Toys-to-Life Beyond the Stars:
Starlink feels like a product that feels raring to go. Ubisoft haven’t really messed with the whole Toys-to-Life genre before (I’m still mad that their amazing Mario/Rabbids toys weren’t Amiibos!!) and yet here they are with a killer launch line up for what might be the best the genre has to offer.
With Starlink, Ubisoft offers choice above all else, and the results are nothing short of spectacular.
Starlink feels like a Saturday morning cartoon come to life, focusing on a spacefaring team of young, cocksure pilots who are trying to bring a bit of peace to a galaxy on the edge of crisis. When their captain is taken hostage by a mean squad of creepy looking aliens, the rest of the crew head out into the Atlas starsystem to get him back.
From the design of the evil Forgotten Legion to the members of your team, everything screams ‘kids cartoon’ – and that’s not a ding. In fact, I loved the feeling that I’d hopped right into the adventures of a show I would have adored growing up. Getting to pick between the aggressively varied character-types (annoyingly cocky teen, level headed veteran, silent and stoic badass, etcetc) would have been even cooler, if Ubisoft hadn’t kind of sealed my fate by sending me the Starfox starter pack – there was no way I was going to play this as anyone but Fox McCloud.
On the subject of Fox, I was worried his inclusion would be a bit throwaway. After all, his presence is limited to one system out of the bundle the game has been developed for. I was very wrong. Fox and his gang are all present, fully voiced and fully integrated into the story. Sure, you can see where the camera might cut away if you’re playing on other consoles, but I never found Starfox to be anything but vital to Starlink. Ubisoft went to town with the license to use a beloved Nintendo mascot, and they’ve done such a justice to his legacy here that, quite honestly, it rivals most of Fox’s official appearances. This is one of the strongest Starfox games I’ve played, and it’s thanks in no small part to snappy writing that comes across as legit, rather than fanfiction-y.
A lot has been said about Starlink’s presence both physically and digitally. A Toys-to-Life game where the toys are optional? Sacrilege! But whilst everyone’s racing to tell you that you can buy everything a whole lot cheaper if you go digital, I’m here to say something that might seem a bit controversial: the toys are badass. Full disclosure, Ubisoft sent me a bundle of toys to go with the game when I reviewed it, but I can guarantee I’ll be buying the rest that come out – physically.
There’s a tactility to slotting your ship together in the real world – jamming on some wings, clipping a pilot into the frame and then lowering the whole ship over them with a satisfying click just gets me in a way that games rarely do. Unlike Skylanders or Disney Infinity, Starlink feels like a toy – to be played with and messed about. Admittedly I had to get used to just how rough you need to be with the things when slapping it all together – I was being far too delicate in my first few hours – but these ships are beefy enough to withstand it.
Swapping out weapons by clipping them onto your wings just feels cool, spinning them around so you can fire behind you even cooler. When I was engrossed in the game I did most of this from the menu, rather than the toy itself, but I would never sacrifice having them entirely. So yes – it’s easier and cheaper to get everything in Starlink digitally, if you’re willing to pay out all at once to ensure you have all the pieces – but I’d recommend instead building a collection over a few months, grabbing new ships when you feel like it and powering them up as you go. Personally I find too much choice a little paralyzing.
The game itself is a strange hybrid of No Man’s Sky and Starfox, by way of Ubisoft’s traditionally massive open worlds. Exploring planets, completing various objectives and levelling up your gear is the main hook here, and it’s taken a lot of cues from what worked, and didn’t work, when it came to Hello Games’ divisive title.
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