Game Info:

Starlink: Battle for Atlas
Developed By: Ubisoft Toronto
Published By: Ubisoft
Released: October 16, 2018
Available On: PlayStation 4, Switch(Reviewed), Xbox One
Genre: Action-Adventure
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ for fantasy violence
Number of Players: One to two (Splitscreen)
Price: $74.99 starter pack; $59.99 digital edition, Various prices for additional figures

Thank you to Ubisoft for the Digital Deluxe Edition!

The Toys-to-Life genre exploded onto the scene in the early 2010s. As companies like Disney and Nintendo began to create their own line up of expensive plastic figures, it seemed like the "fad" was here to stay. However, in 2015 and 2016, production for these brands began to slow down, and by E3 2017, Toys-to-Life seemed to be over. So, when Ubisoft unveiled their Toys-to-Life game Starlink: Battle for Atlas at the conference, saying the world was surprised is an understatement. It released in October 2018, long after the genre's titans Skylanders and Disney Infinity had been discontinued. Despite being three years late to the Toys-to-Life party, Starlink: Battle for Atlas provides an enjoyable experience due to how it has adapted to today's standards.

Sometimes, a game is renowned for its deep, moving story. Starlink is not one of those games. During an expedition to the Atlas system, the Equinox, a ship owned by the scientist St. Grand, is attacked by a group named The Legion. As St. Grand's crew is engaged in a dogfight with Legion vessels, the commander of The Legion, Grax, boards the Equinox and captures St. Grand due to Grand's knowledge of Nova, the strongest energy source in the region. Grax also takes the Nova fueling the ship, leaving the Equinox and all of the fighters reliant on it for power stranded. Due to the battle's proximity to the planet Kirite, everything is caught in its gravitational pull and scattered across the planet. Although all seems hopeless, the team regroups and begins their search for St. Grand and wage war against The Legion using the other breakthrough housed in the Equinox: the Starlink. This technology allows the crew of the Equinox to switch the ships and weapons they use at any moment, allowing them to safely search the daunting Atlas system.

Unfortunately, Starlink tries to combine two things that are practically incompatible: a strong narrative and Toys-to-Life. A Toys-to-Life game is tricky to write a story for; the writer has no idea who will be played as, so perspective is rarely usable as a developmental tool. Depending on what version is purchased, players will have drastically different options, including which pilots are playable. A few characters, like Mason, are the center of attention in cutscenes quite often and receive strong development as a result. However, the majority end up like Chase: receiving a few lines here and there, but ultimately only developing as a character when they are played as. The dialogue that occurs as you complete mission objectives often change depending on the character in play. If the figure of a certain character is purchased, they receive next to no development. Right now, certain characters and ships are unavailable, meaning that my experience of the story is incomplete. Without understanding the central cast, the plot is worsened. I felt no sympathy as the Equinox's crew lamented for St. Grand, and I felt no drive to save him either. A few sidequests expand upon certain characters, but that was done through expositional writing, not natural development. The main story isn't awful due to the plot, it's simply not meant to work with Toys-to-Life gameplay.

If you are playing Starlink on the Nintendo Switch, the Star Fox team will also be integral to the story. Although the story would still make sense without them, it is surprising how much content was included. After Wolf escapes the Corneria prison, Fox and his crew are tasked with finding him and stopping his tyranny. As they begin to search the Atlas system, they witness the attack on the Equinox, and decide to help. After helping St. Grand's team escape Kirite, they decide to help defeat Grax, presuming that Wolf will inevitably cross their path on the way. This begins a series of quests running parallel to the main story, which are surprisingly well made. There are some cutscenes in these side missions as well, which include beautifully animated versions of the characters from Star Fox. Fox and his team are also present in all the main story's cutscenes as well, and he has fully voiced lines for the entire game. It's clear that Ubisoft didn't shoehorn Fox in to attract Nintendo fans (granted, my first impression of the game was the Star Fox reveal), as they included many fine details that only devout Star Fox fans would know. For example, Fox states his home planet is Papetoon, which is rarely touched on in Star Fox lore. Fox's presence makes sense too; it's a large universe, so it wouldn't be surprising if video games with a space setting were in the same world. Fox's Nintendo Switch inclusion was extremely well incorporated and designed, something rarely seen in crossovers.

