Star Fox is a series that is beloved but has a shaky history with regards to regular releases. From its early days on the SNES to its last incarnation Star Fox Zero on the much-maligned (albeit unfairly) Wii U system, Fox McCloud and the gang are as beloved as Mario and Zelda as characters, making many guest appearances in other games throughout the year. So it was with some surprise that when Ubisoft, a company known for frequent collaborations with Nintendo, and one of the few third-party backers of the Wii U console, announced a new game called Starlink: Battle for Atlas, that the Nintendo Switch version would include characters from the Star Fox franchise.
The idea behind the game isn’t a new one. Physical toy components can combine to make new configurations of star-fighters in the game. An interesting idea but not a new one. Skylanders, Disney Infinity, and others have been putting physical toys into games for years, so what makes this one any different? In short, it doesn’t. It’s still a marketing design to sell toys to kids, think of it as physical DLC and you’re in the right ballpark. It’s the addition of the Star Fox plugins for the Switch version I’m most intrigued by.
No, it’s not for the model Arwing that comes with the package, although that is pretty cool, it’s what I believe is going to be the stealth delivery of a new Star Fox game on the Nintendo Switch. Think about it, Star Fox Zero sold less than 200,000 copies worldwide. Why would Nintendo want to invest in a new outing for the McCloud crew with such dismal sales returns? Zero was mauled by critics and fans alike. Accusing it of being nothing more than a port of Star Fox 64 which is fair comment. The game didn’t do well. It had a long history stuck in development and the finished product looked like a prototype, not a game we would expect from our friends at Nintendo who are renowned for polishing their games to within an inch of their life.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas looks very much like a Star Fox game in all but name. What better way would it be for Nintendo to test the waters for the Switch and whether the appetite is there for a new Star Fox game on their new system than allow a third-party studio to take the risk? Ubisoft are no fools either. By making sure that this game is available on all systems (the other consoles don’t enjoy the Star Fox ships or characters) they’re not having their hands tied by taking a financial risk on a single console. When you start putting toys into the fray as well, you’re taking a huge risk as you’re trying to sell two products at the same time. With the great job Ubisoft did with Mario and Rabbids Kingdom Battles, Nintendo’s confidence with letting the company produce more licenced character content. Kingdom Battles was a fine game. If someone said Mario would one day be starring in a tactical shooter you would think that person crazy, but wouldn’t be surprised. Mario is one of the most versatile characters in gaming. Although that fit is nuts it was made to work by Ubisoft’s time and care they took in developing the game. For a game that is oh so similar to Star Fox anyway, it seems logical that this game will carry very similar gameplay to what we have experienced in the past.
If Starlink is a bestseller will Nintendo even need to produce a new Star Fox game? I believe they will. Nintendo is pretty good at letting other companies play with its toys, but if Starlink sells well on Switch I think we can expect to see an Amiibo-heavy Star Fox game being announced down the road. They would be fools not to cash in on the hype just by Fox being included in the Starlink roster, but then Nintendo has never been one to chase money. Considering most of their franchises only have one iteration per console (although I expect we will see a Breath of the Wild 2 and another Mario game on the Switch) Nintendo has been reluctant to do a lot with Star Fox, and whilst we’re at it where’s the new Pikmin and Animal Crossing games? I believe they are coming. The Switch has a minimum five years ahead for it, perhaps more if they do a console refresh halfway through its life so these games will come, it’s just a matter of when rather than if. Star Fox is a different case. Disappointing sales and subpar games for what should be a stellar series have damaged the franchise, not beyond repair, but enough to warrant the series not being the first choice when it comes to which titles are released first.
Nintendo legend Shigeru Miyamoto is known to be quite fond of Star Fox. With his appearance at the Ubisoft E3 2018 conference when he was presented with a model Arwing from Starlink was a carefully planned PR move to link Nintendo with this franchise. If Miyamoto decides work needs to start on another Star Fox game then fans of the franchise will lose their minds. If any franchise deserves to be resurrected with a touch of Miyamoto then it’s Star Fox. Starlink is a step in the right direction. Yes, this game is for other platforms, but they took a backseat once the Star Fox gang were announced. That’s why I believe that this game will sell, and it will sell well. However, it will sell best on the Switch, and that’s for one reason only – Star Fox.