In 2011 Toys for Bob, with the help of publisher Activision, released Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure and gave rise to the wildly successful Toys to Life genre. Soon it spawned powerful imitators with ties to giant IPs such as Disney Infinity and LEGO Dimensions. Now, seven years later, Disney has demonstrated that nothing truly lasts forever, and LEGO has closed up their dimension. There also hasn’t been a new Skylanders since 2016. The only developer that is having any type of continued success with their figures is Nintendo and the Amiibo and those are designed more for collectors for use across multiple games as opposed to one specific title. However, Ubisoft is banking that there is still life left in this declining space and is set to release Starlink Battle for Atlas later this week. This is our review.
Going into Starlink I wasn’t sure what to expect. Most of the Toys to Life games before had been adventure games with some type of gimmicky hook. Platforming or builders but nothing this grand. Starlink was something almost entirely new. I expected it to be a shooter but it turned out to be something much more than that, and a lot deeper. Not only is the game a gimmick to sell plastic spaceships to kids but it is also a fully fleshed out open world RPG in space. So an open universe RPG if you will.
Throughout Starlink, you’ll explore space and visit new planets. On these planets, you’ll seek out and establish relationships with the local alien life. Offering assistance to miners and explorers will give you access to resources and open expand your knowledge of the new world. You’ll also have new pilots join you on your adventure. Along the way, you’ll scan the local flora and upload it to your database. Certain parts of the exploration had a very No Man’s Sky-light feel to them. If you are stuck on what to do next on a planet you can call back to your headquarters ship and they’ll suggest a facility to help on the planet. There are also ruins, wrecks, and giant pylons to discover that contain puzzles and information that belong to an ancient civilization thought to have long since vanished.
As you complete missions you’ll earn experience and your pilot, weapons, and ships will grow in strength. As your ships and weapons level up they’ll have additional mod slots become available. One of the staple rewards for completing quests and missions are these mods. You’ll receive a steady stream of them as you play the game. Sometimes you’ll find them from simply blowing up junk you find on a planet or in space. Not all mods are made equal though. They have different qualities and some can only be used for specific weapon types such as gravity, fire, or frost. Some will allow you to fire at a faster rate, heal yourself while doing damage, or even earn bonus experience from destroying bad guys. As your pilot levels, they’ll gain skill points that you can spend on unique abilities. Some of these abilities are mundane such as additional damage, but others are a bit more unique and add flavor to the pilots.
The game makes good use of the ability to mix and match between weapons. Most weapons have an elemental affinity. You can use these to your advantage when attacking the bad guys. Most enemies will have an element that they are weak too. But it goes beyond that. You can fire a gravity based weapon at an enemy that will stick to them and then fire an ice weapon that will turn the gravity well into an ice vortex that will stick to them and cause more damage than if you had just attacked them with the ice or gravity. Or you could attack a fire enemy with an ice weapon and freeze them and then hit them with a fire weapon and cause an elemental fluctuation that does massive damage when the fire weapon alone wouldn’t have even been capable of damaging them. Mixing and matching and finding the different combinations are one of the highlights of the fun in this game. Weapons also differentiate themselves by behaving like machine guns, missiles, having different rates of fire, or being able to charge up for additional damage. All weapons have a limiting gauge too so you can’t just hold down the button and fire indefinitely. You’ll have to develop a rhythm to your attacks to keep your pressure on the enemy.
It’s easy to look at Starlink and dismiss it as another Toy’s to Life gimmick game that’s come along entirely too late. If you are anything like me and had small kids during the Toys to Life boon you have plenty of Disney characters and Skylanders laying around collecting dust on their NFC bases. Fortunately, you can play Starlink entirely digital. You’ll never have to buy a weapon, ship, or pilot figure. However, if you want to have all those pilots, weapons, and ships right out of the gate you’ll have to spend about $20 more. From what I can tell you are not limited in story content based upon accessories you choose to buy. I believe there are some salvage points you won’t be able to access because you won’t have the correct weapon to open it but that’s about the extent of the limitations.
I reviewed Starlink on the Nintendo Switch and it is without a doubt the definitive edition of the game. While it may not perform the best it has one clear advantage that the other systems do not. Star Fox. You’ll have access to Fox McCloud, his Arwing, and will be joined by the rest of the Star Fox gang in cameo roles. Not only can you play as Fox there is an entire storyline dealing with the hunt for Wolf O’Donnell. While not necessary to the overall narrative it is a lot of fun and a great addition for Nintendo and Star Fox fans alike.
A digital review copy of this game was provided by Ubisoft’s PR team.