Ever since Ubisoft announced Starlink: Battle for Atlas at E3 2017 I was pretty damn excited at their bold entry into a dying genre – toys to life – however, the more we learned about the game the more we realized it was less about the toys and more about the game itself. Which makes a lot of sense considering how recent toys to life games have ended up.
To summarise, Starlink: Battle For Atlas is essentially No Man’s Sky with toys, plus the Nintendo Switch version comes with exclusive StarFox toys as well as content which fans of the Nintendo series will definitely enjoy. It’s a space adventure exploration game in which players discover planets and enlist the help of their inhabitants to fight a war against a mysterious foe Grax who’s snatched Starlink’s captain and is using his skills to cause chaos in the Atlas system.
The plot itself is pretty easy to follow but at the same time it can be easy to overlook as something else might take your attention, whether that’s destroying Imp Nests to built outposts, or scanning the various flora and fauna in order to fully understand the planet that you’re on. Now, with that, it’s difficult to not compare it to an early version of No Man’s Sky but with more content, but that seems like an unfair comparison.
Visually, you’d be mistaken in thinking they were the same game, from the look of the planets from space to the brightly colored environments and bizarre-looking creatures and plants that inhabit the planet. Outside of this though is a game rich in content that’ll keep you occupied for a long, long time. That’s of course not including the physical toys you get with the game either.
When purchasing Starlink: Battle For Atlas physically you’ll receive a toy ship, a pilot, and some weapons. Players can also purchase ships, pilots, and weapons separately which can be used to swap and change whenever they see fit. But what makes the game pretty unique is that all of this can be done on the fly and physical changes are reflected in the game in real-time. But why would you do this?
Well throughout the game you’ll face enemies which have certain weaknesses, these weaknesses can usually be exploited with different weapon types, so regularly switching weapons is a must. However, this does come with some caveats. When purchasing physically, I believe you’re limited to what toys you actually own which means you’ll likely be unable to change out these weapons unless you purchased more.
This is where the option of buying digitally comes in. When purchasing Starlink: Battle For Atlas digitally you unlock everything regardless of whether you own the physical toys or not. This, of course, means you’ll be able to blast through the game much quicker than someone who only owns the Starter Pack, but at the same time, it’s a smart move for Ubisoft who have managed to avoid the usual limitations of toys to life games.
Would I say this early in that buying digital is better than physical? Honestly, I would. While I have a handful of the toys supplied to us by Ubisoft, I actually found the experience to be more enjoyable digitally. Specifically on the Nintendo Switch. This is because of the supplied controller which houses the JoyCon’s being not too different in size than the one supplied with the console itself.
Overall it’s pretty small – but comfortable – but add the fact that you’ve got a massive spaceship toy sitting on top makes it difficult to see the buttons – especially for those unfamiliar with the button layout of the Switch.
Buying Starlink: Battle For Atlas digitally also has other benefits too. As mentioned, the digital version comes with a good number of ships and in-game these act as lives. If your ship meets an untimely end, rather than starting from the base you can just spawn another ship and continue your business, which is definitely a plus. In some respects, the physical and digital versions of the game offer two completely different types of gameplay, one being slightly more awkward than the other. Which seems a little odd.
For the most part Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a fantastic game on its own without the toys and they’re just being tacked on for good measure. They’re top quality toys and the modular aspect is pretty interesting, but fannying about with toys mid-game isn’t the most ideal thing to do, especially when you’re mid-battle and entering the game menu makes more sense. Don’t get me wrong, I love the toys, but for people who couldn’t care less about them, the digital version is definitely the better way to go.
Of course, I can’t review the Nintendo Switch version of Starlink: Battle for Atlas without talking about StarFox. One of the biggest features of this edition is, of course, the Arwing and the Fox McCloud figure that comes with. Not only that, the game comes packed with StarFox-themed side-missions which has McCloud and the gang searching Atlas for Wolf O’Donnell who’s getting up to no good.
One thing I quickly noticed is that I couldn’t just jump into this storyline and progress as the level curve is pretty steep. You go from battling low-level enemies to pretty high 10+ levels after just a few missions, so it’s really worth progressing this storyline with the main story. Overall though, for those looking for more StarFox content, Starlink: Battle For Atlas scratches that itch, and weirdly fits into the game quite well.
The general gameplay cycle in Starlink: Battle For Atlas has players bouncing from planet to planet exploring every nook and cranny as they find downed starships, destroy Imp Hives, and claim bases as their own. All this is in the name of scoring more allies for your battle against Grax. Once you’ve achieved the desired allies per planet you then blast off to the next one and start the process again.
During this time though you’ll be shooting through space and will often be hounded by outlaws, which isn’t necessarily a problem until you realize the control scheme for space battles and planetary exploration are exactly the same with pitch and yaw mapped to the right stick. This makes for some pretty awkward space gameplay even when you mess with the control scheme a little.
Ultimately it boils down to the weapons you have attached to your ship. In Starlink: Battle For Atlas, there are a couple of auto-targeting blasters which makes battles like this somewhat easier as you don’t really have to be too precise and makes dodging incoming shots much, much easier.
Overall Starlink: Battle For Atlas is a great little adventure game with some pretty interesting physical mechanics which at some points can feel completely unnecessary. While the toys are of top quality and are definitely worth the money, purchasing the digital edition of the game does make for a much better experience from the get-go.