Did you think publishers were done with ‘toys to life’ video games? Well, you were wrong, because Ubisoft have entered the fray with Starlink: Battle for Atlas – a spaceship shooter that sees you speeding across space, exploring planets, and destroying enemies with toys that you can also play with in real-life. Oh, and it also stars Fox McCloud if you’re playing on the Nintendo Switch, and it genuinely feels like a new Star Fox game. I bet that’s got you interested…
Starlink: Battle for Atlas’ tale sees you exploring the Atlas system as part of the crew of the Equinox to find out more about an Alien (and now one of your crew members) who came down to Earth. Given that this is new and unfamiliar territory for the team, things end up going wrong when your captain (and general scientist genius) Victor St Grand is captured by a vicious alien group called the Forgotten Legion. It’s up to you to save him and also bring an end to the Forgotten Legion’s troubling schemes.
So it’s a run of the mill space adventure that doesn’t do anything unique, but it serves its purpose well. I mean, you don’t really need an incentive to explore space and shoot villains, right? It’s all presented with lovely cutscenes and the characters themselves are charming enough though, so it’ll certainly keep you interested in what’s going on until you reach the ending.
One of the biggest hooks of Starlink: Battle for Atlas is the Nintendo Switch-exclusive inclusion of Fox McCloud of Starfox fame as a playable character and the iconic Arwing as a pilotable ship. Whilst just being able to play as one of Nintendo’s most famous characters would be a bonus in itself though, Ubisoft have really gone all out with his inclusion – not only are he and his fellow Starfox pilots included in the game’s narrative and cutscenes, but they also have their own individual questline where you hunt down one of the series’ villains Wolf. It’s not just a cameo appearance, but actually a genuine inclusion of a character that not only has his own story to tell but also fits into the world perfectly.
You know one thing that Fox’s inclusion REALLY does, though? It makes the Nintendo Switch version the best one to buy, even if it is a little inferior in the visuals department (more on that later).
Another one of the game’s hooks is the ‘toys to life’ function, with Starlink: Battle for Atlas players able to use real-life toys of the ships, pilots and weapons and have them appear in-game. It’s something we’ve seen done in the likes of LEGO Dimensions and Skylanders, and whilst the fad did seem to die out, Ubisoft have revived it here.
The standard starter pack comes with the Arwing, two pilots (including Fox McCloud), two weapons, and a digital version of the standard ship. On the Switch you have an adapter which you can place your Joycons in, whilst the ship attaches to the front – admittedly, it’s a little weird and not necessarily the most comfortable way to play the game, but my younger nephew absolutely loved it and it certainly drew him into the game world more than any other ‘toys to life’ title did. I can definitely see it appealing to younger audiences more, whilst the toys themselves are sturdy enough to be played with in real-life too (yes, I flew the Arwing around with my own noises, and no, I’m not ashamed).
The toys themselves come with nice little touches too. Besides the fact you can customise everything on the fly (you can even change around the wings on ships to make your own creation), you can also change weapons with ease too. Want to know something particularly cool? If you attach the weapon the wrong way, it’ll shoot the wrong way in-game too. It’s something useless which I discovered on accident, but it shows the depth that Ubisoft have gone into in offering a more involving ‘toys to life’ experience.
It’s worth bearing in mind that all of the toys are optional though and you can get digital versions instead. It comes down to preference really – I’m sure younger audiences or collectors will want to go physical, though I personally found myself mainly using digital versions instead. It’s certainly cheaper going digital if that’s a factor for you, though I must admit it is pretty cool having a toy Arwing on display…
Now we’ve got the toys out of the way, it’s time to talk about Starlink: Battle for Atlas’ gameplay. It blends together exploration and combat nicely, and in many ways it actually reminded me a lot of No Man’s Sky. You’ll find yourself exploring space, speeding down to planets in real time, gathering resources, identifying creatures – it’s all seamless too, whether you’re skimming the surface of a planet, blasting into orbit, or hitting hyperdrive and avoiding space debris or asteroids. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all mighty satisfying and it certainly has its own unique touches here and there, but it’ll definitely remind players of Hello Games’ planetary-exploration sim.
Of course, exploration is just one aspect of the game: you’ll also be completing missions for countless characters and engaging in combat with foes. The combat was actually one of my favourite parts of the game, especially with how simple it is to change your weapons. Each weapon you have offers a different function, be it sending out missiles, machine gun fire, or even ramming at an enemy. They also have different elements attached to them, so if you have a foe that’s vulnerable to fire, you’ll equip a fire-infused weapon. Alternatively, if they’re immune to fire, you’ll want to equip something else that actually does damage to them (frost damage does the trick). It’s your standard elemental resistance and weakness system, but it’s something that works particularly well in-game.
All of the weapons genuinely feel different to use and they each pack a punch. The fact you can use two at the same time is great too and it makes some of the tougher encounters a lot easier. However, I was fortunate enough to have access to every weapon in the game when I started playing – that might not be the same for everyone else. Whilst the starter pack for Starlink: Battle for Atlas includes two weapons, you’ll need more than that if you want to have the most enjoyable experience with the game. I’m not saying you won’t be able to beat it, but to get the most out of it you might find yourself having to invest in a few more – especially since some items in the game actually require specific elements to interact with anyway…
The missions of Starlink: Battle for Atlas are fun, though they can often boil down to simply delivering an item somewhere or just killing a specific set of enemies. The whole selection of planets are open from the get-go too, so it’s not like you’re working to necessarily visit somewhere else. It’s essentially all about clearing enough missions on each planet in order to take down the enemy Dreadnought associated with it, and in that respect it can feel like a little bit of a grind at times. I mean, it’s a big open world – what did you expect? It’s hard to feel bored seeing as there are so many side quests to complete and each world has plenty of things for you to uncover, but there were moments where progress could drag a little.
That being said, when you end up in a big showdown against multiple enemies and you see gunfire blasting everywhere, it’s hard not to be in awe. Starlink: Battle for Atlas nails its action-focused sequences, so whether you’re fighting an armada of enemy ships or simply taking on a huge one across multiple phases, there’s this undeniable sense of chaos that’s mighty satisfying to be a part of.
There are also RPG elements in place with players levelling up their ships, pilots and even their weapons. You can cater this for your playstyle or mix everything up, and it certainly makes partaking in all of the game’s side quests all the more worthwhile. In honesty though, it was hard for me to want to use anything other than the Arwing, but at least it meant I had a super souped-up ship by the end – those who like a bit more variety might find themselves with a more flexible selection of powered-up ships, though.
Visually, Starlink: Battle for Atlas is an impressive looking game, though it’s definitely had a downgrade over the PlayStation 4 and Xbox one versions of the game – especially in handheld mode, where the pop-in and jagged edges are a lot more apparent. Still, that doesn’t mean you won’t be in awe of some of the sights, with the game’s world packed full of luscious colours and impressive things to see. Besides the planets themselves looking great, the battles with foes never stop being impressive either, especially when you’ve got ships speeding everywhere and colourful bullets shot from all angles. It’s just a very pretty game, though it’s one that looks better outside of the Nintendo Switch.
Developer: Ubisoft Toronto
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One