Game Title: Starlink – Battle for Atlas
Company: Ubisoft
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Availability: Retail | Digital (No toys required)
Battery Life: 2 – 3 hours
Cloud Save Support: Yes
Download: 12.6 GB

Ever since the Switch came out, there’s one sci-fi franchise I’ve wanted to be on it that hasn’t been on it: Star Fox. As much as Wii U fans seemed to hate it, I’ve been crossing my fingers for Star Fox Zero to be ported over to the Switch, like many games before it. It hasn’t (yet!), but we did get Star Fox on the Switch this week.

While technically not a Star Fox game, but with how they handled the cross-over, it might as well be one. Here is my review of Starlink: Battle for Atlas for the Nintendo Switch!

Story

starlink 2 - story

Starlink takes place in an alternate reality where a strange alien life-form crashed on Earth, bringing the secret to interstellar travel. As a thank you, a group of humans set off through the universe to help that alien find its home again, only to be attacked once they warp into a star system called Atlas.

With their captain and main reactor core stolen, the crew is left to pick up the pieces and go after their attackers, turning a home-coming journey into a fight for the survival of the Atlas system.

At the same time of the initial ambush, the Star Fox team happen upon the human ship and come to their aid, deciding to work together with the humans as they travel through Atlas to find Wolf, who’s been tracked to this part of space.

The story isn’t a bad one. All of the main characters have special and unique quirks that come out during cutscenes, and the inclusion of the Star Fox crew definitely raises the charisma and humor of everything going on.

Gameplay

starlink 3 - gameplay

Starlink is an open-world (space?) 3D flight combat game with RPG and toys-to-life elements. Across the entirety of the game, you’ll be flying around in ships meant for space travel as you explore planets and engage in intense dogfights with both alien lifeforms and alien spaceships.

Note that I said this game has Toys-2-Life ‘elements’, and that’s because of how the digital version of the game works. If you buy Starlink’s physical copy, you get this large toy mount and have to change out toy figures for different ships, characters, parts, etc. But with the digital version, you just navigate your inventory menus and you’d never be able to tell that it’s a toys-to-life game at all.

Before moving on, though, let’s talk about Star Fox. I expected the cross-over content to be pretty short, amounting to a mission or two and that’s it. However, we got a lot more. Not only do the Star Fox missions account for a good 2-3 hours of the game, but Fox is included in a lot of the CG cutscenes for the game’s main campaign and he has voiced dialogue for virtually all cutscenes, along with interacting with NPCs. It feels like he and his team were created as a part of the core game, rather than being a cameo/cross-over character.

starlink 4 - open world

So, main progression. How does it work? You are in a huge open-world star system with free-roam, but missions will give you waypoints to where you can do those missions or advance the story forward. When you reach those points, you’ll mostly either be fighting enemies or collecting resources, though the second half of the game gives you a lot more to do when you’re introduced to facility management, defending allies, and fighting giant bosses.

The one thing I would advise that you do is save free-roaming for later on in the game. When I was about 2 hours in, I free-roamed a bunch and found the lack of different things to do a bit boring. When I pushed the story forward, a lot more became available to do and it became much less so, even in the same areas because all of the extra things you can do hadn’t become available.

Let’s talk about gameplay, though. When you’re flying around, you have 2 flying modes: Hover Mode where your ship navigates while hovering above the ground and Flying Mode, where you have more free-roam to greater heights. Both of these are very easy to learn, with little extra bits outside of a recover button for when you run into objects and a dodge/boost option to use up fuel for when you need to use the boost to chase.

starlink 6 - boss

The customization comes with combat. You have a bunch of weapons you can equip to your ship to customize it, along with giving you elemental attacks for enemy weaknesses and puzzles. Any ship can use any weapon, outside of the built-in laser cannons of Star Fox’s Arwing. It’s like a Lego game with the parts that can be combined with pretty much any other part and is interesting to see the combinations that can be made.

The customization goes further with different pilots that have different chargeable abilities and modifications that you can unlock and combine to enhance the stats of both ships and individual weapons as you progress through the game. There are a ton of different ways to play, from playing with the laser cannons like a Star Fox game to throwing massive flamethrowers onto a tiny wing-less cockpit.

starlink 5 - customization

Now, all of this is a ton of fun. The flying is fast and the combat is exhilirating. It’s not all fun and games, though. When you get to a certain point of the story, you heavily have to dive into planet management and facility management gameplay mechanics. At first, this feels a bit different than the prior parts of the game, but with how much of it you have to do without much of anything in between, it goes from feeling different to feeling repetitive and grindy when all you’re doing is making facilities in one planet and then another and then another and then another. That part of the game could’ve used more variety instead of just shoving nothing but management at you for a good 5-6 hours straight.

Speaking of time, how much content are we talking here? I spent a pretty fair amount of time doing side-content, especially the Star Fox and Main Story’s own side campaign, and I cleared the game in a little over 20 hours. Once you beat the game, you can clear up any unfinished side-quests and manage enemies that spawn and attack your planets. Even so, I don’t see that adding any more than 5 hours, at most, unless you’re playing on a high difficulty setting or didn’t do anything but required missions beforehand.

Controls

Controlling the game isn’t too hard, though it’s worth noting that single joy-con play is not possible. With local co-op being in the game, two joy-cons are required for each player.

The Left Analog Stick is used to accelerate and decelerate and the Right Analog is used for moving around. The Arrow Buttons / D-Pad are used for menu navigation, along with accepting side-missions during gameplay. The ZL/ZR triggers are used for firing weapons and L/R triggers are used for activating pilot abilities and toggling between flight modes.

Then we have the face buttons. A and X are used for the Boost/Shield that use energy and B is used for jumping in Hover Mode.

It’s not too complicated, and the game does a great job of explaining what everything does as situations come up.

Presentation

starlink 7 - presy

Graphically, I wouldn’t call the game perfect, but it does look really good. You can see a jaggie here and there in docked mode, while handheld mode has a slight blurring effect on objects close to the camera. The latter is certainly noticeable, but doesn’t negatively impact the experience when in combat.

Performance is great. I never saw the frames drop, load times aren’t terribly long, and the game never crashed on me. The only thing I will say is that the game would glitch from time to time, not showing parts of the HUD when collecting materials or not playing audio during some scenes, even when they played fine the previous encounter.

Battery Life

I wasn’t expecting a mountain of Battery Life, but what I got wasn’t awful. Here are my Battery Times, from 100% to 0%

Max Brightness + Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 18 minutes
Max Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 21 minutes

Low Brightness + Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 34 minutes
Low Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 49 minutes

It’s about what I expected. Not a lot, but still a decent amount for this sort of game.

In conclusion, Starlink: Battle for Atlas is an fun and intense open-world space exploration game, with a big Star Fox cross-over on top. It isn’t perfect, with a very grindy section towards the end of the game along with some small glitches, but if you’re a fan of Star Fox or just space flying games, it’s definitely worth a look.

Final Score: 8.5/10