When it was announced last year, Ubisoft’s Toronto’s new IP Starlink: Battle for Atlas received a mellow response. It didn’t look bad at all, but many people couldn’t find much of a reason to be excited for it. Then low and behold, the Star Fox team appeared and everyone lost their minds. Starlink soon showed up on the Most Wanted lists of Nintendo Switch owners and Star Fox fans, leading them to wonder if Starlink could be considered a new entry in the Star Fox franchise. Even though it’s really cool that the space furries are implemented in this game, I’m going to be judging Starlink: Battle for Atlas based on its own merits and not the ones established by Star Fox.
Starlink is set in the Atlas star system, consisting of seven different planets. You play as different members of the Starlink depending on which pilots and ships you purchase. Because I bought the Switch Starter Pack, I was outfitted with the legendary Arwing and two pilots: Fox McCloud and Mason. Guess which one I played as more. I also received Mason’s ship in a digital package, as well as three different weapons, two of which were elemental based, being ice and fire. When I went to try and unlock more weapons, ships, and pilots, I got confused. I heard back at E3 from friends who’ve interviewed the developers that these toys would be optional and you could beat the entire game without having to buy more. When I heard “optional,” I assumed the toys would just be some tacky add-on you didn’t need and you could unlock more items without spending real money. That’s where I was wrong. The TOYS are optional, meaning you could just buy every other ship, pilot, and weapon through the eShop, still using real money. Just thought I should clear that up. I can’t dock too many points from this fact because it does advertise itself as a toys-to-life game. That’d be like complaining you need to buy Disney Infinity figures for Disney Infinity. Regardless, I am glad I purchased the awesome Arwing as it looks legitimately cool.
Using the figurine and attaching the Joy-Cons to a special (and slightly uncomfortable) grip, you can swap out weapons, pilots, and ships. It’s a cool gimmick, but it’s also a gimmick that doesn’t add anything to the experience. I only used the figure during my first playthrough, and then I just switched to the Pro Controller and managed everything in-game. Not to say that my Arwing isn’t proudly displayed next to my Switch dock.
When it comes to any flying game, the most important feature to nail are the controls, and the ones in Starlink are great. Not perfect, but great. The only real problem I have is when I’m trying to do a barrel roll and I wind up turning backwards instead. Other than that, it’s easy to maneuver your ship in combat and during exploration, the latter of which you’ll be doing most of in hover mode. If you want to, that is. Starlink is an open-world game, or should I say open-solar-system? You’ll be traveling through these fully-explorable seven planets, building up your alliance against the evil Legion. Yeah, the story is about as generic as it comes. Given how many cutscenes there actually are along with the two-dimensional characters, the story is treated like a background feature. Kind of like a tree.
Back to the gameplay though, the main focus in Starlink is to build up your alliance against the Legion. This involves going to the planets, taking out Legion forces, and assisting local research stations, armories, prospectors, you name it. Helping these settlements out will maximize your alliance’s force, but the faster way to fight the Legion is to literally fight the Legion. Destroying the extractor towers on each planet will weaken the Prime, and destroying the Prime will free the planet of Legion control, that is until a Dreadnought ship launches a new Prime, so in order to weaken the Dreadnought, you have to destroy the Prime, and to weaken the Prime, you have to destroy the Extractors, and to destroy the Extractors, you have to destroy-. Yeah, the biggest problem with Starlink, is that it’s EXTREMELY repetitive.
I won’t lie though, I really enjoy games where the goal is to make yourself or your team stronger, which is why I still get a kick out of Starlink. It’s a great timekiller, and the solid controls and combat make it still fun. But I can still recognize that the game doesn’t have much going for it in terms of variety. You’ll be doing a lot of the same stuff over and over and over again, and even if you just want to pluck a few vegetables or scan a few animals, it won’t take long for that to wear on you. For now though, I’m still enjoying Starlink and am working to gain 100% Alliance control, but for how long I do that remains to be seen.
But I know what you’re really here for, the Star Fox characters, and Ubisoft Toronto did NOT hold back when it came to their inclusion. The plus side of having a bland but otherwise simple story is that the Star Fox team was easily woven into most of the games well-animated cutscenes. Fox is the only playable character from the team, but you can play as him from beginning to end, and he has a hefty supply of dialogue as well, probably way more than he had in Star Fox Zero! Not like the dialogue isn’t too meaningful, but it’s cool to see nonetheless.
There is only one mission in the game dedicated to Star Fox, and that is to hunt down Wolf and stop whatever evil shenanigans he is up to. If you handle this mission in one sitting- which will require some leveling up- it can take you about 20 minutes to beat. The most you’ll get out of this mission are some authentic banter between the Star Fox Team and some cool throwbacks, nothing more, nothing less. The ability to play as Fox throughout the entire campaign makes up for this small mission. Fox also has this really cool special ability that allows him to call in a member of his team after a few laser cannon rounds go off. The problem with this special move is that it’s easily exploitable. The laser cannons deal a TON of damage, so you can take out a big boss in SECONDS.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas is not a bad game, it’s a fun one that needed to be designed better. Exploitable Fox ability aside, the game has a serious repetition problem that could have been solved with more variety in missions and side-activities. That said, I’m still having fun with it. Repetitious gameplay can be a problem for some, but others might find enjoyment out of building up an alliance and exploring the planets and asteroid fields of Atlas. There’s some solid potential here in Starlink that could be realized with a sequel or some DLC, but as of now, it can only be described as flawed but fun.