Starlink: Battle for Atlas Review
When Starlink was officially announced, and a partnership with Nintendo was formally shown off – which included the Starfox Crew! – there was a lot of hype and a ton of hesitation. As more and more companies opted to leave the toys-to-life genre (Skylanders on hiatus, Disney Infinity folded, LEGO Dimensions folded), it was shocking to see Ubisoft Toronto invest so heavily into it, with a brand new franchise no less. Now that we’ve got our hands on the products, and see what the game is all about, is it really worth your while to pick up plastic toys once again, and dive into yet another world? Let’s dive in!
The quick answer to the above question is both a strong yes, and a divisive no. The reality here is that whether you invest heavily into Starlink, or opt not to, Ubisoft Toronto has established a model that will cater to both crowds, via plastic toys and starter kits available at retail, and a full digital deluxe edition that brings all the toys to the table, but in digital form. Only time will tell how people choose to play Starlink: Battle for Atlas, but the model created here sets this toys-to-life title apart from others. Toys. Are. Not. Necessary.
But toys are still fun, and the high quality sculpts and fun creative options that Starlink brings to the table are only rivaled by Skylanders: Swap Force, and even then the level of customization with Starlink is vastly superior. Ships can come apart and be assembled almost any way you want, including flipping wings around, putting weapons on backwards, and more. What ever you decide to create on your controller stand – included with each starter kit, and sold separately if need be – will show up in the game, and instantly might I add. With only 1 ship and 2 weapons to work with, my eight year old still had a blast customizing his ship, moving parts around, and making a wacky, all-be-it effective, fighting machine.
So yes, the toys are cool, and while they are expensive – ships in Canada will run you 39.99 plus tax! – they are something that many fans will want to have, whether for playing purposes or for displaying. Like we mentioned earlier, the digital deluxe version of the game unlocks everything right away, but a few extra button presses and menu jumping will be required to outfit your ship as you see fit, whereas the toys allow you to do it in real time.
Whether you play with the toys or not is a mute point if the game itself isn’t exciting to play, and thankfully Starlink: Battle for Atlas is full of things to do, a story that’s worth playing through, and a cast of characters that are better than you might expect. While there are a few bumps along the way, Starlink rounds out to be a really great experience for all ages.
To limit spoilers, you are tasked with taking down the Legion that has infiltrated the Atlas star system, and ultimately to rescue you a key crew member from the hands of the enemy leader, Grax. To do so, you’ll need to befriend aliens around the games seven planets, and work with them to take down Legion’s control over their worlds. The game works on a hierarchy system, where the large Dreadnoughts in space will drop Prime’s onto planets. Primes are larger ‘boss’ type monsters which feel great to take down, but to weaken them, you’ll need to deal with the next level of the ladder. And that would be done by removing the various Extractors from around each world.
It’s an easy system to understand, but one that does get repetitive. While each world is unique and beautiful to look at, the tasks you perform on each are identical; more world specific tasks would have heightened the experience, although for the continuity of the story and game play, and taking into account the younger players who will likely spend the most time with Starlink, the decision to add repetition isn’t entirely terrible. Fortunately, Ubisoft Toronto included other mechanics in the game that would appeal to an older consumer, including some deep leveling mechanics with ships and weapons, that allows players to level up their favorite weapons, and attach new mods to make them even more powerful. The same goes for the various ships and captains as well, although I spend the bulk of my time playing as Fox and using the Arwing.
Even on each Island, there are some deep mechanics that the game doesn’t explain entirely well. After you’ve landed on a world, you’ll notice that the majority of the planet will be hidden by a ‘fog of war,’ meaning you’ll need to explore and take down Extractors to unveil more of the world. Once you do, it will quickly become apparent the number of things there are to do on each planet. Whether exploring ruins, taking down Legion hordes, or building your own outposts – of which there are multiple to choose from, some of which provide resources, protection for the planet for when you are away (very important), etc. – there is lots to do. And some of it may seem shallow, but the strategy involved is much deeper than I expected. On the easy difficulty setting, however, I found that my son had no problems progressing through the game at a great place, although there was still some grinding involved to earn currency and resources.
What adds to the overall feel of the game is the outstanding presentation, from the gorgeous graphics to the fantastic voice acting and cut scenes. It’s all done so well, and how Ubisoft Toronto got things to run and looks so great on Nintendo Switch is beyond me. And that is incredibly important, because with the licence to include Starfox in the Nintendo Switch version of the game, that version is the one everyone should be buying. Starfox content isn’t simply limited to a few side quests and an exclusive ship and captain. Instead, Ubisoft and Nintendo crafted an entire side storyline for the crew, and meshed it into the Starlink story line available on all consoles. At times, the Starfox content feels shoe-horned in, and it was fairly obvious it wasn’t created from the ground up as an organic story. Still, it’s extra content not found anywhere else, and despite those random moments when a new Starfox quest become available, it’s still fantastic extra content.
There is so much to love about Starlink, and if Ubisoft can flip this into something they can expand upon in the future, that will be fantastic! There are problems with this release – most notably the repetitive nature of some of the game play – but they built a fantastic base to work with. By removing the experience from the toys for those who don’t want the extra purchases was a brilliant move, and proves that Ubisoft is ready to learn from the mistakes of so many other toys-to-life franchises!