When Starlink: Battle for Atlas was announced at E3 2017, the reception was pretty mixed. The game itself showed promise, but the toys to life concept was starting to dwindle. While Ubisoft had hopes that Starlink would rekindle the flame, it was a hard sell. The announcement that the Nintendo Switch version would have Star Fox content helped, but it wasn’t enough to make the game a success. During the most recent holiday season, many were given the game as a free item with Nintendo Switch purchases at Best Buy. Even now, the Switch version is on sale for $5.99, though it’s currently unavailable. We managed to get a copy and decided to check it out ourselves.
Had Starlink arrived at the start of the toys to life craze, it would’ve likely been incredibly successful. The game itself is actually pretty solid, and it received moderately positive reception upon release in late 2018. Players would be able to fly around a galaxy and seamlessly break through to a planet’s surface to maneuver around on the ground. Planets were very unique, each having their own aesthetic, wildlife and resources. The cast of characters have their own charm as well, especially with the Star Fox crew involved. It really seemed like a game with a lot of potential.
The game uses a unique controller mount that allows players to equip a pilot, starship, wings and weapons. While it worked incredibly well, it was a little awkward to hold a controller with a miniature spacecraft on it. While the use of toys was considered optional, the game still had a lot of content locked behind a pay wall. Digital versions of all the toys were available, making it the only game in the toys to life genre to do this. Unfortunately, the fact that the pricing between the toys and digital versions were essentially identical, it likely didn’t help matters. In it’s current state, the game would likely get a big boost in decreasing the price of the digital content. Better yet, it should be made free. This might even spark sales of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions.
Having played it for a few hours now, I actually enjoyed a lot of aspects about the game. The traversal was fairly simple, using the analog sticks to move. Left trigger would fire the left weapon while the right trigger would obviously fire the right. Players would also be able to boost, jump, pick up items to throw, and even use a shield. Each pilot would also have a special ability to use as well. Some of those features work better than others, but the foundation for a good game is definitely there. Pilots will level up and gain ability points to improve their own abilities. On top of that, mods can be collected and applied to weapons and starships. It even made use of elemental weaponry, though this was more for the drive to sell toys.
For a game targeted towards a younger audience, there’s a surprising amount of challenge in the game. Some missions can easily overwhelm you, especially in space dogfights. During a particular Star Fox mission, I ended up dying several times due to having multiple enemies targeting me. Luckily, I had a lot of electrum, the game’s currency, to revive myself. Like other toys to life games, players can typically jump back in the fight by swapping to another toy. Since I only had the Arwing, using electrum was my only option.
Despite the simple concept, there was a lot of opportunity given to players. The planets and galaxy would have a ton of things to uncover and explore, hiding secrets everywhere. Missions have decent variety, even if it ultimately means going from point A to point B to destroy groups of enemies. Some would involve saving civilians by eliminating foes while others might have you collect a rare resource to take back. Even the ability to scan the local wildlife was an option, albeit in a very unusual and sometimes frustrating way. It definitely feels like a game designed like other titles like Disney Infinity or Skylanders. Despite this, the universe of the game has some really cool elements that deserve to survive.
Even if the original game is done for, the property is still ripe for potential. While it might not be as popular as the other franchises Ubisoft Toronto has worked on, this IP can be salvaged. Obviously, abandoning the toys to life setup is the best call. If there were a potential sequel, the game should simply be a standalone experience. The game already has a ton of depth buried in the code, it doesn’t need all these purchases to make it more overwhelming. Even if it just meant giving players all the weaponry, this would help tremendously. It’s a bit disappointing to only be able to take advantage of fire and ice type weaknesses with the weapons supplied.
Thanks to the holiday promotion, Starlink found its way into many more homes, even if it wasn’t by choice. While it might not be the first choice for a kid to play, there are options Ubisoft can take. It’s simply a great concept that came a bit too late in the game. Even without the toys to life features, the IP has untapped potential. Ubisoft doesn’t have much when it comes to family oriented titles, the biggest exception being Rayman. Starlink was a good push, though perhaps Gods and Monsters could help even more. Even so, we would love to see Starlink reworked into something to get it back in the spotlight.
What do you think? Have you tried Starlink: Battle for Atlas? Is this a franchise that should simply be forgotten? Or do you think it deserves a second chance? Let us know what you think in the comments.