It was during E3 2018 that I started paying attention to Ubisoft’s Starlink: Battle for Atlas – not only was the Nintendo Switch getting another 3rd party title, Starlink was a cross platform release and the Switch version would feature Nintendo’s own Fox McCloud as a playable pilot together with the Arwing from the Star Fox series. And I found it’s toys-to-life concept appealing: you can choose between an assortment of different pilots, ships, wings, and weapons as you play, swapping them on the fly and seeing them change in real time in the game.
What made me stay away from purchasing the game upon it’s release was the cost involved – the Starlink physical starter set was initially priced at $74.99. In my opinion, it was justified as you got a physical cartridge along with the Arwing, Fox McCloud, Mason Rana (the game’s main protagonist) and two weapons, plus digital copies of a second ship and a third weapon.
But I had a feeling that the starter set wasn’t going to be enough, and that I was going to buy more ships, pilots and weapons in order to enjoy the full Starlink experience. And that was going to cost me even more. A starship pack costs $24.99 comes with a ship, a weapon, and that ship’s main pilot. Weapon packs cost $4.99, and individual pilots cost $3.99. It was much too expensive for me to get into the game.
Clearly, a lot more people felt the same way, and Ubisoft later revealed that sales for Starlink were poor. Shortly after came the price drops, which finally made the game accessible to me. Since local retailers were still selling the physical Starlink toys at the original SRP, I made it a point to visit various Walmart and Target outlets on my then upcoming trip to the U.S. – while I was able to grab a couple of pilots, weapon packs, and starship packs at the discounted price, I ended up buying the starter set at full price. Finally, I was going to be able to play a Star Fox game on the Nintendo Switch!
And I enjoyed Starlink a lot, especially at first. The Star Fox tie-in was quite well done; while not the central characters of Starlink’s storyline, Fox and the rest of the Star Fox team are quite involved in it. They even have an entire subquest dedicated for them! And you can play through the entirety of Starlink as Fox McCloud in his Arwing, needing only to swap to another ship whenever your Arwing took too much damage.
The game’s general mechanics were also really good. The physics engine worked well, ships controlled really smoothly, and the in-game battles and exploration was excellent. What I really loved about Starlink, especially at the start, is how it approached both interplanetary and interstellar travel – I really felt I was playing an open “space” game, with me being able to explore different planets or travel in space, in between planets.
Starlink’s flaws rear it’s ugly head halfway into the game. First, the novelty of the game’s toys-to-life aspect wore off quickly thanks to the inferiority of the Nintendo JoyCon (which you needed to use to play the Starlink toys) against the superior Pro Controller which will be the preferred way of playing in docked mode. And you have to play digitally if you’re playing on handheld mode. So while I enjoyed playing with the Starlink toys at first, I quickly grew tired of them (a problem that children might not experience at all.
The second issue that I experienced with Starlink had to do with the game’s weapon system. Essentially, weapons are classified according to six different elemental types, with enemies being strong or weak against certain elements. So if you’re fighting an enemy that is weak against, say, the Stasis element, and you don’t have a Stasis weapon, then you’re in for a long battle. Also, Starlink has some unlockable elements that would need specific element types to get, so if you don’t have at least one weapon of each type, you’re going to have a hard time completing everything in the game.
Finally, you hit a point in the game wherein there are no new elements being introduced and you’re locked into this repetitive flow: arrive at a new planet, destroy Extractors, defeat Primes, exit planet and attack Dreadnoughts. I enjoyed it a lot, there’s no doubt about that, but because there’s very little variety of Extractors, Primes, and Dreadnoughts, everything felt repetitive until I got to the end. The planets are no exception – despite consisting of different climates and environments populated with different flora and fauna, how you interacted with them remained the same. It’s a little disappointing, especially since I played Starlink after I had played the excellent Breath of the Wild. The Crimson Moon free update added more gameplay elements such as racing modes and outlaw hunting, which did alleviate this issue somewhat.
It seems like I have a lot of complaints about Starlink, but you know what? I actually liked Starlink enough for me to buy the Star Fox DLC pack, and despite already beating the main quest, I’m considering playing Starlink again to do some of the races and hunt some outlaws.
But I can see why it failed – the price of entry was simply too high for a game that had the potential to be great, but had flaws that kept it from reaching that potential. I’m glad I got it for the Nintendo Switch because Starlink came with the added bonus of serving as a Star Fox stand-in for me. If you manage to find Starlink starter sets being sold at discounted prices, I’d highly recommend that you give it a try – the Arwing alone is going to be worth the discounted price.