Hyped online since E3 of this year, Starlink by Ubisoft’s team in Toronto was one of this year’s surprise announcements that has been anticipated ever since its reveal. Whilst available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the biggest surprise was the Nintendo Switch version continuing Ubisoft’s special relationship with Nintendo (last year surprising with their Mario/Rabbids crossover) and including a completely separate storyline involving Nintendo’s own star-crossed hero, Fox McCloud and the StarFox team. As a result of this being the more complete edition of the game, it seems only fair to use this version for our review. Plus who could say no to owning the Arwing as a Toys to Life accessory?!
Starlink is of course not the first game to introduce the Toys to Life style of gaming. Whether it be Disney Infinity, LEGO Dimensions or Skylanders, this style of gameplay is well established. What makes Starlink standout from the others, is just how seamless this system works. The grip your controller (in this case, your Joycon) sits inside is the dock for your character, ship and weapons. All of which slot together 90’s Power Rangers action figure style and form one large accessory. The magic comes when mid game you remove a weapon, character or even wing of a ship, and in real time the game responds instantly to your real-world actions. To give this interactivity extra (literal) shine, the ships also light up. Seeing the engines at the back of Arwing glowing blue above your Joycons makes the inclusion of these toys all the more fun. Other ships, characters and weapons are of course available to purchase, meaning you can build a plethora of accessories to expand your enjoyment of the game as you progress. Something I’m sure will continue to expand as the game’s success is hopefully noticed.
Storyline wise, Starlink is pure science fiction. Mason Rana and the Starlink team on the ship Equinox are attacked by the Forgotten Legion. When crashing on a nearby planet, the team’s leader is kidnapped, making you travel to multiple planets on a quest to help save him. The way in which the narrative alters on Nintendo Switch is that whilst being ambushed at the start of the game, Fox McCloud and his team are nearby watching on, and decide to help the Starlink team out. The story branches out between the multi-platform narrative of saving the leader of Starlink, and separate story where the StarFox team are tracking down arch-nemesis Wolf O’Donnell to end their feud once and for all. The voice acting of the StarFox team is impeccable and sits alongside Nintendo’s version smoothly, not to mention Ubisoft’s subtle use of the series’ score motifs within their own game’s soundtrack. As a result, I genuinely think other gamers on “rival” platforms are missing out on high-quality work. Whether down the road there are plans to bring exclusive characters and storylines to Sony and Microsoft platforms, is yet to be spoken about. So in the meantime, I would strongly advise playing on Switch if possible.
To describe how Starlink plays, would be to describe how you would expect a modern StarFox game to work, only set in an environment similar to No Man’s Sky. If Nintendo plan on releasing a standalone StarFox game for Switch later down the road, Ubisoft’s latest space shooter should genuinely be their inspiration. This is StarFox 2.0. Whether you are cruising along the surface of a new planet scanning life for clues of what food and energy sources may be nearby, or bursting through a planet’s upper atmosphere to soar through the depths of space to a new area, loading times are barely noticeable and are covered up with smooth transitions between blue skies and dark space. As I say, this is what No Man’s Sky wanted to be, but without blowing its own trumpet beforehand.
The land missions are aimed around searching for clues, gorgeous creatures and items in quests, whilst attacking land creatures and machinery that are out to destroy you. Whereas the space exploration is full on StarFox shoot-em-up, only the glossiest take on it to date. The narrative links between these moments are well thought out, and the voice acting for the characters you meet is brilliant. It is games like this that show just how good Ubisoft are at launching new IP’s in an over-saturated landscape.
As you progress you X-COM style level up your ship, weapons and abilities via the coins you claim from missions completed. Whether you are asked to find something for a local native, destroy a base on a barren planet, or simply scan areas for species you need to know more about, the reward system is based around progression and improvement. These improvements are specific again to characters, weapons and ships. Meaning the accessories you attach to your grip remember the improvements you make and does not simply apply to every accessory you purchase. This means your decisions have to be thought out carefully, and your ideal combination of toys dedicated to as you gain rewards.
Roughly over six hours into the story and progression system, I’m really impressed with how this game handles itself. I can see myself spending a lot more time in the Starlink universe, exploring new planets, upgrading ships, and generally enjoying the crossover with one of Nintendo’s biggest (yet barely used) franchises. This in many ways is definitive StarFox, making it a no-brainer purchase for anyone who has enjoyed previous McCloud adventures. But it is also an interesting new universe to captivate you from the minds at Ubisoft. Hopefully, this game will be received as well as it should be and becomes a must-have for all Switch (as well as PlayStation and Xbox) gamers. It looks like my Amiibo collection is going to have to have some space made alongside it for a whole new world of accessories over the coming months. And just in case you’re wondering, yes, you can do a barrel roll…
Beard Score: 9/10
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release: Oct 16, 2018
Players: Single, Two Player Co-op
Category: Adventure, Shoot-Em-Up.
Developer: Ubisoft Toronto