Don’t Starve is a game I personally wrote about in a news article quite some time ago. Before that, I have never heard about this title even though it was released in 2013. Not so much of a PC gamer myself, this game somehow had slipped under my radar. This was regrettable because I fancy survival (not survival horror, though!) and adventure games. Considering myself a “digital survival expert”, I took over this game from Klei Entertainment with one goal written on my flag: “I am gonna rock this!”
Well, why do you think my review is up about one month later than the release date? Do I have to spell it out for you? Don’t Starve is a hungry beast that I had underestimated completely. Did it gobble me up or did I crawl my way up to the top of the food chain? Find out in my review for the Nintendo Switch Edition of Don’t Starve!
The survival adventure starts with the protagonist, Wilson. He is a so called “gentlemen scientist” and obviously struggling to get anything done. Help seems to be on the way as the radio he normally assumingly listens to starts to talk. Offering our naive scientist assistance and knowledge, he only has success in mind while agreeing.
Kinda like me with the game in general, Wilson had underestimated the voice of the unknown individual out of the radio and built, I suppose, a time machine. While activating it, we all know that something terrible had happened as Wilson awakes a few moments later on a patch of grass far away outside his house.
And that is it. Don’t Starve relinquishes the option of explaining anything to you. You are slapped into unknown terrain and have to make your way forward with whichever character you are currently playing. In rare exceptions, a lack of story is crucial in my opinion (you probably got my love for story-driven games from past reviews as well). The objective is clear, though: don’t starve to death and survive. No more story or explanation needed, right? Klei Entertainment did an excellent job to transfer the impression of being thrown off into the wild. And this trip does not come with a map and a 30-day subscription of food and supplies.
Honestly, this title kept me busy so often and on the tip of my toes that I wasn’t able to listen to the music too intensely. But, Don’t Starve has a funny way to let Wilson “speak”. Forgoing a made-up language (I rarely am fond of something like that), an instrument was played when he said something. I think an oboe or something resembling that instrument…?
The soundtrack for the game has a nice ring to it perfect for the game’s atmosphere as well as the crisp sound effects.
In Shipwrecked, I got an issue where the music decided to just stop at some points. Since I have seen it mentioned in the Klei Entertainment forums, I determined this to be a flaw. Also, I heard beefalos when none were near my character. Strange, but not game breaking.
Visuals & Performance
I will cut out the millionth Tim Burton reference (or other names as such as Edward Gorey or Danny Elfman) in my review, but I have to admit that I LOVE the visuals in Don’t Starve. This creepy but also adorable kind of world has its personal charm that embraced me since I first saw any screen shots. From a goofy looking bird to a shark whose design lets you wonder if you want to adopt it based on its appearance or get the hell away from it. Since I have taken a lot of time to review this game, I had more than just enough of simply admiring the graphics.
Don’t Starve runs alright on the Switch, but in modern times, we kind of got spoiled by the many titles flooding the market. So I was startled by the long loading times. This can be explained easily since this survival experience generates maps randomly every single time you had faced one of the rich diversities of death. Believe me, you will encounter that loading screen more often that you actually would like to. Frustrated as I was, I tried to test something challenging as burning down a forest. The result: my game lagged as hell.
When in the middle of survival, you cross paths with many animals. But sadly, in Don’t Starve, you also will encounter something that makes you more frustrated than a big monster: bugs. From disappearing bunny holes to hounds spawning in the ocean (you brought swim suits, guys?) over to buffalos disappearing and just leaving behind a shadow, you will have many to encounter. Klei Entertainment has shown incredible effort and support regarding this matter, and I can just imagine how hard it is to erase all bugs out of such a complex game with so many layers of depth. If you find another bug, you can report it on the official Klei Entertainment forum as well. Two patches have been made, which led me to own Don’t Starve version 1.0.2 by the point this review was written.
Pushing all the issues aside, I have mercy with this game since, like stated before, the maps have an individually generated layout each time.
