Starlink: Battle for Atlas
This past E3, Ubisoft’s press conference was full of projects they had already announced beforehand, coming into the show with very little in the way of surprises. As the trailer for their toys-to-life space game Starlink rolled, an update from the game’s fairly featureless announcement the previous year, Ubisoft proved that they did have one more surprise up their sleeves. The beeps and boops coming over the ship’s communicator were instantly recognizable to any classic Star Fox fan, as Nintendo’s vulpine star warrior and his crew joined Starlink in a fairly extensive collaboration.
Since that announcement, Ubisoft has been coy about the game, not divulging too much about the Star Fox integration, or really much about the game itself. Was Star Fox merely a guest that leaned toward a cosmetic and superficial appearance or would he be integrated into the storyline itself? Ubisoft gave me time to sit down with the first chapter of Starlink on the Switch and also talk to the game’s producer Matt Rose about how this collaboration came to be.
The Switch version of the game starts identically to the other versions. A CG cutscene introduces the cast of characters, a Saturday morning cartoon crew of different ages and personalities manning a spaceship and its small cadre of starfighters. The story begins with the father-figure doctor waiting on a delivery from one of their own, a smuggler named Shaid, when she begins taking fire from an unknown enemy. The Starlink crew mans their fighters to help engage, which is where the similarities to the other versions end.
When playing on the Switch, another CG scene intercedes the beginning of the engagement. The Star Fox team, pursuing his rival and criminal Star Wolf, comes across the scene and puts the idea of helping the besieged Starlink crew to a team discussion. After listening for one or two seconds, Fox rushes in anyway, and players take control of the hero of the Lylat system to fight off the enemy invasion.
While this would have been interesting integration on its own, and certainly far more effort than I would have expected for single-console bonus content, it doesn’t end there. Fox and the Starlink crew are hurled to a foreign planet together, where the two teams work as one to repair their ships and blast off, complete with frequent voice acting and banter between the groups. As Fox blasts back into space in a scene that should set everyone who ever dreamed of breaking through the atmosphere’s hearts aflutter, he realizes that Star Wolf might have something to do with what is happening with the Starlink crew, and volunteers to join in while he pursues his own quest in another CG cutscene.
When I asked if this is the level of integration I should expect for Star Fox within Starlink, I was told it was only the beginning. Not only is Fox a big part of the Starlink storyline, he has his own missions and his own storyline to get through, as well, with some other familiar faces appearing along the way. If the developers are not overstating his role, then Starlink has the makings of being more of a crossover than a host for a cosmetic guest.
You can watch a video below of the game’s introduction and first mission in the commentary-free video below.
When I sat down with Matt Rose about how all this occurred, he was more than happy to tell the story.
“It started at E3 2017, where we announced the game and we had a closed-door demo of the game that we were doing and showing people. A small group of people came by from Nintendo of America and asked if they could see the game and of course we were happy to show it to them. The game was coming out on Nintendo Switch and we hadn’t really demoed for Nintendo people yet. So they came by to take a look and there was very much a poker face as we showed them the game. Then at the end of the demo one of them went, oh do you mind if we bring back a couple more people? And we said yeah, totally, that sounds cool.
“Then they came back and they stared introducing people and were saying, this is the director of Mario Odyssey, here’s the director of Mario Kart 8, here’s ARMs, the creator of Animal Crossing…so we did another demo for the new audience, it did well, and after that they said oh do you mind we come back with a couple more people? So we started going up these ranks and meeting all of these legends and we did four or five demos for them at that E3 and ultimately at the end [Nintendo of America president] Reggie came with another group from NOA and we showed them the game. It went really well and so we thought, okay, something’s gotta be up here, this has been pretty amazing having this kind of interest from Nintendo.
“After that, we started talking with them back and forth and we got an invitation to go out to Kyoto and discuss a potential collaboration, which was kind of a dream come true. Myself and a couple of people from the team got to make that trip to do the pitch to Mr. Miyamoto and, when we arrived, he had brought a few more people than expected. He started introducing everyone else and it turned out to be the entire Japanese side of the Star Fox 1 [SNES] development team still at Nintendo. So we presented the game to them and we presented our ideas for a collaboration. It went really, really well, they loved it, and the rest is history. We started working on that and it was unbelievable to get to reveal that to the world at this past E3.”
I also asked Rose if meeting Shigeru Miyamoto, one of the most well-known and respected game designers in the history of the industry, was at all intimidating.
“It was extremely intimidating,” Rose said without missing a beat. “He’s such a very, very sharp guy. Incredibly smart, very to the point. When we showed him the game, our creative director was asked a gauntlet of really specific game design questions. He was asking about things like how we were maintaining the sense of speed when blasting off with FOV changes and I guess we answered them well enough to get through. So, yeah, intimidating, but really amazing.”
While the toy ships and pilots are all cross-compatible across every version of the game, Star Fox and his Arwing are the exception. Trying to use them on the Xbox One version only produced an error saying that it wouldn’t work with the game. While I asked if there would be extra content on the Xbox One and PS4 versions to make up for the content the Switch version was getting, Ubisoft demurred and insisted that those versions are complete games, the Switch version just has extra content for Star Fox fans.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Switch on October 16.