When I were a youth, no matter what toy I had it would end up re-appropriated as part of the Star Wars universe. Train sets. Matchbox cars. The Mastermind board game... Even my niece's Barbie Dream House became a flophouse for dossers (an Imperial base).
In short: I loved holding toys in my hand, and using them as a key to unlock my trousers (imagination).
And yet... the whole games-with-toys thing has puzzled me. I get that Skylanders, Disney Infinity and Lego Dimensions were popular for a time, but I was only ever really tempted by Dimensions. Unfortunately, I found toys and video games to be strange bedfellows - the toys being a barrier to me slipping into the game, and the game restricting the freedom of my creativity that toys usually offered.
I recall writing on Digitiser years ago about releasing add-on packs for games - essentially new outfits, levels and settings, treating games as an infinite action figure toybox. I didn't know it, but essentially I was predicting DLC years before DLC became a real, and controversial, part of gaming. And then the whole games-with-toys thing happened, and made it even more real, and I started to wonder if I'd been a big idiot.
I mean, I loved video games as a kid and I loved toys, but no matter how open world a game gets... you're still working within the limitations of somebody else's rules. When I'd play with my action figures, I could take them anywhere. Do anything with them. I wasn't confined by camera angles and invisible walls.
But now we have Starlink: Battle For Atlas - which comes with real, physical, toy spaceships which sit on your joypad, and you can customise and have your customisations reflected in-game - and it has me wondering all over again whether I, as a 12 year-old, would've dug it.
Maybe. If my parents had been really rich, and not so poor that they had to get a succession of lodgers, including one called Keith who apparently once chased my mother around her bedroom.
But that's not important right now.
Starlink begins, and continues, very much like a Saturday morning cartoon. The characters - and world - are all broadly-drawn, everything painted in thick brush strokes.
It's a committed delivery method for a game which is very much a more focused, and accessible, version of No Man's Sky; even the visuals seem to borrow from that much-maligned game.
Unlike the mostly placid new age meandering of No Man's Sky, the main thrust of Starlink, however, is on combat - be it in space, or on the surface of planets. What it lacks in depth and complexity - most battles can be won by simply locking your missiles onto one enemy and then training your crosshairs on another - it makes up for in accessibility. It affords the player the opportunity to appreciate the cartoonishly epic scale of some of the battles.
It's not all fighting, mind; there's also some light exploration and collecting and side-mission busywork. Structurally, it very much has the hallmarks of an Ubisoft map-mopper - albeit with but a handful of mission types; both in art design and quests there's a feeling of repetitiveness that ultimately hampers the experience.
However, the USP here is the toys, and the way you can customise them mid-game by physically swapping out weapons, pilots, wing extensions etc. It makes for a pleasingly tactile experience, though, oddly, it's not essential.
You see, for some reason Ubisoft has chosen to make all the ships, extra weapons and so forth available digitally - which is far more convenient, but reduces Starlink to one big storefront for DLC. It's a bit like watching an episode of He-Man that flashes up an ad for a new action figure whenever the character appears in a scene.
Indeed, there were a couple of times when I went to swap weapons that I already owned via the in-game menu, and accidentally took myself to the online store. The hard-sell lodged in my throat like a particularly chunky lozenge.
I played Starlink on the Switch, and like a number of Switch games it offers exclusive Nintendo content. In this instance, rather appropriately, it features the characters from the musical Rent (Starfox). They're rather crowbarred into cut-scenes, but Fox does have his own storyline, and overall it sort of works. Besides, I like having a little model of the iconic Arwing, even if it does feel a little bit cheap and cheerful.
There are othere nods to the Starfox games - you're even encouraged to do a barrel roll early in the first mission, and the enemies kindly offer you their pulsing weak spots (we've all got one of those) to aim at.
Ultimately, Starlink is a solid space shooter that takes a big gamble on whether the inclusion of physical models is enough to encourage players to fork out some extra money.
It's something you'll have to weigh up, especially when you're going to need to buy even more weapons and ships to really get the most out of the idea - whether you go to the shops to get them, or buy them digitally (which, again, suggests the game itself lacks a certain degree of confidence in its own concept).
Suffice to say, I wasn't willing to buy the full set of available ships and weapons, having already spent nearly 70 quid for the core set, and so my experience was limited. As, I suspect, it will be for most players. More ships equates to more lives and a more complete experience, but owning additional ships requires you to spend money - and all of that left a slightly bitter taste in my mouth. It's all the more perplexing when you consider that this is a game that is primarily aimed at kids.
Still, how much is a Lego set these days? The price for Starlink and its add-ons is probably comparable, but Lego has the benefit of brand awareness and Starlink is starting from scratch. So... good luck with that.
SCORE: £72 out of £117