Ubisoft Toronto Charts New Course for Toys-to-Life with Starlink: Battle for Atlas

A Starlink to the Past

At the 2017 Electronic Entertainment Expo, Ubisoft Toronto presented their latest creation: A Toys-to-life title called Starlink: Battle for Atlas, which garnered some positive attention.

At E3 2018, they presented it once again, and this time, it was a showstopper.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas is an open-world game, but one that differs from most in that it’s a space saga in which you traverse different worlds through use of starships. In fact, it seems to be inviting several comparisons to another such game, No Man’s Sky, albeit far more positive ones. Whereas that game’s regions were generated in a procedural fashion, Starlink: Battle for Atlas does things the old-fashioned way, making them by hand in the game’s Snowdrop engine.

Players will be able to travel across the star system and venture down to the surface of seven different planets seamlessly, according to Ubisoft’s press release. There, they’ll find alien worlds “teeming with life” and “unique challenges” to overcome. “Players’ actions and choices will impact their journey and no two player experiences will be alike,” they promise, as enemies are said to react and fight back intelligently

But “No Man’s Sky, but better” isn’t the main hook for Starlink: Battle for Atlas. Rather, its primary draw is the one which immediately snapped me to attention when the game was first shown off last year, and that’s the aforementioned Toys-to-life aspect.

I’m admittedly a big fan of Toys-to-life in general, even if there are some specific executions of the concept I don’t care for as much. I’ve got Skylanders, Disney Infinity, LEGO Dimensions, and amiibo for days, and not nearly enough time to play with them all.

Unfortunately, the Toys-to-life bubble has seemingly burst. Disney Infinity is dead, and LEGO Dimensions is no better off. Skylanders seems to continue as a franchise with its Netflix cartoon series, Skylanders Academy, but the actual game portion of that is MIA as its star, Spyro the Dragon, seems to be returning to his roots. As for amiibo? Nintendo is still producing them with each new game, but their in-game functionality seems to largely be an afterthought at this point, as they never got that one key game they needed for a breakthrough. (But at least they still look cool.)

So with that in mind, what hope does Starlink: Battle for Atlas have in a genre that’s all but completely evaporated? An ambitious one, it turns out, as Creative Director Laurent Malville and his team believe that “innovation can really bring life back into this market.” As he tells GamesIndustry.biz:

We think that toys-to-life brought a lot of younger players into video games, and that was great. But we think as they grew up, the expectation grew with it. So for us, we didn’t want to do just another one like those games. It was important for us to innovate in this category. We didn’t want to innovate on just the toy itself – and we think we did do that – but also to innovate with the huge open world. We’re not talking down to the players. This is a big open world that you can spend time in.

Where Starlink: Battle for Atlas differs from other Toys-to-life games is by putting control of the toys right in your hands — literally. Each version of the game comes with a special Starlink controller mount (or a Joy-Con grip, in the case of the Switch version) upon which the Starship of your choice is placed. During gameplay (in real-time or while paused), you’ll be able to swap out different modular parts, from the wings to various parts that attach to them, and even the pilot, each granting you different weapons and capabilities.

What’s more, there’s no singularly specific way to attach parts. Maybe you think those wings would look better swept forward? Or perhaps you’re tired of bogeys coming up on your six and taking you by surprise, so you want a rear-facing gun instead? It’s all possible, and even a bit more, as Producer Matthew Rose tells CNET, “We never want to tell kids they’re being creative wrong.”

However, some people who would enjoy these Toys-to-life games just don’t care for the “toy” aspect so much. But Ubisoft has good news for you: You don’t actually need the toys to enjoy the game. While purchasing various toys will unlock digital equivalents within the game, as Rose tells Nintendo UK:

It was very important for us to be extremely player friendly in what we’re offering. We want people to buy the collectibles because they think the collectibles are amazing. The modular play gives you all these cool creative things to do and build. But we don’t want to force you into buying them. You can complete the entire game just with the starter pass. Even if you are a minimalist, you don’t want more stuff on your shelves, you can even get digital versions of all the parts. You can play the entire game digitally, which is something we’re really proud of.

So, that all sounds great on its own, right? But what exactly would make it a showstopper at E3 this year that wasn’t there last year?

See for yourself:

“We are excited to give players a deeper look at Starlink: Battle for Atlas, the first all-new property from Ubisoft Toronto,” Malville stated in a press release. “Starlink is a project born from the passion of our collective team, and the opportunity to work directly with Nintendo to bring Star Fox to our universe is a dream come true. We believe the Atlas open star system is a perfect playground for Fox to explore and hope players will too.”

“The team at Ubisoft Toronto collaborated closely with Virtuos on the Nintendo Switch version of Starlink: Battle for Atlas,” the press release explains. “The partnership allowed Ubisoft to push the Nintendo Switch version to new heights, and fully support handheld, tabletop and docked play.”

I’ll admit to a little bias here, as I’ve been waiting 25 years for a toy Arwing I could call my own, and now someone has finally answered the call. (Makes me wonder if I should press my luck for a Great Fox, but one thing at a time here.) This pushes me from “completely sold” on the game to “why can’t I play this now?”

But “now” is sadly not in the cards, as the game doesn’t come out until October 16th, 2018, when the game will be available for the Xbox One, the PlayStation 4, and of course the Nintendo Switch in a Starter Edition priced at $99.99. Included in all versions of the Starter Edition are the game, the Starlink controller mount for your console of choice, and a poster.

In addition, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions will also come with the following:

  • Zenith Starship – includes modular hull and two Armor wings
  • Mason Rana Pilot
  • Shredder Weapon
  • Flamethrower Weapon
  • Frost Barrage Weapon

As for the Nintendo Switch version? Hoo-boy, what an added value. You’ll get:

  • Arwing Starship – includes modular hull and two Arwing wings, with laser cannon weapons and charge shot built in
  • Fox McCloud Pilot
  • Mason Rana Pilot
  • Flamethrower Weapon
  • Frost Barrage Weapon
  • Digital versions of Zenith Starship and Shredder weapon
  • Exclusive Star Fox mission content

That’s right — you’ll not only get everything that the other Starter Editions come with (albeit digitally in some cases, but still), but also the Arwing Starship, Fox McCloud Pilot figure, and exclusive Star Fox mission content.

Beyond the Starter Edition, there are additional sets of ships, weapons, and pilots available to purchase. Here’s how it all breaks down:

  • Starship Pack (including one starship with modular hull and two wings, one pilot and one weapon): $39.99
  • Weapon Pack (including two weapons): $14.99
  • Pilot Pack (including one pilot): $12.99

It should be noted that all pieces are compatible, with a few small but expected exceptions: The Star Fox pieces will only work with the Nintendo Switch version of the game. So everything is compatible with it, and it’s compatible with everything else, but only so long as you’re playing it on Nintendo’s console.

And that’s pretty much it. October never looked so far away, but like any respectable Starship captain, I am ready for launch.

In the meantime, here are some renders, concept art, and screenshots for you to enjoy.

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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.