Of course, the exploration of a foreign solar system results in meeting alien life. Many different species, both hostile and friendly, are found during the game and partake in the story. Ironically, some of these characters receive more development than the main group! Characters like Eli are alluded to for quite a while and eventually give the player a sidequest, which serves as ample development. Shaid, one of the Outlaws, knows the Atlas system like the back of her hand and has many lines as a result. However, some side characters receive no more than a few lines, especially without playing as them. For example, the player helps an Outlaw escape a Legion attack, before exchanging a few harsh words with them. After seeing this, I continued along my journey, assuming that the Outlaw would never be seen again. I was surprised to see them on the Equinox in the next cutscene, as they had apparently allied with the crew. Nothing from the two prior lines spoken by him indicated any kind of alliance, and yet, here he is! I assume he will become a playable character in a future wave of figures, which will allow players to learn more about him. Right now, some of the supporting cast is well developed, but others are severely lacking, so the narrative feels incomplete as a result.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas

Strong Points: Good adaptation of Toys-to-Life in 2018, fun gameplay
Weak Points: Gameplay gets repetitive after a while, weak story
Moral Warnings: Mild Violence

Starlink: Battle for Atlas is one of the few Toys-to-Life games that has gameplay with a relation to the story. The Starlink system that lets players create their own ships is the same as the aforementioned in-universe one. While I thought this was simply shoehorned in the story to make sense, as I played, I realized it is not so. St. Grand is arguably the best scientist of his time, so developing two breakthrough technologies, nova refinement and the Starlink system, is plausible. Unlike most Toys-to-Life games, which simply task players to switch one figure, Starlink features a multi-step process which allows for the ships to be as practical or ridiculous as you want. The assembly starts with a pilot. Each pilot provides a different special ability which charges and can be unleashed with drastic effects. They take a while to charge, but are some of the deadliest actions in the game; from invisibility to bombing, the arsenal of any ship wouldn't be complete without the pilot. Currently there are 9 to 11 pilots available (the Switch version features a playable Fox McCloud, and Startail is currently a preorder bonus), and each one is distinct in design and story purpose.

After the pilot comes the body of the ship. These, combined with the corresponding wings, are the canon version of the ships seen in cutscenes. Although each one technically has an owner, there are no restrictions based on who is used. Of course, certain ships augment certain specials, but one will see equal success with any combination. Ship bodies determine the handling of the ship. Some, like the Pulse, allow for rapid speed and acceleration. Others, like the Neptune, may create a slower, bulkier ship. Each ship comes with a set of wings, which slightly increase the stats of the ship. The amount is marginal, making the wings primarily for decoration. Up to three wings can be applied to either side of the ship, leading to some very strange combinations. Currently, there are 5 to 8 ships available (The Switch version has the Arwing, and there are currently 2 store exclusives), and each has a pair of wings that corresponds.

Finally, there is the weapon system. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the entire Starlink process is simply mixing weapons to see what catalyst of destruction can be created. Currently, there are 15 to 16 weapons available (the Fury Cannon comes with the store exclusive Scrambler ship), which means there are currently 120 weapon combinations. There are currently 5 types of weapons: Fire, Ice, Gravity, Kinetic, and Stasis. The attacks range from shotgun-like kinetic blasts, to a beam of fire, to gravitational vortexs that shred all who come in contact. Some are better for space combat, while others are meant for land strikes. While I like the current selection, there one glaring flaw: the variety. The weapons themselves are all unique, but the element Stasis only has one weapon: the Levitator. Although Stasis's gimmick is that it defies gravity, which doesn't have too many alternatives, I still think that more could have been done. This is especially important since many of the puzzles in the game are based on using the correct element, and Stasis is included. If one doesn't buy the Levitator, they are forced to scavenge the planet for Stasis canisters, which are not always easy to obtain. I hope that future waves implement more weapons and balance out the numbers, since it makes Stasis feel out of place.

While my Stasis complaint is likely trivial to some, this next point is definitely not so. Part of the reason I like Starlink is how it adapted Toys-to-Life for the 2018 market. After everyone's first venture with a Toys-to-Life brand, the market realized that collecting large Toys-to-Life series would leave them with little more than worthless plastic in a few years' time. Starlink can be entirely purchased and played digitally, without any need for toys. That's actually the version that Ubisoft provided me with for this review. In the digital edition, every ship component is simply available from a menu. It's certainly much more convenient than playing with a heavy piece of plastic mounted on your controller, especially for the Switch's handheld mode. Without having to worry about a large figurine byproduct of playing Starlink, the game becomes significantly more appetizing to those who are vehemently opposed to Toys-to-Life.

Of course, alleviating the (literal) weight of plastic from the experience allows for lower prices. There is quite a price disparity between the physical and digital versions, which is unfortunately not the only price issue. Toys-to-Life games naturally have a higher entry fee; one pays for the game, a starter set of figures, and a mount for them. This is reflected by Starlink's physical price, which is higher than the standard $60. Digitally, the starter edition is the typical $60 and includes more unlocked content. The additional content also follows the same pattern. While one could spend $25 on a single ship, pilot, and set of weapons, it makes more sense to buy a digital bundle for a much lower price. From an economic standpoint, there's no reason to buy the game physically, so if you want to experience it as intended, it will cost much more than it has to. This price disparity makes sense, but the next one doesn't seem to have any cause. Many companies find themselves under fire for failing to price their games equally in the U.S. and other regions. The U.K. and Australia prices in particular often get the short end of the stick, even when converting currencies. Starlink is one of the worst examples of this. When comparing the prices between the regions, the difference is staggering. For example, the digital starter edition has a 50% price increase going from the U.S. to U.K. versions. While one can purchase the game from a cheaper region if they buy digitally, physical buyers do not have this freedom. While these two price issues only occur in specific scenarios and can be avoided with proper precaution, it felt prudent to include them as it simply makes Starlink: Battle for Atlas a financial headache.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 80%
Gameplay - 15/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 7/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 96%
Violence - 8/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10


