Star Fox is one of Nintendo's most notable franchises. While not achieving the same popularity as Super Mario or The Legend of Zelda, Star Fox is well known in the gaming community for its epic space battles. The original game, released on the SNES, was interesting because it utilized three-dimensional graphics - something uncommon during that time. From there, Fox would star in a number of titles. His most recent game, Star Fox Zero, released in 2016 for the Wii U. It is one of the lowest-rated Star Fox titles on Metacritic, with a score of 69. It was easy to think Fox's video game career was over, similar to how Metroid: Other M seemingly killed the Metroid series for a number of years.
Then came Starlink: Battle for Atlas. Announced at last year's E3, Ubisoft's Starlink presented itself as a space shooter with an aesthetic similar to No Man's Sky. Its initial announcement was notable because it would be breathing new life into the fading toys-to-life genre. What really put the game on the radars on many was Ubisoft announcing that it had struck a partnership with Nintendo. In the Switch version of the game, Star Fox would be implemented. You get to play as the legendary pilot himself, right in his Arwing. Joining him is the Star Fox gang - Falco, Slippy, and Peppy. This would not be some glorified cameo either; Fox would be implemented into the game's storyline, and even have exclusive missions where he has to stop Wolf. With no Star Fox game on the horizon, Starlink looked to be a quality substitute for fans. Now that Starlink is out, it can be compared to Star Fox.
The Open World
While there are many similarities between the two, a big difference is that Starlink puts an emphasis on open world design. Star Fox has remained linear for the most part, not with an emphasis on exploration. This is fine of course, but many have probably wondered what a true open world Star Fox would look like. Starlink is the closest to that idea. You can roam freely through the Atlas solar system. You can then explore each planet with nothing prohibiting you. In that sense, Starlink has expanded on the Star Fox formula by allowing players to freely explore space and different worlds from the Arwing.
Starlink's gameplay is fantastic, and Star Fox players will feel right at home. Star Fox Zero's gameplay wasn't all that bad, but those who disliked the controls there should appreciate how great Starlink plays. You have access to two physical weapons from the Starter Edition: Frost Barrage and Flamethrower. You can use the Arwing's classic laser blasts, but it is not recommended because they seem to be inferior to the weapon add-ons provided. (You also get access to one digital weapon, the Digital Shredder.) Starlink's gameplay has a high level of challenge at times, and requires quick strategic thinking on part of the player. All in all, Starlink's gameplay compares favorably to Star Fox.
What Starlink does lack is a Nintendo touch. The Star Fox games are nicely designed, with diverse boss battles and environments. Starlink's planets have nice scenery, but there are few aspects making each world different than the next. This is a missed opportunity to showcase beautifully designed lands. Also, while Starlink has great gameplay, the missions end up being repetitive. Going from each planet and driving out the Forgotten Legion almost becomes a chore because you're doing the same thing every time. Star Fox games typically don't grow stale, due to how fast-paced the missions are. Star Fox Zero has some intense sequences keeping things interesting. The original Star Fox kept players glued to the screen in anticipation of what comes next. Starlink relies more on repetitive ways to drive the story forward. The Star Wolf content is good, but lasts only about an hour.
One more thing must be mentioned that separates Star Fox from Starlink: the soundtrack. The soundtrack in Starlink is largely forgettable, with very low-key, quiet music playing on each planet. This is a shame, as it would have been a great opportunity to play different songs for different planets. Star Fox games are known for their bombastic, high energy music. Who could forget the 'Star Wolf' and 'Venom' themes? One could argue that with Starlink's open world design, loud music may not be the best option at times. A case could be made, but it's no excuse for having such a generic, uninspired soundtrack. At the very least, a remix of the 'Corneria' theme does play whenever Fox uses his Pilot Ability.
Feels Like Star Fox
In closing, Starlink compares favorably to Star Fox for the most part. Starlink features exceptional gameplay and combat. For the first time, you can freely travel the galaxy and explore planets in detail as Fox in the Arwing. However, Starlink does lack aspects that has made the Star Fox series endearing, such as consistent exciting sequences, and stellar music. Starlink won't go down as a classic like Star Fox 64. But, Star Fox fans have a lot to appreciate here. Fox doesn't seem to be getting a new installment anytime soon. Starlink is a quality holdover. It's something Nintendo should consider for the next Star Fox title. Using Starlink as the base idea, Nintendo can craft the ultimate Star Fox experience by utilizing open world design, and customizable Arwings.