With the release of Starlink: Battle for Atlas, the debate around toys-to-life games reopens.
Created by Ubisoft, Starlink is an open-world game that takes place in a fictional solar system called Atlas. You get to explore various planets and help their people defend themselves against the vile threats of the Forgotten Legion while spending the entire game in your spaceship. Each planet is instantly recognizable by its unique and detailed design and colours as well as the characterization of its inhabitants.
Throughout the game you will have to defeat the Legion and stop its leader Drax from taking over the galaxy. All of the members of the crew are playable characters, including Fox McCloud from the Nintendo Star Fox series which first debuted 25 years ago.
The game is named after an in-game hi-tech invention that allows to build and rebuild your spaceship at any time. But it’s not only an in-game mechanic. In fact, you get to physically interact with the Starlink technology though the Starlink toys. The game comes with a variety of different weapons, pilot figurines and ship parts to mix and match to create the ultimate spacecraft or to swap on the fly. Every element comes with unique statistics and features that will be needed at different stages of the gameplay.
The Starter packs for every console are sold at £69.99, but the contents of the sets change quite a bit, making the price for the entire collection rise to a total of £309.87.
The game doesn’t require the toys to be played in full. And honestly the controllers with a toy spaceship mounted on top of it seem awkward and impractical. But the argument that they are unnecessary and pricey reminds me of the debate around the release of the Nintendo Labo, with the argument there being that while the idea was extremely innovative – as per usual for Nintendo – the kits were essentially overpriced cardboard cutouts.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas seems like it’s trying to get on a train that has already left. Other toys-to-life games like Disney Infinity and Lego Dimensions lived their prime three years ago and have now been discontinued.
Toys-to-life games and toycons to me have always seemed like a great idea to make the game world expand beyond the screen and enter the kids’ minds as they play with the toys, unbound from the game dynamics or plot. And they definitely have an appeal with the parents, who would much rather see their kids play with a figurine in their hand than with a controller.
However, I cannot shrug off the idea that these games are just huge marketing schemes to make money out of kids and their parents. The need to own the full collection has been a strong feeling for all young kids since the days of sticker albums and Pokémon’s “Gotta catch’em all!” The collection element is what allowed the Amiibo series and the Skylanders games to be successful for so long.
We can only wait and see if Starlink will last the test of time or if, like the Labo, it will fade into oblivion after a month of its release. What is sure is that, with the genius idea of bringing back a beloved Nintendo Character like Star Fox, Starlink has definitely secured itself the sales from all the older gamers who might not buy further sets but will proudly display their Fox McCloud and Arwing figurines.
Image: Starlink / Ubisoft