One thing that appears to have become a modern tradition is an E3 announcement of an Ubisoft/Nintendo collaboration. At E3 2017 we got the official word on Mario + Rabbids, and this year marked the reveal of Star Fox content in Starlink: Battle for Atlas. Well, at EGX 2018 in the UK, I got the chance to get hands-on with the Switch version of the game, Arwing and all.
For those unaware, Starlink is Ubisoft’s first entry into the “toys-to-life” market. While that market has faltered in recent years, it is clear that Ubisoft still holds much faith in Starlink. Interestingly, it marks the first time that a major toys-to-life venture has been a completely new IP, as even Skylanders was originally shoehorned into the Spyro series. Naturally then, Starlink is an interesting case: Not only is it a brand new IP, but it could also serve as the final venture into the market if unsuccessful.
The demo I played centered around a single planet in the Atlas system, as well as its surrounding areas. Initially, I was placed in space, a short travel away from the surface of the planet. However, not much of note surrounded the planet — it was on its surface that the real action happened. This varied from destroying several towers that spiraled up from the ground to a battle against the Arch Prime, a mechanized spider of sorts, just with half the amount of legs. So, what impression did Starlink leave me with? Let’s get into the good and the bad.
There’s a lot to do
From the moment I reached the planet surface, it felt alive. Unlike in No Man’s Sky, the planets are handcrafted, and you can tell. The landscape was often well differentiated; traversing the planet and seeing the variety held some interest of its own. The planet I explored had places varying from sparse areas populated only by rock formations and enemies to areas home to the wreckage of buildings.
Gameplay is accessible
The gameplay in Starlink is simple, and that isn’t always a positive, as I will move onto later. Nevertheless, due to much of Starlink‘s intended audience being those who have grown up loving Skylanders, its accessibility could work in its favor. Movement is easy to understand from the word go, as is the combat, which is primarily tied to a dual-weapon system.
Combat is repetitive and clunky
Dogfighting in space was not on show in this particular demo, so all combat was close-quarters on the planet’s surface. One can only hope that such combat does not take up the lion’s share of the game; in the demo, close-quarters combat did not feel fun, nor did it feel optimized to the game’s mechanics.
The two weapons available during the demo were the homing missiles and the flamethrower, a pairing which did not feel suited to the task at hand. The homing missiles, though effective, have a long reload time, which means that the majority of your time will be spent using the flamethrower — a decidedly un-fun weapon. The flamethrower should be fun, but various things hold it back, most prominent of which is that the range is so limited that you must be inches away from an enemy to use it. As well as that, the flamethrower’s hit detection was hit and miss during the demo; the only reliable way of knowing when it worked was when hit points appeared. While this doesn’t sound particularly egregious, it ultimately led to me only looking at the hit points rather than the actual on-screen action.
Granted, these criticisms should be taken with a grain of salt as the demo I played didn’t offer the chance to swap out parts — a large part of the gameplay in Starlink. However, what couldn’t be fixed by the chance to swap out parts is the repetitive nature of the combat, which descended into repeatedly pressing ZL and ZR until an enemy died.
Flight is solid but unspectacular
With this criticism, the title says it all really. As previously mentioned, movement in the game is simple and easy to understand, although that is the main positive to be said for it. Flying in the Arwing didn’t feel particularly noteworthy, and while I know that at some point barrel rolls will be possible, they weren’t possible here. Movement felt well balanced, but due to a lack of variation in maneuvers, the fun of flight paled in comparison to both Everspace and the space combat vignette playable in the demo for Media Molecule’s Dreams.
The boss battle felt stale
After taking down several towers, which involved shooting a glowing section as its defense mechanism shot waves of lasers at me, I was faced with the Arch Prime. This creature was certainly visually impressive, but unfortunately felt largely the same as the challenge that had just taken place. Similar glowing gems were present on the four limbs of the creature that needed to be destroyed to expose its weak point, which then had to be shot at. Rinse, repeat. The Arch Prime barely even moved throughout the battle. The game is primarily aimed at children, but a boss being merely a damage sponge isn’t fun, no matter the age.
In conclusion, the game may prove to be a fun adventure, but my time with it at EGX has not left me feeling positive. It represents an interesting concept for “toys-to-life,” but a repetitive nature and lack of new ideas in the game have left me worried about Starlink. Hopefully, it proves me wrong.