Starlink: Battle For Atlas: A SuperParent Review-in-Progress
The Star Fox game that you always wanted to play – now with toys!
You know that unmade game of Starfox you always wanted to play since you were a kid? The one where you could freely travel a star system? Where you’d fight an alien menace planetside then hit the afterburners, tearing into space and tangle with bandits? Starlink: The Battle for Atlas is that game. Oh, yeah, and if you buy the Nintendo Switch version it actually features Fox McCloud, his ship, the team, and series of exclusive missions.
This Starlink review is for two people: Folks buying it – allegedly for their children – and the kids now grabbing for a second controller and some old-school couch co-op (yes, the game supports couch co-op) action in an open-space exploration game. But, if you’re waiting for end-of-review validation if this is fun, let us assure you right now, Starlink is most definitely fun. And, yes, it also happens to come packaged with some sweet-looking toys-to-life space ships if you opt for the physical version of the game.
What’s the story?
As the Starlink Initiative explores the Atlas system, you come under attack. Your base ship, the Equinox, is nearly destroyed. Your leader has been captured by an unknown alien menace. And, if you own the Nintendo Switch version of the game, you’ve also got Fox McCloud and Team Star Fox on your side for exclusive extra missions (and the Nintendo-only Arwing spaceship). Just don’t mistake this for some sweeping epic of a story. It’s some cut-scenes servicing the greater plot of exploring the star system.
However, we will say that the game is full of fleshed-out characters. The Starlink Initiative team members fly different ships and have different abilities in the cockpit, but they aren’t disposable cannon fodder. Each have distinct personalities you’ll come to appreciate as the story progresses through in-game chatter.
As the game is rated E 10+, it’s pretty appropriate for playing solo or with your kids. You’re shooting spaceships and going up against a robotic legion. So long as you’re cool with that, prepare for launch.
How does it play?
Don’t be surprised that this isn’t being billed as a space flight sim – it’s got a forgiving degree of arcade space flight and dogfighting. You’re also hovering above ground level fetch questing, defending locations, and exploring.
The chase camera view and not-quite-over-the-shoulder views do a pretty good job of keeping your head in the action. However, we would’ve preferred a target lock instead of a camera zoom, as you’re panning to isolate your target mid-fight.
Also, there is something we need to lay out here early: Whereas most space shooters revolve around turning and burning, there’s a fair degree of needing to swap out weapons on-the-fly to adjust to the enemies being thrown your way in Starlink. There are different elemental classes of weapons, and you can also figure out creative ways to inflict bonus damage. Blast someone with heat, then hit em with cold for thermal shock. Use a vortex weapon, then light it up with fire and you’ve got a burning gravity well dragging enemies to their death.
Just be aware that outside of the stock weaponry that comes with the game, this is where you may find yourself most tempted to pay for additional weaponry with real money. We’ll get to that in a minute, below.
There are some parts of this galaxy that will trigger déjà vu both literally and figuratively, though. In the same way that open world games these days have side quests to pad play time, you’ll feel a little of that repetitive burn here as well. For kids that just want to have fun exploring the universe – like mine – that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Because at least my child finds them fun.
Can you really go anywhere and do anything?
For those who remember the original hype of No Man’s Sky, this will sound familiar. You can go to any of the planets within the Atlas star system. Travel in the black oceans of space, fighting bandits and in the next moment you can be breaking through the troposphere as you go planetside. It really is THAT open. It fulfills those promises of a space adventure, but dresses it up with the action that fans of arcade shooters (like, say, Star Fox) will eat up.
As you’re exploring the Atlas system, you’re progressing the story, but you can also break off and explore. Identify local fauna. Harvest minerals and organic materials. Forge alliances with researchers and miners. Look for space salvage and take down outlaws. Solve puzzles left by ancient civilizations and – as crazy as this may sound – solve platforming puzzles with your space craft. And you’ll find yourself doing each of these activities if you’re trying to tackle the side quests. A. LOT.
While all that’s happening (again. And again.) in this living universe, you will need to come to the rescue of allies as the larger menace will keep trying to reclaim areas you’ve taken over. Ubisoft promises that even after the fight is over, additional content will be released into the game universe.
You mentioned couch co-op – is it actually playable?
Short answer: Yes, but it needs to be plugged into the TV. The vertical split-screen and minimized HUD works great if you and a buddy want to play – provided you stick with your partner. It’s done in a smart way. Think about it. In an open-world game, how do you keep folks from spreading themselves too far apart and straining the console when traveling across a universe? Give them a Starlink “tether.” The closer that you are to your buddy (in the game, not on the couch), your ships perform better. So you’re incentivized to stay close. Let your wingman drift too far apart and you’ll get warnings that you need to get back.
As for the controllers you’ll need: If you bought a digital version of the game, it works as expected. Two controllers and you’re set. If you have a physical copy of the game, one person can play with the toys and the other can stick to the “digital” experience. Or any combination.
How deep is the game’s customizability for all this Starlink-part swapping?
