Starlink: Battle For Atlas

I’ve talked at considerable length before about how I was a Starfox kid, so I’ll be totally honest here- I bought an Arwing figure, and I got a free game with it. I’m certain I’m far from the only one, and that’s kind of a shame; news that it bombed quite spectacularly was sadly unsurprising, and I have a lot of thoughts about why.

Most obvious issue is that few people have the storage space or disposable income to support a fleet of ships plus their arsenal of weapons. I think the weapons in particular were a bridge too far; the ships alone look pretty cool and make for nice display pieces, but with the weapons attached they look a bit silly- meaning those’re destined to live in a drawer forever once the game is done with, or just not bought at all.

But lets address the Landmaster in the room- the inclusion of the Starfox team in what was a multiplatform game.

Their inclusion is- seamless, almost. There are segments of the storyline cutscenes where Fox and co are noticeably absent, although even this is handled very well, with them walking off screen for actual reasons before what I assume is the original cutscene continues. In-game though, Fox and friends banter with the other characters perfectly, interjecting in ways that don’t at all feel “ALSO STARFOX IS HERE!”- it feels organic and like it could have been a Starfox game.

And that is what I think the real kicker is- it’s not a Starfox game, even though it could have been. People on other platforms are very clearly missing out on a lot of content so why would they bother?

Flip the balance a little, have the other characters star in the game as secondary to Starfox, make it an expanded Starfox Universe, and keep it Switch-exclusive, and I think they would have had a winner.

Maybe it’s useless to theorycraft this sort of thing, but just being a game by itself doesn’t feel like enough. If it wasn’t going to wholeheartedly be a new Starfox, it needed a different hook. A cartoon series, just like the 80s and 90s, could have been the deciding factor. I know kid!Beebs would have absolutely gone nuts over a game like this- a toy spaceship that lights up and you can put your actual ship into the game and play with it there too? That’s the coolest shit. Even as an adult I really like this sort of thing, though it comes with the sad ability to recognise why few developers ever take such risks.

To speak briefly on the build quality of the Arwing itself- really flippin’ good. Solid chunk of plastic, paint and decals are perfect, and you can even switch it from regular to All-Range mode. Very impressive, worth the cost of entry alone. You can arrange the wings and weapons in any manner you like, forwards or backwards, inverted left to right, and even stack both wings on top of each other, and the game recognises your configuration and will play accordingly. Magic!

Fin or Bin:

I’ve talked a lot about the game without talking about the game. It reminds me a lot of a Bethesda RPG, but in space. Object markers over a free-roam map, a quest indicator you’re going to completely ignore because there’s a million other things to do, even some statsy min-maxing to do. I’m having fun with it, and pretty much treating it as a Starfox And Friends title. Would’ve loved to watch the cartoon series based on Atlas if it existed, but I’ll settle for Finishing the game.

Star Fox 2

The story behind this game is well-documented, and worth reading about if it sounds interesting- for the purposes of this entry, here’s an abridged version.

The first Star Fox game (or Starwing as I knew it) was originally designed to show off the SNES’ new Super FX chip, an add-on that could be put into a cartridge which allowed the SNES to display fully 3D environments. As I understand it, Star Fox wasn’t really supposed to become as popular as it did, which meant a sequel took some time to come.

Star Fox 2 was in development and slated to be released right around the time that Nintendo were showing off their exciting new 64-bit system, complete with fully-rendered 3D landscapes and environments. Unfortunately for Star Fox 2, the N64 made it look a bit… dated. Despite being basically finished and production-ready, Nintendo decided to shelve the project entirely, not wanting to embarrass themselves with such an inferior-looking game just as their competitors were stepping into the next generation.

Instead, the next Starfox game to be released was Star Fox 64 (or Lylat Wars, as I knew it), and the SNES version of Star Fox 2 was thrown into the archives.

A playable version of it has been floating around the internet for many many years now, having somehow leaked to the emulator scene, but it was only officially recognised by Nintendo 20 years later, being packaged up as one of the games on the SNES Mini, which is how I came about it.

Twenty years.

Now, I have to mention, since this is my blog and I get to make these things personal. As a kid, I was INTO Starfox. Big time. I played Lylat Wars to death. Every day after school, I’d do a run through of it (a full game takes maybe an hour? It’s very replayable). I collected all of the medals, and then I did it again on Expert mode, which for a 9-10-11 year old is a pretty huge feat. At lunchtime, me and my best friend would pretend to be Starfox. I was Fox, and he was Falco, and we’d make up space adventures together. It had a big influence on some of my fondest memories, and doubtlessly an influence on my creative endeavours and interests ever since.

It’s fair to say that, if Nintendo had made a different decision regarding Star Fox 2‘s fate, my life would be very different. Maybe it’s weird to say that about a video game? Regardless, it’s true.

To see this title screen for the first time, in an officially-recognised way- to see this relic of history, this alternate course of events that was never realised… I got pretty emotional.

Fin or Bin:

They certainly took Starfox in a cinematic direction, but it kinda feels like they forgot to put a game in there. The missions are over before you know it, and enemies seem to fall super easily. There also aren’t really any bosses to speak of, while the first title had a unique boss encounter at the end of every level. I wonder just how finished this game really was. Plus, the Super FX chip wasn’t really up to the task of these free-roam stages… it’s kind of a hard sell, looking at it from 2019. But, that’s not at all the point of this one. Getting to play this title is incredibly important in a historical sense- and Finishing it is something we were never meant to be able to do.