Starlink – Battle for Atlas: Finally, a game that doesn’t patronise its younger audience
So many children's games are made with some very clear design choices in mind: they need to be simple, they need to be readable, they need to be 'safe'.
But in a world where everyone is ramping up for the release of Red Dead Redemption 2, where Spider-Man is breaking sales records all over the world, where open-world titles proliferate… kids games just haven't kept speed.
LEGO Dimensions, Skylanders and so many more are simple, repetitive games that maybe aren't as stimulating for the 10+ market as the audience would like to be.
Ubisoft's new family title – Starlink: Battle for Atlas – challenges that norm and is aiming to deliver something to the younger market that they're craving, that they otherwise wouldn't be allowed to legally access.
"Lots of traditional kids games aren't giving kids the experiences they want," explains Laurent Malville – creative director at Ubisoft Toronto.
"As such, you're seeing kids start to play… lots of games they shouldn't."
He's right – even within Ubisoft's own wheelhouse you'll see games like Assassin's Creed, Far Cry and Wildlands played by children because there is such a hunger and conversation around these open world experiences
"There's a gap between what's on offer for kids and what they're allowed to play, and you see and hear younger audiences crave these games that offer HD open worlds you get in more mature experiences." Malville continues. "That's why we focused on making a game that has creative combat, an open world like you'll see in other games and this sense of adventures [some titles like this] don't offer".
The result is a game that, in many ways, feels like a diluted version of shared world shooters like Destiny: the game is open-ended, meaning after you've completed a short tutorial, you can go and do what you wish.
Enemies are built around elemental resistances, meaning you've got to apply light tactics to take them down – not just shoot them mindlessly.
On top of that, each planet in the game has its own setup – its own personality – meaning your exploration and engagement with the game feels special, tailored to a younger audience's potential first foray into a more mature, open-ended game.
The game's appeal isn't just limited to players that shouldn't bee playing the PEGI 18 titles that form the core of the industry's catalog.
"We also designed this game to appeal to players that grew up playing games, who want to share that experience with their kids,' explains Malville.
"In the studio's head, Starlink is a game that links generations. People making this game – myself included – grew up with titles like StarFox, and they formed a huge part of our love for [this industry].
He explains that Ubisoft Toronto to create a title that lets parents and kids play together, and the systems in the title reinforce that: if you see your kid playing the game and they either need a hand or want someone to join in, you can simply drop in with co-op options, without having to mess around with menus and interfaces.
This simplicity allows for a modern kind-of 'oh I have 10 minutes to help!' mentality that should really help children and their parents bond over particularly tough enemies or encounters.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas exceeded our expectations – we honestly went into our demo of the game thinking it would just be another slightly cringe, slightly patronising kids game. But it really isn't.
It's been made with a respect for its audience that's as impressive as it is refreshing. Kids playing this will feel that the game is a perfect bridge to the more mature projects that litter the gaming landscape.
The story is high-stakes and dramatic, with great production values, and would feel right at home on Cartoon Network in between something like Adventure Time and Teen Titans Go!
By mixing physical play and digital exploration (which you can read about more in-depth on our main Starlink: Battle for Atlas page), Ubisoft has created a title could really shake up the market… if it manages to penetrate through the smoke and bluster its target audience will be tempted to play when it comes out on October 16.
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