On one level, it can be as simple as you want. You can play the game with a ship that comes with the game and enjoy the ride, earning mods to boost performance for you craft, level up your pilot’s special ability skills and upgrade your mothership to improve the fleet. Or you can really go bonkers.
Each of the ships have different roles, some are flying tanks. Others are high-speed racers. It’s up to you to mix and match the base fuselage with wings and weaponry for your needs. Provided you have bought extra spaceships, the game supports you plugging together 3 wing attachments on each side, then slap on weapons. You can have it so that you’re firing from raised wings, shooting behind cover. Or rotate a weapon and shoot behind your ship as well as in front. And all of this can be loaded into three pre-sets (or changed on the fly).
We’re recovering from Skylanders, Disney Infinity and Lego Dimensions - why would I invest in Starlink?
As soon as the term “Toys to life” comes up, you can almost hear the sucking sound of dollars leaving your wallet – so let’s address the plastic elephant in the room: YOU DON’T HAVE TO BUY A SINGLE PLASTIC TOY IF YOU DON’T WANT TO. Pony up $80 for the Digital Deluxe version of Starlink on the Nintendo, Sony, or Xbox stores and you you’re grabbing the full roster of pilots, weapons, and Starships, minus the toy bits. Or you can buy the base game and grab some stuff piecemeal as DLC if you want.
All that said, having these replica spaceships floating around your entertainment center can be pretty tempting. Just be aware of the costs involved.
Does this mean I need to clear a shelf for toys just to play?
Not going to lie here – you may want to. The detail on these ships is kinda impressive. BUT it is not required. The physical game comes packed with a ship, pilot, and weapons. You can go through the game playing off that and you’ll be fine – though you may want to at least consider ponying up for a couple different elemental weapons. If you’re feeling that itch to expand your fleet, though, you can opt to buy into the universe.
This is where you need to crack open the calculator app and ask yourself how much you want to invest into Starlink.
- 4 Starship Packs ($25 each) contain a ship, pilot, and weapon.
- 4 Weapon Packs ($10 each) arm you with two additional weapons.
- 4 Pilot Packs ($8 each) add a new pilot to your flight roster. Each one has a special ability.
…and that’s saying nothing about some store exclusive sets:
Want to go couch co-op with a pal? If you both want to plug the toy armada into the game, that’s another couple bucks out of your gaming budget. (Or one player can op to play the digital version with an extra controller.)
Yes, we know, it’s a lot of optional extras tacked onto the price of the game. Fortunately, none of that detracts from the fun. Buy extra kits and upgrade the experience – or don’t. Honestly, it’s kind of refreshing to know that this is a toys-to-life game where the toys are truly optional.
OK, so I’m going in on the physical version – will I break this thing?
Obviously, some care is required because you are snapping ship pieces together. These aren’t RFID-based like some other toys-to-life products. You’ve got the connecting circuits popping out, ready to plug into the other bits. But they’ve been plenty sturdy as my kid snapped together fuselages, several wings, and weapon attachments, Frankensteining together flying monstrosities.
Short version: They aren’t fully life-proof. But, really, what is these days? Maybe consider buying that game insurance you keep hearing about.
I’m supposed to hold a tricked out spaceship and the controller? How heavy is this thing?
While our “test subject” child is no weight lifter, he was able to play for a good 20 minute stretch, juking enemy fire and navigating the spaceways with no complaints. Your mileage may vary. Feed your kids spinach.
It’s out on three consoles – which is the best version to buy?
While the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have enough horsepower to really make this game shine, you’re robbing yourself if you don’t get this game on the Nintendo Switch. But we think you probably figured that much out by now. Between the extra Switch-specific missions and the fact that you can take this game with you anywhere (in portable mode, no toys required), Starlink on the Nintendo Switch is a no-brainer.
But is it fun?
Atlas is a relatively big star system with lots to do and plenty to explore. The biggest complaint against the game– the repetitive nature of the sidequests in order to fully level up – is easily combatted when you…we mean, the kids(!)… aren’t playing this in hours-long marathons.
Our experience with Starlink: The Battle for Atlas as a SuperParent – it’s a fun way to spend some time side-by-side with your kid on the couch. It feels like a game that you’ve been wanting to play for some time. An open star system to explore, a fun space adventure, a whole lot of arcade shooting action and – you guessed it – Star Fox.
SuperParent Editorial Note Reviews-in-Progress
Starlink: Battle for Atlas is an enormous game. There's a ton to do and there's a lot to see and explore, especially with regards to the ships, customization, battles, and crafting. A weekend with the game isn't quite enough time for us to consider the game fully reviewed. So, we're considering Starlink to be our first review-in-progress, which means that Darren (and myself) will be adding to the review over time to talk about other interesting features (or problems) that pop up during our time with the game.
A living review gives you, the reader, the ability to start thinking about the game for you and your kids without waiting for us to finish the game first. If you have any questions about this review-in-progress, feel free to email me: (firstname.lastname@example.org