When a company like Nintendo has been on the scene for so long, with so many beloved franchises, they’re bound to have a misfire every now and then. Even the golden boys slip on occasion, with titles like Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash and Kirby Star Allies not quite hitting their mark.
Typically, however, these are anomalies in otherwise stellar catalogues. Minor injustices, when compared to their overall body of work. This much is not necessarily true of Star Fox, a significant Nintendo IP propped up by the successes of yesteryear.
We won’t dredge up past opinions too much, as we’ve already taken a retrospective on how the space opera has fared in its latest iterations. It’s a divisive stance, and Star Fox enthusiasts will often argue the merits of Adventures and Assault exhaustively. There’s no shame in being loyal, of course – if you think a game is awesome, all the power to you in the world.
But conventional wisdom would suggest that this franchise has not had a definitively great new game since Star Fox 64 in 1997. Each entry that followed was hamstrung by cumbersome gimmicks or infuriating design choices, from Dinosaur Planet’s unnecessary marriage to the Lylat system, to Assault’s tedious on-foot segments. Zero, of course, was the biggest culprit of all, as it seemingly could not get out of its own way en route to becoming perhaps the most disappointing title in Star Fox’s sordid history.
Again, these are brutal opinions, and I don’t like stating them anymore than fans like hearing them. This is all spoken with love and adoration for this franchise, one that so entranced me on the SNES, before becoming the pinnacle of arcade shooters when it arrived on the Nintendo 64.
No doubt, you’ve anticipated where we’re going with this. From the moment Ubisoft unveiled Fox McCloud’s presence in Starlink: Battle for Atlas, it felt right in absolutely every way. He was treated like gaming royalty, and hearing the long-lost classic theme from the early 90s was pure catharsis.
Now that the game has arrived on the Switch, it evokes a myriad of emotions, and for many of us, they revolve primarily around our favorite vulpine captain. To be clear, Starlink: Battle for Atlas is in no way a perfect game. Its flaws range from an underdeveloped plot to somewhat repetitive gameplay. I strongly encourage you to take a look at our review, if you need a little more context. We’ll call it mission intel, in keeping with the theme.
Despite Starlink’s issues, its integration of the Star Fox team is a masterstroke. The license has been handled with every bit of reverence we as fans have for it, and it is not a stretch to say that this additional content puts the Switch version head and shoulders above its rivals on the PS4 and Xbox One.
To claim that Starlink is the best Star Fox game since 64 would be specious. It isn’t a Star Fox game, and it isn’t trying to be. But what they have done here with Fox and company is an indication of what could be done to reignite this struggling – and dare I say, tepid – franchise.
When I first wrote of Star Fox’s setbacks and growing reliance on gimmicks, one of the most prevalent counterpoints that I received is that the opposite was also true: that Zero was trying too hard to retrace 64’s steps, and that it was this lack of ambition that held it back. Many felt that it had jettisoned the bold strides its predecessors had taken in gameplay and narrative, and desperately hit the reset button to appease the general populace.
A compelling argument, and one that I will not deny. To this end, the mind begins to stir over how Starlink has implemented the license. The seamless transitions from galactic skirmishes to planetary combat are well-suited to the Star Fox crew, and the concept could be expanded further.
The planets of Starlink feel a bit mundane after extended playthroughs, and though they are visually stunning, they lack in variety and personality. Insert familiar locales like the polluted oceans of Zoness, or the fiery star Solar, and build from there. If it’s the branching path style of gameplay that has become so monotonous, let’s experiment with the potential of this robust, thriving universe that we have grown to love over the last quarter century.
Purists may cry foul at the abandonment of traditional on-rails gameplay, but that can be easily fixed by dedicating certain planets or regions to singular missions, akin to the classic games. Imagine a local or online mode where each player mans a different member of the Star Fox team, working cooperatively in a dogfight, before taking out the supply train on Macbeth. Salivating yet? Whoever plays as Slippy will probably die, mostly from friendly fire.
This is all spitballing, but the point is that Starlink has shown that there is still a desire for a Star Fox game, and if the right elements are in place, the name value alone is a selling point. Be honest, now; if you purchased Starlink on the Switch, you probably did it for that furry-faced mercenary.
The formula can be tinkered with, so long as it isn’t lumped with the gimmicks that have hounded it so doggedly for more than a decade (and yes, the irony that I’m looking to Starlink – a game with a toys-to-life gimmick – as being exemplary isn’t lost on me). Our trigger fingers are at the ready, and we swear that we’ll use bombs wisely. It’s time for this once proud franchise to return to the skies.