Starlink: Battle for Atlas: A Fantastic Game With A Huge Flaw

Starlink: Battle for Atlas is an open-world action-adventure game set in the distant star system of Atlas. In the vaguely distant future, a group of pilots known as the Starlink Initiative travel to Atlas searching for answers about the origins of an alien known as Judge (also a member of Starlink). Once there, things head south pretty quickly: Unknown enemies are following the courier you’re there to meet, hostiles board your mothership and kidnap the project leader and your power core, and because of this, all of your team’s ships lose power and plummet to the planet below. 

This is where it gets good, and I encourage all of you to get this game on the Nintendo Switch if you have one: In the Switch port of this game, Fox McCloud is a playable character, and the Star Fox team have been added fairly seamlessly into the story with unique dialogue, presence in cutscenes, and their own set of side missions involving Wolf. Every pilot in the game has their own special ability, and Fox’s is particularly satisfying. When the battle gets a little too hot to handle, you can call in a Star Fox buddy to help out. The kicker—for me anyway—is the music associated with this action is the classic synthy goodness that is the Corneria theme music heard throughout the various iterations of Star Fox games over the years.

Even without the Star Fox elements, I would still consider this a very good game. Aesthetically, this game offers a color palette and creature/planet design reminiscent of No Man’s Sky without any of the inherent baggage that follows that title (it has improved, but that’s a topic for another article) alongside a more family-friendly Borderlands or Mass Effect feel. The encyclopedic database entries definitely follow the Mass Effect vibe though maybe not to the same extreme, and the wide array of characters fits both of those other games. 

This, unfortunately, leads me to that huge flaw I mentioned earlier. There are 18 total pilots once all the DLC content has been factored in, many of whom have a unique ship associated with them. Each of these pilots and ships (and even extra weapons!) are available as physical toys-to-life companion pieces that fit into the included controller dock. The toys are not necessary as the pilots, ships, and weapons are also available as digital downloads, but the micro-transaction gouging problem still remains. If you were to buy both DLC bundle packages on the Switch eStore, it would cost you about $110 before taxes. And this doesn’t even include the Star Fox pilots package, which is another $12 on top. (Full disclosure: I went to check the prices through the in-game eShop connection and found collections one and two on sale for a total price of $30, so if you were interested in purchasing these items, you might luck into a sale as I did.) The toys do have one advantage over the digital version: Players can swap weapons, ship parts, or even entire ships in real time by swapping the parts connected to the dock while digital parts would need to be changed out by using the pause menu. The biggest problem for me is the collector in me wants to get it all—in toy form ideally—but the gamer in me hates the money grab.

That being said, it is not necessary to buy anything other than the basic starter package; you can complete the game with a single ship and a single pilot without the entire arsenal of extra weapons. There are some element-specific puzzles that will be more difficult to complete without them—there are spires you can unlock by using different elemental weapons, but you can often find throwable canisters matching the required element strewn about. The starter packs include ice and fire weapons—Perhaps there’s a song there? (Sorry, I had to!)—so those elemental challenges are already taken care of, but that leaves gravity and stasis energy as extra purchases or extra challenges.

All in all, this game is worth the base price at least, even more so if you can find a good sale. The combat, both on land and in space, is engaging and satisfyingly challenging without ever feeling too overwhelming though I did play on Normal difficulty, leaving two extra levels of pain to experience. The controls are intuitive with the sole exception of the racing side missions on the Crimson Moon; the racing remap of the controls took some getting used to, and even then I still didn’t really like it (meaning the controls; the racing itself was fairly fun). After a while, the gameplay can get a little repetitive, but there are enough different activities to do it’s easy enough to switch things up and decide to explore uncharted parts of different planets (there are seven plus the Crimson Moon) or the space between them, take on outlaw hideouts or Legion dreadnoughts, or just gather resources and analyze flora and fauna data to flesh out your database. My first play through—without a 100% completion rate, mind you—took about 99 hours including the post-final-boss threat management section where you fight back the Legion until the now-expanded Starlink team controls each planet. Plus, this is the only thing that comes close to a  new Star Fox game for the foreseeable future, so I would say this is a must have for any Switch owners out there!

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Published by writingrobb

I’m a video gaming cat dad who likes to write.

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