Our prediction a year and a half ago that amiibo would be the last toys-to-life still standing has pretty much come true. Disney Infinity, Skylanders, and Lego Dimensions are basically all dead. If you want to scan toys (or breakfast cereal) into your video games, Nintendo’s NFC figures are your only option.
Or rather they were until Ubisoft surprised us last E3 with Starlink: Battle For Atlas, a late entry into the toys to life genre centered around toy spaceships. Perhaps recognizing that clinging to Nintendo is the best shot at life in this category, when Ubisoft showcased Starlink again at this E3 it revealed that the Nintendo Switch version features a crossover with famous space animal Star Fox. But that might just be a cool bonus because having now played Starlink: Battle For Atlas I think adults may be surprised to learn this is a toys-to-life game they can enjoy, too.
Before even playing the game I marveled at the quality of Starlink’s toy space ships. The team told me these were the actual models, not higher-quality prototypes, and if that’s true the size and level detail seems totally fair for the $25 asking price. The amount of pointy, fiddly bits that are meant to pop on and off also suggest a slightly older target audience than kids who can fit Pikachu amiibo in their mouths.
Actually using the ships in the game is also a bit more complicated than tapping them on a portal. The controller features a custom grip to slot the pieces onto, starting with your pilot. You then physically put the ship on top of the pilot. You can see even see Fox inside the translucent cockpit of the Arwing which is such a neat touch. Finally you can attach various guns to your craft, guns you can swap in and out at any time. Of course, if you don’t even want to bother with this toy nonsense, especially if you’re playing portably on Switch, you can acquire digital counterparts of all this gear.
The focus on toys makes one naturally assume the game itself will skew more childish. And the story in Starlink totally feels like a Saturday Morning Cartoon. Hilariously enough, Fox McCloud sounded like perhaps the most mature character. But setting all that aside, the gameplay in Starlink, at least in this demo, was far more sophisticated than what I expected.
The Atlas system consists of seven planets and hostile outer space between them you can seamlessly fly through. Within an individual planet are unique biomes and there are also significant differences between planets. Overall though the art style (a bit blurry on Switch) is less “space adventure cartoon” and more “abstract sci-fi novel cover.” They didn’t even have to crowdsource art to pull this off. At least on the planet we visited, the vibe was colorful but haunted and empty. Even after restoring life but shutting down a polluting factory the atmosphere was still alien, moody, and almost artsy like Metroid Prime or No Man’s Sky.
But unlike No Man’s Sky, Starlink’s finite planets are crafted open-worlds, albeit in the typical Ubisoft imperial style. We didn’t see this too much in the demo but apparently the final game will present players with various factions to contend or cooperate with. Perhaps the exclusive Star Fox content will include some kind of Lylat faction. We blasted a bunch of space pirates who would totally be down with Star Wolf.
Finally, and crucially, just the core act of flying and shooting in Starlink is totally solid. Your ship has a nice sense of speed and maneuverability. Going from space to the surface and back again so quick is a trip. Physically swapping out your unique guns for new tactics is a lot of fun. And there’s some depth to the combat system with the game rewarding you for combos. Each pilot has their own special ability, and the cool robot we used could slow down time to shoot foes like it was Vanquish or something.
Even if you don’t care about the toys, Starlink’s exploratory outer space action should still be on your radar. The fact you also get a nifty plastic space ship is a perk. Starlink: Battle for Atlas releases on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on October 16.
Buy it now!
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