Tackling the gameplay of Don’t Starve is a beast itself, so I will try to keep this section short. No promise though, guys, since you get so many opportunities to help you survive in this title.
Basic Survival 101
Let’s break down the functions you will encounter on the screen. You got a Tool creation bar on the left. It is pretty self explainatory. In there, you will find every tool you can craft to make your life easier – or what you actually need of resources to survive. Over time and progression, you will unlock more items to create. If you are lucky to survive that long, that is…
At the very bottom of the screen, you have got an equipment bar. Depending on the capacity of your backpack (Hello, Harvest Moon…!), you have a variety of space you can fill with things you find in the wild. The last three greyish slots indicate your character’s equipment. From left to right: right hand (sorry, lefties!), torso and head. Directly beside this long bar you can see an icon for the map, pause function and camera. A very important one for you to take care of is the icon pack on the upper right screen. There you can see four circles, one larger one and three that are smaller. Let me introduce the three below the bigger icon first. On the left, you can see your Hunger Indicator. This shows how much hunger your character faces. If the indicator drops to zero, you lose health points over time. Right next to it in the middle is the Sanity Indicator. If this drops below the pre-determined level, the protagonist Wilson (or later others of your choice) will slowly go mad. You will hear whispers and also see illusions. The last smaller ring simply shows your fitness or health. Let this drop to zero, and it means “bye bye”. Get ready to start another round of the survival loop if this happens! Don’t worry, though. This happens to not drop over time like Sanity or Hunger. Although, no selfcare regarding those two topics means no fitness/health, either. So keep an close eye on this!
Last but not least, we have the big round thingy: the clock. You will see three divided parts on it: daytime (yellow field), dusk (the red-coloured part) and then nighttime (blue triangle). Could you spot the number next to it? This is to show how many days you had survived. Congratulations, even if it just shows a “2”! You are getting there! … Probably.
Tough Love Scenario – Take 42!
Daily life is not so easy in this game. I cannot stress this enough to be honest. When you get dropped in this mysterious world, you got a kick in the stomach being told you do not look so good. Now you get up and… what exactly? Get ready to die again. A lot. More than you want and more than necessary to keep your sanity.
First, you explore the area. Gather materials and food. Maybe you are also able to craft something. But most importantly: don’t think you can leave Wilson or whoever you are playing in the dark. You are not afraid of the dark? Heh. Be our guest to find out yourself because Don’t Starve is a punishingly hard game right at the beginning. The randomised map after every death lessens the repetitiveness of the nature you will encounter, but not in staring over and over to do the same thing: getting materials and food, exploring the country and running like a chicken if a big monster is chasing you. Oh, did I mention that you naturally lose all of your gatherings as you die? No? Why do you think the heading to this section, “Tough Love Scenario”, was titled that?!
As you are being accosted by throngs of encroaching enemies, you will sometimes encounter the flimsiness of the controls employed by this game. This sadly ruins some of the game experience if you die “just because” you could not figure out the controls in time. Especially if you are new to surviving.
Five years worth of content included
The Nintendo Switch port is certainly not packed with a lot of mercy for players, but it does come with a lot of DLC. Shipwrecked, as well as Reign of Giants and two single-player expansions are included. Don’t Starve Together is missing, though. While Shipwrecked adds new game mechanics and the adventure starting on an alleged deserted island, Reign of Giants ramps up the difficulty a notch to make livestock in your inventory required food to stay alive as well as food left on crockpots being able to spoil and much more.
Long story short, does the port of Don’t Starve really pay off? If you had already played that game, I would not see any point in double dipping. But, if you are new to the game like me, I cannot recommend it from the bottom of my heart. For me, as a retro game lover, I love a good challenge and something that channels my inner beast named ambition. Do you love survival games and a ridiculously hard challenge where you are forced to start over and over again? Go for it. You got a whole game with two DLCs here for $19.99 USD or £17.99 GBP!
* A review copy of this game was kindly provided by Klei Entertainment.
High replay value
Ton of content
Bugs, bugs, bugs
Music does not stand out enough