Just when you thought the entire toys-to-life market had gone extinct, Ubisoft decided that they wanted a crack at it. First shown at E3 2017, Starlink: Battle for Atlas comes a couple of years after Disney Infinity and Skylanders exited the market. If you missed those games, the basic concept was that you have physical toys that connect to the game on the screen. In full transparency after Disney Infinity shut down, I couldn’t imagine anyone else getting into the same market after figures based on Disney and Marvel franchises couldn’t turn enough profit to keep going. But here we are and I’m glad for that.
I’ve reviewed both Skylanders and Disney Infinity and my problem with them was that I thought the underlying games (forget the toys) weren’t all that great. The star of both of series were the figures. As much as I identified with Disney Infinity, there’s something pretty special about the figures for Starlink. For this review I will only be speaking about the Starlink: Battle for Atlas Starters Pack that retails for $74.99. It comes with a pilot, a ship, and three weapons along with the dock. Reviewing the game on Playstation 4, the dock links on the Dual Shock controller and plugs in via USB. There’s a brief tutorial that walks you through how to set it all up and within five minutes I was up and running.
Before we talk about the game, let's talk about the figures. They’re beautiful. There’s a ton of detail on the pilot, the ship and the weapons. These are the types of figures that I think would be worth keeping out for their detail, cool designs, and nice overall look. The build quality is solid, although my pilot’s foot did come off slightly from its platform when I tried to take it out of the box (the figures are really packed in so be careful removing them). There’s a nice solid click when you take off the weapons and wings, and you can intermix parts between ships. If you want to buy another physical ship, they retail for $24.99, although having put a ton of time into Starlink, you don’t have to.
My only real complaint is that the figures sit on top of the controller which adds quite a bit of weight to it. Not a big deal for the first ten minutes, but I noticed it quite a bit after an hour. The flip side, though, is that it makes it really easy to make quick weapon switches while you’re playing. As much as I’m not a big fan of the weight of the figures on the controller, I did love seeing them right in front of me.
There are two types of flight modes; one is a full flight mode and the other hovers close to ground where you feel more like a tank. The game opens up in space and has you jump to your first planet where you go low to the ground to accomplish a couple of training missions before jumping back into space. There is a light story here, one that I didn’t follow all that well and it didn’t seem to really matter either. What did matter was that the entire experience is what I’d consider an “arcade open world.” You can travel around as you want and take on missions and side activities as you please. Unlike other Ubisoft games, this isn’t one where you're going to be overwhelmed with activity.
The point of Starlink’s campaign is to give you reasons to tinker with your aircraft. Enemies have weaknesses that you will want to take advantage of by switching weapons on and off frequently. Also, some weapons can make more damage by combining them together. The game makes it incredibly easy to know what types of weapons will do best against each enemy type with on-screen pop-ups showing recommended weapons.
Starlink is a pretty straightforward arcade space shooter with light story elements. Visually its not a bad looking, and does a great job of making it feel a lot bigger than it is by varying up its worlds and making space feel vast (even if it’s relatively limited). Combat is pretty basic, making the customization the star of the show rather than a distinct or diverse battle system. And really, that’s what you’d want for a game that’s definitely targeted as a family adventure.
Starlink doesn’t have many bells and whistles as a game, but the figures are just so dang cool and easily customizable that I can see it really appealing to a wide swath of people. The core gameplay is fine and while it’s nothing to write home about, it does enough to support what comes together as a very impressive experience. Starlink doesn’t redefine the toys-to-life genre, but it does have some of the most beautiful figures I’ve seen and a pretty good game to complement them too.
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