My initial concerns about Don’t Starve: Nintendo Switch Edition was one of controlling the character and the play. Having already played the game extensively on PC, I wondered how the control aspects would move across. There are many different menus to scroll through when standing within a ramshackle base, so how would I craft items on the move? Would I be able to quickly fashion a spear from saplings and flint quickly, as a tree monster, a swarm of spiders or worse, barrel after me? I’ll come back to the answer to this, but for anyone who doesn’t know what Don’t Starve is, you will have no idea what I’m talking about.
Don’t Starve is a survival game that opens in a similar way to other survival games; you’re dumped in a randomly generated world and told to live out your days. In this instance, you seem to have been placed there by a mysterious, but incredibly dapper, gentleman. First things first, explore and pick up everything you can possibly see. As you wander the landscape and collect rocks, berries and mushrooms, lovely little sounds play out to inform you that you can now craft something. Of course, you’ll want an axe and a pickaxe, later on you’ll probably need a butterfly net and a hammer, but that’s only if you survive long enough.
Because it’s highly likely you’ll die quickly and a lot. You’ll want to chop down trees to source wood for a fire, but at any minute one of the lofty fixtures of nature could come to life and destroy you. You might be killed by bees if you disturb them or perhaps you’ll eat the wrong mushrooms which will slowly drive your character insane. This is a nice feature of the game, because it removes just hunger and health. These are obvious to survival; eat food, fill your belly and be healthy. However, should you start to lose your marbles and shadowy creatures appear on the screen, eventually becoming reality and chomping you into a void of madness induced death.
So, let’s get back to those controls, because with a game this tough, you don’t want to be further hampered by bad menuing. Don’t Starve: Nintendo Switch Edition does a good job of placing the menu movement on the right stick, allowing you to scroll through items quickly and then press certain buttons on the D-Pad in order to either eat, drop, store, burn or plant, depending on the item and the context. It takes a while to get used to and frustratingly there will be times when you’ll eat something before cooking it or burn flowers when really you wanted to weave them into a crown.
More frustrating for newer players will be the lack of handholding. The developer really wants you to experiment, which is fine for some, but others might just want to know that the aforementioned flower crown lowers stress or that planting trees after chopping them down decreases the chance of that tree beast appearing. And there is a lot to learn because this is the ultimate version of the game which has been out on other platforms for some time. The Switch version includes the Reign of Giants and the Shipwrecked expansions. Both of these offer new ways to play, the former bringing in more wonderfully angry monsters and the latter casting you away as Tom Hanks on a desert island.
So, Don’t Starve can feel overwhelming at first, however, when you hit your stride and start truly surviving, the game rewards you with new characters through experience and the general sense of joy from lasting another night. I should mention, the monsters come out at night – don’t get caught in the dark, this should be rule number one.
The visual style works brilliantly on the Switch in both handheld and docked. The bold outlines are eye-catching and the muted colour palette lends the game a sense of mystery. Having the full experience of Don’t Starve on the move is wonderful and the day/night cycle is just the right length to hop on and play during a break in your real life. As survival games go, this is one of the best you will find for the Switch.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Klei Entertainment