One of my favorite types of games is something I like to call “anecdote generators.” As the name implies, this kind of game excels at giving players a unique experience every time they play, something their friends playing the same game may not have experienced. Multiplayer versus games like Super Smash Bros. are probably the leading anecdote generators, but many open-world single player titles, like last fall’s Shadow of War, can fit the bill quite nicely as well. Don’t Starve, the brutal indie survival game from Klei Entertainment, is another great game that has been creating unique stories for players since 2013.
When I heard the randomly-generated chaotic frenzy of good times that is Don’t Starve would be matching up with the convenience and portability of the Nintendo Switch this year, I knew I had to see how that would turn out. After a bit of a stumble out the gate, Don’t Starve: Nintendo Switch Edition has righted the ship and will serve as a worthy addition to many a digital Switch collection. But before we get into the specifics of the port, let’s catch up on what exactly this game offers.
In Don’t Starve, players control eccentric scientist Wilson or one of many unlockable characters, each with his/her own special attributes. The goal is simple: survive as long as possible. Players must forage, craft, farm, and fight just to keep their character healthy, well-fed, and sane in a hostile world.
Each foray into the Don’t Starve world is randomly generated, so no two experiences will be exactly the same. Dangers come from a host of sources, from evil creatures to harsh weather to simply starving to death. Players will learn over time how to best take advantage of the sufficiently deep crafting system and manage their resources effectively, but new threats will continually rise to meet them.
Possibly the most important thing to know about Don’t Starve is this: while an open world with survival elements and a crafting system obviously invokes Minecraft, the two games appeal to very different audiences. The primary draw of a game like Minecraft is the desire to create, to build your own world. If you’re looking for a world to conquer and shape at your own leisure, Don’t Starve probably won’t satisfy you. However, if you’re looking to challenge yourself, if you crave the competitive nature of beating your best score, then Don’t Starve is for you.
The game is split into individual days and eventually seasons, with your final “score” depending on how many days you survived. Once you die, that’s it, that world is gone forever and you’ll start from scratch next time. Don’t Starve is about making your best run possible, string together all the right decisions, managing your time efficiently, and seeing what happens.
While this permadeath system is great for a competitive-minded player who wants to push his limits, it also limits the otherwise awesome anecdote-generating aspect of the game. Regardless of the random world generation, the first several days of each run are going to look almost identical. There’s a curve that players have to go through every time they play just to survive before they really get to the good stuff. The systemic world of Don’t Starve offers a vast wealth of interesting and exciting interactions, but because you must restart every time, you may go entire runs without experiencing anything worth remembering. And even if you do, there’s a good bit of mindless motions to go through before you get there.
On April 12, Klei released Don’t Starve: Nintendo Switch Edition to the hit console’s digital store. At that time, the game was simply not ready for play.
Numerous bugs, some harmless and some crippling, plagued the Switch port for the first two weeks of its life. Chief among these bugs was the invisibility of certain important objects, such as walls, rabbit holes, and Beefalo. They still existed and could be interacted with, but you couldn’t see them. Not seeing rabbit holes was especially brutal, since farming rabbit meat is crucial to staying alive in the early days.
Thankfully, Klei release a patch for the bugs on April 25, and I personally haven’t seen any more crop up since that time. Still, it’s obvious that this game was sent out into the world before it was ready, so there are possibly still some lingering issues not present in other versions.
Bugs aside, the Don’t Starve Switch port is an overall solid pick-up. The game fits the Switch‘s handheld mode like a glove, allowing for the adventure to continue no matter where you are. All the HUD information you need is packaged neatly onto the console’s screen. Unfortunately, the same doesn’t quite hold true for TV mode, as even the largest HUD setting is a strain on the eyes from a good sitting distance.
For this reason, after attempting TV mode for a day or so, I played the remaining 20 hours of my time with the Switch port on handheld mode. If you’re used to point-and-click Don’t Starve, the controls are strange to get used to at first, but there are a few advantages. The dedicated Y button for attacking works better than any means of attacking on PC, partially because you can swing even when nothing is around.
In addition to the vanilla game, the Switch edition comes with the Reign of Giants and Shipwrecked expansions included. Reign of Giants is a more difficult version of the regular game, while Shipwrecked places players in a completely new set of biomes and situations. These expansions can be toggled on or off before starting a new game, and you even have the choice to opt in or out of the new world mechanics introduced in Shipwrecked, whether or not you decide to actually play in that world. This freedom is a nice touch.
At its $19.99 price point, the Switch edition is $5 cheaper than getting the vanilla game and both expansions on PC. However, Switch users don’t have access to the multiplayer Don’t Starve Together expansion. This is a true shame, because the anecdotal power of Don’t Starve is at its absolute finest when shared with others. I genuinely hope Together is added to the Switch at some point in the future.
If you already own the game and its expansions on PC or another console, the only new perk you’d be getting here is the ease and portability of the Nintendo Switch. If you don’t own the game and don’t care to play online, I dare say the Switch edition is your best bet.
Verdict: Since working out the technical issues, Don’t Starve: Nintendo Switch edition is a worthy and convenient port of a solid, if brutal, survival game. Multiplayer support would be nice, so it’s up to each player whether the advantages of the Switch are worth it. At its $20 price point, there is an impressive amount of fun to be had here.
- Perfect for handheld mode
- Cheaper all told than PC version
- Wonderfully challenging survival world
- Systemic world = unique stories
- No Don't Starve Together
- Doesn't fit TV mode well
- Permadeath = repetition
- Best content lies behind a large difficulty wall