Tuesday, April 17

Review: Don't Starve [Nintendo Switch eShop]


The survival genre is one that continues to gain more steam and popularity but still very much remains an acquired taste. Since you can usually assume that it will include the concept of permadeath progress is always a bit of a balancing act. You’ll need to venture out and take a few risks in order to stay ahead on resources and keep yourself from starving, but at the same time if you push too far too fast you’ll almost certainly end up dead and starting over again from the beginning. Don’t Starve brings its own spin on this formula to the Switch and is perhaps one of the most developed examples of the genre, since though it is lacking its great co-op expansion it does include 2 that add more content and challenge to its core mix.


Starting out the game with only the game’s main character Wilson as an option you’ll find yourself dropped into the wilderness with pretty well nothing and not a whole lot of direction. Since the map is randomized every game exploration is a huge part of the experience and experimentation follows close behind. Contextual menus will show you your options as you approach items you can pick up or interact with, and a crafting menu on the left of the screen will help you see what you can make with the materials you have on-hand, a convenient bell ringing every time you have enough to make something new. Though plants do regenerate over time you’ll find that if you don’t keep moving to new spaces your resources in the immediate area will run out quickly, especially in the early game, so you’ll typically want to be mobile for a while until you’ve found a good working area… typically one that’s a bit central to multiple zones and has access to food sources.

What you’ll very quickly develop an appreciation for in the game is that there are just so many ways to die. Whether at the hands of things that go bump in the dark if you’re foolish enough to be unable to keep a fire going at night, a huge monster you accidentally run into, or even just something as humble as a spider (they attack in groups and can be nasty in the early game) death is a constant threat. Mistakes will be made, but the key is that with each death you learn more about the ins and outs of survival in this harsh world. Just as with all survival games trial and error is typically the best teacher, though if you’re impatient having to start over again constantly can be an aggravation. Of course if you find that you’re struggling a bit too much the good news is that there’s an abundance of information on the game and strategies that will help you get further, so don’t despair there’s help available if you need it.


In order to make things more interesting as you play you’ll accumulate experience by accomplishing certain tasks and surviving longer and longer, and this will unlock new characters. In true roguelike fashion the benefits they may bring to the table will tend to carry an appropriate disadvantage as well but this is one way the game will help you tune the experience more to your liking. Another vital thing to take advantage of is the ability to fine tune your game world, raising or lowering the availability of just about anything in the game more to your liking. There’s also a default variant that will start you out with a ton of supplies and tools, allowing you to skip ahead a bit, but also making the world a little more lethal to begin with. Throw in the two DLC packs and you have even more variety to throw into the mix. It’s this tuning and customization that really sets Don’t Starve apart from many of its competitors and helps to give it the potential to be more accessible to a wider audience new to the genre.

As a complete package Don’t Starve is an excellent survival title whose Tim Burton-esque art style and morbid sense of humor give it an easy appeal. An extensive crafting menu, a menagerie of weird and wild creatures (most of which will kill you), and the risk of death around every corner help reinforce that appeal if you’re into survival games. What really sets it apart, though, is the degree to which you can customize the world and tune scarcity and challenge either up or down to suit your tastes and skill level. This helps to make what can often be an unforgiving and walled off niche title into something that can be toned down and more easily enjoyed by less hardcore audiences. Whether you’re a survival veteran or have always been curious but afraid to try it out, Don’t Starve has a ton of content and surprises to offer on the Switch.


Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • A terrific art style and an extensive crafting system
  • Unlockable characters help provide a variety of options for play
  • Custom world tuning offers the opportunity to scale up or down the challenge, helping to maximize accessibility

Cons:
  • Permadeath is a bummer when you’re a few hours into a give run
  • Disappointing that this is only the single-player version, not to the co-op enabled Just Starve Together
  • So many ways to die…