics are quick and easy, it affords the opportunity to create fascinating worlds worth exploring, and for some reason it is just super fun to make someone (or something) jump at your command. Astro Bot Rescue Mission takes these old traditions and makes them feel novel and fresh thanks to the way it combines mechanics and how it places the player in its world with the aid of virtual reality. The joyful experience is benefited by the necessity of a headset and is an excellent showcase for how virtual reality can improve and change a familiar experience.
In Rescue Mission, you are one of many Astro Bots, distinguished by a cape, who must rescue their brethren from an alien menace who threw all the other Astro Bots to nearby planets while breaking apart their mothership in the process. To do this, you must visit assorted planets that offer platforming challenges and eventually defeat each planet’s boss. You control your caped Astro Bot from the third-person perspective, following them through the stages turning your head or peaking around corners to make sure you’re keeping track. You are meant to be a character in the game and occasionally you must headbutt your way through an obstacle, or dodge a projectile, but the action and challenge is mostly relegated to the Astro Bot you control. You are acting as a spectator to the platforming, and it works exceptionally as a means of placing you in the world to absorb the atmosphere (and fantastic soundtrack) while you play an incredibly polished and charming action game.
Your interaction in the world is occasionally amplified by giving the controller (which appears in-world as a visible object) assorted powers. You may have to use a hose attachment to put out fires and water plants, or fire off a tethering rope to pull down obstacles and create tightropes for your Astro Bot to cross. These portions are a highlight as you genuinely feel like you are working in tandem with your Astro Bot to overcome challenges by interreacting directly with the world. It creates an enthralling sense of teamwork, even though you are in control of everything.
Along with jumping your way through the worlds, you must also rescue hidden Astro Bots. Finding them is a fun puzzle-solving exercise that also takes advantage of the virtual reality platform. Hearing the bots shout for help prompts you to stop, listen, and physically look around the environment to find them. For the most difficult bots, I would sometimes stand up to get a better view of my surroundings to pin them down. I especially liked the bots that hid themselves at the ends of long hallways perpendicular to the main path. These moments were strangely exhilarating as sending your bot so far away feels surprisingly dangerous. You’re a team, you and your caped Astro Bot, and to watch it travel so far away to save a friend made me feel proud. Pride was not something I expected to feel while controlling a cute little robot in a jumping adventure.
You can compare Rescue Mission to Mario titles like 3D World and 3D Land, and the correlation is more than a cursory way to say the three games are all platformers. Nintendo excels at using Mario to create unique experiences in the genre he helped establish, while also highlighting its hardware in interesting ways, and it is always done with an impressive level of polish. Rescue Bots ticks all those boxes, and also nails the difficult to quantify sensation of just being damn fun. Nearly every level introduces new mechanics, or uses the previously established mechanics in surprising ways, and nothing overstays its welcome. The moment you start to tire of something, you are off to an entirely different environment with a whole new set of fun challenges. All of that culminates in a final boss that uses everything you learned up to that point for a thrilling and exciting challenge.
Astro Bot Rescue Mission feels like it came out of nowhere to quietly prove that familiar genres can feel like new experiences with the aid of virtual reality. While the medium is capable of creating entirely new interactive experiences, Rescue Mission serves as a great reminder that the styles of games we already like can be translated to VR, and when it is done as well as it has been here, you get a chance to experience something that feels genuinely new and exciting.