In Los Angeles this month, at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, a zombie rose from its grave. The games industry thought it had seen the beginning of the end of the toys-to-life genre when Disney shut down Avalanche Software and cancelled all future iterations of Disney Infinity. Meanwhile, Activision’s Skylanders limps on, with deteriorating sales and no new game releasing in 2017. Toys-to-life is dead, we thought.
So imagine our surprise when during Ubisoft’s E3 press conference, amid the Far Cry 5s and Assassin’s Creed Origins, the withered hand of toys-to-life reached up from its well-trod resting place, pulling its fetid body into the fresh LA air. Starlink: Battle for Atlas looks to be a decent, fairly cutesy, space-combat game that allows players to change their ship, characters and weapon loadout by adding and removing parts of the toy spaceship sitting atop their controller.
A bold move, considering the big boys of toys-to-life are putting away their childish things. Ubisoft clearly has faith that gamers are still willing to part with their cash for plastic laser cannons and warp engines. And judging from the response to the announcement, they could be right. There’s an excitement surrounding Starlink and its modular ship-building mechanic. It’s an evolution of the genre; to stretch the metaphor further, this zombie’s got gills.
The difference with Starlink is that, sure, new toys will unlock new content. That’s a given. But there are also practical applications within the game that make this even more intriguing –and compelling – for collectors and players alike. Need extra firepower? Stick four of those heavy laser cannons on your ship’s carapace and blow a new crater in this little moon. Need a bit more? Stick on those missile launchers. Why not? Ubisoft has revived the toys to life genre with Starlink, in way that bridges the gap between construction toys and toys to life.
Ubisoft hasn’t given any indication of how many Starlink toys will be made available, or how much they’ll be sold for, but there’s clearly a hunger for this level of customisation and interaction between toy and game. Besides, plastic spaceships are cool.