Space epic Starlink: Battle for Atlas has boldly jumped aboard the now rather empty toys-to-life bandwagon. So, is it worth the investment, or will you just end up with more plastic space junk to find a home for?
What would you get if you took liberal chunks from Star Wars, added inspiration from games such as Elite, the Mass Effect series and No Man’s Sky, then mixed in a hearty glob of Nintendo’s Star Fox? We reckon it’d basically be Starlink: Battle for Atlas.
It’s a space exploration/shooter game aimed at younger audiences, but that doesn’t mean to say that adults won’t have a barrel (roll) of fun with it. They may even dig the very collectible, superbly crafted toys – examples of each of which you score in the Starter Kit (pictured below).
For they’re the big selling point for Starlink – and they’re far from inanimate plastic junk, as they are very much involved in the play should you wish them to be. Each spacecraft has removable wings, weapon bays and a spot to plop a pilot, all of which pile up above your controller on a special mount. Each craft has different capabilities, as does each weapon you choose and each pilot. Some bits and pieces even light up. You can mix and add extra wings and even turn weapons around to fire backwards should you be feeling experimental. The best bit, though? As you swap these pieces in real life, it plays out onscreen for instant gratification (and just plain coolness).
Far from being just eye candy, your choice of weapons can be important. You may slave away trying to bring down a frosty enemy with your frosty weaponry, when a quick blast from the fiery arsenal will get it right out of your life almost instantly. You can also combine weapon types for further combo kills. It’s almost alarmingly deep and versatile. Then there are the near endless upgrades that you score via play.
While the toys are cool, some may be freaking out at the thought of having a whole bunch of more plastic things to join the likes of Skylanders, LEGO Dimensions, Disney Infinity and even amiibos that have accumulated over the years. So, the best bit about Starlink from that point of view? You don’t actually *need* the toys, as you can get all of the extras virtually. It involves a bit more game pausing menu meddling to sort your configuration, but it does counter criticisms that were often quite justly leveled at previous toys-to-life experiences that needed plastic bits in order to work.
As for the story, it’s a classic space epic goodies vs baddies tale featuring a range of characters from the humanoid to the goodness-knows-what. The Switch release – as reviewed here – also holds a very big ace, and that’s the inclusion of Nintendo’s Star Fox universe, right down to a teensy-weensy Fox McCloud pilot figure and a model of his mega Arwing fighter. This inclusion goes beyond the toys, too, with extra elements added to the story that also include McCloud’s mates such as Slippy and Peppy. It really makes the Switch version of Starlink the one to have – assuming that you have a Switch, of course.
Gameplay bounces between two styles, the first of which is shooting down enemies in space while you collect bits and bobs – and the gameplay is fluid, with a lock-on system that is pleasingly generous. Then there are the main missions, as you explore the seven-planet Atlas star system. Once planet-side, you cruise around completing various main and side missions, as well as doing some cataloguing of the locals. Tasks range from liberating bases to basic schlep quests, and are involving and fun – at least for the first few hours. They can get a little repetitive after a while, but then general exploration and messing around with different ship configurations can add freshness.
Having set a seven-year-old loose with it, about the only criticism that we can muster is that the controller laden with toys can get rather heavy quite quickly for smaller hands. Actually, it became a bit leaden for us too – maybe we shouldn’t have jammed so many wings on it?
Packing a very solid and enjoyable space romp with the option of going nuts for the toys or just keeping them virtual, Starlink: Battle for Atlas is toys-to-life done right. Finally.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas is available now for Nintendo Switch, PS4 and Xbox One.