One would think that after 5 years, Don’t Starve would have already been surpassed by the arising of survival games in recent times. But that couldn’t be farther from reality, especially for those who, like me, barely got to scratch the surface back then. I had completely forgotten about the Spelunk update, which adds new randomly generated area for you to explore. Only that this time these are placed below the ground, where darkness and giant spiders won’t hesitate to take you in immediately.
Also, this isn’t the regular version of Don’t Starve. All Switch owners would tell you that pretty much all games are a “great fit” for the console, but Klei’s take on the survival genre is one of the most perfect examples. Along with the already dense vanilla content, the Nintendo Switch Edition includes both DLCs: Reign of Giants and Shipwrecked. The first is a big overlap of content on the base game, featuring new dangerous creatures, like giant trees that come to life or the never ending threat of moles (hey, they steal items!). As for Shipwrecked, players will find almost an overhaul to the formula, adding the possibility of sailing through the sea after getting stranded in a lonely island.
And that’s just for getting started. Both DLCs add a bunch of items to craft, from a cool pirate hat to alchemy materials for an even more complex list of objects, weapons and armor to create. For those who aren’t familiar with the game, it’s really hard to overstate just how much content Don’t Starve offers, without ever making you feel overwhelmed. The premise is simple: try to find as much food as you can and gather enough materials to at least build a torch before the night comes. Otherwise, darkness will take your life in a matter of seconds. You get indicators for your health and sanity, too, so you better stay out of trouble until you get proper equipment and a crown made of flowers to keep the shadows and inner voices away.
From there, it’s pretty much up to you. Maps are big, often divided in different zones like swamps, deserts and forests, each with their own ecosystems. There’s no doubt that you will be thinking on a way out of that world, but at least at the beginning, there are other tasks to attend to first. You can build your own settlement from scratch, using different machines that open up new crafting possibilities (after creating an object once, you’ll be able to craft it whether or not you’re near the machine) for your survival. Weapons, farms, different types of floors and walls, you name it.
But Don’t Starve’s charm comes from the unique style and mystery around it. Always seemed as a clash between Tim Burton and American McGee minds to me, while it also introduced what I like to call the “Klei style”, easily recognizable and unique even after all these years. While Shank’s comic aesthetic is present in Mark of the Ninja, the studio’s latest game Oxygen Not Included (currently in Early Access) resonates with Don’t Starve.
All playable characters can talk, yes, but not in the way you would expect, as they often sound like different old vocal instruments had replaced their vocal chords. From the smallest tree to the biggest monster, everything in Don’t Starve has its own distinct style, sound and design to it. On top of that, it carries one of the most strange atmospheres I have seen in a game before, especially in the survival genre. Loneliness is an ever present feeling, and while it might get newcomers frustrated with so little information about all its systems and possibilities, it’s really worth exploring by ourselves without recurring to a guide. It’s part of the game’s experience, as well.
Confidence ends up being your own worst enemy, as finding the right spot to build a settlement before the Winter comes is harder that it seems. I can’t recall how many times I found fooling myself, thinking that I had the best place to camp for being near a forest for an almost never ending wood supply. Turns out I also needed stones, specially the ones that carry gold inside to build my first machines, expanding my crafting portfolio. And, don’t forget about the premise, as food is not only scarce but durable for only a limited amount of time.
On top of all this, Switch’s portability does wonders, and if this is your first time picking up the game there’s no denying that it’s the best version to have. My only complain was due to a bug that prevents some objects to appear, like Beefalos, rabbit holes or walls, which happens in the vanilla version. At the moment, the studio submitted the patch and are awaiting for approval from Nintendo to release it worldwide.
I won’t deny that Don’t Starve is hard, but in a time in which Survival games rarely punish or give players a sense of feedback when they perish, Klei’s take on the genre stands out since its origins. It presents an unique feeling at all times, diverse characters to unlock and choose from, and two game changing expansions with their own rules and surprises. It’s hard to get into much detail without spoiling what the game has to offer, but it’s in the sense of discovery that Don’t Starve exceeds among the rest, and makes it an addictive and rewarding experience.
A review copy of the game for Switch was provided by Klei for review purposes. Don’t Starve: Nintendo Switch Edition was developed and published by Klei; make sure to visit the official site for more information, and keep up to date to their latest news by following the studio on Twitter.