The reader is likely wondering when I will discuss the actual gameplay, as the review is considerably underway. Well, it's finally being touched upon, and is quite an interesting and perplexing experience. When playing, ships can be in two states: flight mode or land mode. In land mode, the ship hovers a few feet off the ground, and can move around at a decent speed. The ship doesn't turn right away and has just the right inertia as a result, making the hovering satisfying. The ship can jump and stay in the air using an energy bar that quickly replenishes when not used. However, the maximum possible energy stored is relatively low considering how many actions use it, and energy stops replenishing for a short period of time if the bar is fully depleted. Although I didn't feel low on energy most of the time, certain fights stretched it quite thinly. At times, it feels trivial, while other instances make it critical to success. I think a slightly higher capacity and slightly longer cooldown would have made the game a bit more balanced.

The other state ships can be in is flight. Holding the R button for a few seconds ignites the main boosters, sending the ship upward. Although jumping no longer works, other actions are practically the same. When in space, many nodes appear showing salvage and other points of interest. Canceling flight while on a planet cuts boosters, while pressing the flight button in space activates light speed. Although light speed is definitely much faster than standard travel, it still feels that space is rather empty when traversing it. While there were many beautiful locations in space, travel became rather boring after a few hours. Besides a few unique points of interest such as Outlaw bases and asteroid belts, there wasn't much to do in space besides travel to different planets and fight Outlaws. This placed much more emphasis on the planets, which makes sense from a story perspective; forging alliances and defeating the Legion presence naturally occurs more often on planets than the vast expanse of space. However, I think that some major regional differences would have refreshed space exploration, as it isn't fun backtracking in its current state.

I also found combat to lose some of its charm after a while. Although I played on hard, I ended up simply choosing one set of weapons for the majority of my adventures. This isn't bad, but it means the main feature of the gameplay, switching weapons for every situation was lost. It's fun to choose two complementary weapons and mount them on to my ship, but it isn't that impactful. The actual problem with combat is how few options you have in most battles. If you're under attack by Outlaws with homing missiles, you better not have used all your energy avoiding prior attacks, since you need your shields. If there were more abilities, specifically dealing with mobility, that were unlocked later on, combat, especially in space, would be much more fair. Space combat isn't necessarily hard, it's just that it turns into a tedious cycle of waiting until the perfect opportunity arises. Land combat has more options, since the geography plays a large role in battle strategy. However, geography's impact on space combat is usually binary; battles within an asteroid field often create a collision hazard, preventing escape for both sides, while battles in open space don't. Despite my negativity about combat, it's still enjoyable, but I felt frustrated at times by my lack of options in space.

Although I've been mostly positive towards planetary exploration so far, there is one major problem, which permeates through the entire game: repetition. For each planet the Starlink crew arrives on, there is a general pattern: solve a few warden spires, destroy a few extractors, fight the area's Prime, and leave. This problem is even greater when exploring the many sidequests. While there are a few unique quests - which are great - most quests generally follow a specific pattern, like dropping an object at a certain location, or scanning a certain organism. This is expected from the quantitative approach taken, but I wish there were a few more quality quests to balance out the weak. Planetary maps and star charts are stuffed with beacons and signs showing where activities are, but at the end of the the day, I found myself caring for few of them. I'd rather have fewer, but memorable, side objectives. The approach is certainly not inherently bad, but I personally dislike it.

The presentation of Starlink is decent, though the soundtrack pales in comparison to the visuals. There isn't much music besides the battle themes, so most of Starlink consists of listening to the rev of your ship. With its many beautiful landmarks, vistas, and sectors, the Atlas system proves delightful to look at. There isn't much wrong with the visuals, through some planets tended to use the same palettes throughout instead of diversifying it enough.

As it is marketed towards the family, it's no surprise that Starlink isn't very immoral. The only thing that could be considered wrong is the violence, and even that is kept to a minimum. Enemies disintegrate upon defeat, and attack players with blunt swings, lasers, and other weapons. There isn't any blood or gore from the violence either.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas is an odd game. It's a Toys-to-Life title releasing when the genre has disappeared, yet it adapts to modern standards through digital purchases. Although the story isn't particularly good, the inclusion of Star Fox and development of side characters was clearly laborious and thought out. Gameplay, while repetitive, was surprisingly fun, though I can't explain why. With so many great games coming out in 2018, I can't say that Starlink should be everyone's top priority, but if you itch for a new space exploration title, it's definitely worth considering.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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