I can't stop playing Starlink: Battle for Atlas

Starlink Star Fox Feature
Starlink Star Fox Feature (Image credit: Nintendo)

I am all about a good space combat game. Give me a big open world to explore, some ships to customize, some compelling enemies to fight, and I'm a pretty happy nerd. The trailer for Starlink: Battle for Atlas seemed to be selling all of these things, so I was already onboard. But after a week of playing this game on my Nintendo Switch, I seriously can't put it down. There are elements of gameplay here that are supposed to be aimed at kids, that I find myself downright angry I can't get on other titles in this genre.

For its shortcomings, of which there are several, Starlink: Battle for Atlas is straight up more fun to dive into than No Man's Sky or Elite: Dangerous. That's not something I say lightly, though an important caveat is you really must play the game on a Switch to get the full experience.

Someone snuck a whole Starfox game in here

The big draw for playing this game on a Switch versus a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One was clear from the first trailer. If you get it on Switch, one of the playable characters is Fox McCloud. Nintendo has been lending its IP to dozens of Switch titles over the last two years, so this wasn't a huge surprise, but in actually playing the game it becomes clear Ubisoft really took this opportunity and ran with it.

The space flight and combat mechanics at play here are the best I've seen on a console in years.

See, you don't just get Fox as a crew member in the larger story. In fact, you don't get Fox as a crew member at all. Fox, and his infamous team, are sort of just passing through when the folks who are supposed to be the main characters get into a bit of trouble. But as soon as you choose Fox as the character you want to play, he becomes a part of the story. Better still, there's a whole separate story inside this game where Fox and his team are hunting Wolf O'Donnell in order to bring him to justice. Complete with really nice looking cut scenes.

It's important to repeat that literally none of this Starfox stuff exists in the other versions of the game. And if you're playing on the Xbox or PlayStation, it really makes the game itself feel less as a result. Not only that, the resolution and textures seem to have been targeted at the Switch from the beginning. My Windows Central colleague Asher Madan had some visual experiences which suggest the game really isn't particularly well optimized for these other consoles.

Starlink features gorgeous lighting, but the ground textures are muddy and lacking in detail. Aside from the boost to the resolution, it doesn't seem like Ubisoft Toronto put much work into taking full advantage of the Xbox One X or PlayStation 4 Pro.

Whatever the reason, Nintendo Switch owners are getting a much better overall experience here. Especially when you consider the ability to make the Switch portable instantly and bring the whole experience with you anywhere.

The things done right are done really right

Starfox is cool, but what really keeps me playing this game are the mechanics. There's so much done really well here, it's a real shame this title is being marketed as a kids game and will be largely viewed as such. Because in reality, the space flight and combat mechanics at play here are the best I've seen on a console in years.

A lot of people are going to really love this game.

There are functional differences between fighting in space vs fighting in atmosphere, the weapon points are designed so you can install things facing forward or reverse for offensive or defensive needs, and the whole ammo system is built on combo attacks. You are rewarded for cleverly using elemental weapons in combination with gravity weapons to create little explosions that are difficult for your opponents to avoid, for example. It's a rich, complex system well worth expanding on beyond this title.

Best of all, nearly everything you can modify on your ship happens on the fly. This plays well with the whole "Toys to Life" aspect of this game, which lets you mount a toy version of your ship to the controller and place replicas of the weapons in the mount points. As you change the physical ship on your controller, the digital ship switches in real time. But even without this physical component, the ability to quickly jump to the menu and swap out tools makes a huge difference in how you play the game.

Seriously, Ubisoft, do more with this experience. A lot of people are going to really love this game, and the things you did really will here deserve to live on in other titles.

Check out the full review of Starlink: Battle for Atlas on Windows Central

Russell Holly

Russell is a Contributing Editor at iMore. He's a passionate futurist whose trusty iPad mini is never far from reach. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Reach out on Twitter!