Don’t Starve is an addictive open world survival game with roguelike elements first released for Mac, Windows, and Linux in 2013. Since then, this indie gem has seen a variety of new versions and DLC, and the Nintendo Switch version includes all these updates aside from Don’t Starve Together, a multiplayer expansion for Steam released in 2014. Don’t Starve combines gathering, crafting, and fighting mechanics to create a challenging quest for survival in which nearly everything can kill you. How long can you survive in the harsh, dreary wilderness? Play Don’t Starve to find out!
Before reading further, you should know that Don’t Starve features no tutorial whatsoever, and you’re supposed to figure everything out on your own through trial and error. We tried this approach and failed miserably, but in-depth guides have been quite helpful. For this reason, we’re going to offer some tips, tricks, and insight in our review. (Also if you haven’t caught on by now, we had never played Don’t Starve before starting this review, so we’re writing from a now-addicted newcomer’s perspective.) So if you don’t want any spoilers and you want to figure this game out on your own, you may want to stop reading. But if you’re fine with a few basic mechanics being “spoiled” (read: “explained”), you’re in the right place.
The game’s opening cutscene shows Wilson, the default character of Don’t Starve, struggling to pull off scientific experiments in his rickety home. Suddenly, his radio offers secret knowledge that will enhance his scientific prowess. Wilson accepts, and the radio guides him through building a massive and mysterious machine. The radio tells him to pull the machine’s lever, and though Wilson is hesitant, the radio insists. After pulling the lever, Wilson is whisked into a vast and procedurally-generated wilderness, where he must do whatever it takes to survive as long as possible.
Your goal is to survive as long as possible, but a whole slew of factors will make this difficult, including enemies, weather events, and nightfall. You must also manage your hunger, health, and sanity, whose meters are displayed in the upper-right corner of your screen. Here’s a quick breakdown of each component:
Hunger shows how full your belly is. You’ll grow hungry with the passing of time, and you’ll need to eat food to fill yourself up. But beware: some foods, like monster meat and certain mushrooms, fill you up while damaging your health and/or sanity, and the same goes for food that’s gone bad. (Food does spoil, so only gather what you need at any given time.) If you start to starve, your health will fall, and you will eventually die.
Health is restored by eating cooked foods, like carrots and seeds, and raw ones, like flower petals—and if you gather the right materials and build the right machinery, you can even craft a nifty healing salve! If your health drops to zero, you will die. A long list of perils can affect your health, including enemy attacks, freezing temperatures, and rotten food, so be careful and try to keep a healthy stack of flowers on-hand for emergencies. Also: always carry the materials needed for a fire source in case you’re caught in the cold!
Sanity can drop in many ways, including digging up graves, walking without a light at dusk, and jumping through wormholes. To replenish sanity, you can pick flowers, befriend Pigs, and wear fancy clothes, among other things. When your sanity drops below a certain threshold, you’ll experience the effects of insanity, which worsen as you grow more insane. Your vision will blur, you’ll see things that aren’t there, and eventually, your hallucinations will attack you and cause real pyhsical pain!
Now that you know the basics, you might want to know a good strategy to survive the first week. If you’re not interested in what we have to say here, skip to the next paragraph! There are many ways to survive in this game, but here’s what we recommend for the first week. When you start a new file, gather basic materials first: grass, saplings, flint, and food. With saplings and flint, you can craft basic tools, like a pickaxe and axe. Axes are more important, since they let you cut trees and obtain logs, but pickaxes allow for mining boulders, which helps gather much-needed flint, rocks, and even gold. You should gather these basic items for the first few days, then search for an optimal location for a base. We’ve found that a good base location should be near a road (which lets you walk more quickly when you follow it), close to Pigs and/or Beefalo (which offer manure and can help fight enemies), and in close proximity to a trappable food source, like rabbits and frogs. With enough time and resources, you can craft a self-sustaining base that helps you survive the winter.
Some players will want to spend time exploring the land, which expands the scope of the in-game map. But be careful with exploration: you don’t want to sink too much time into this when there are more important things to worry about, like preparing for the coming winter! You also don’t want to become lost and lose track of your base. However, exploration can also prove very useful, since your map shows locations for bushes, boulders, trees, roads, and other important features. Your map can be rotated in either direction, as can your top-down view of your world, and if you rotate your map, you’ll also rotate your view, and vice versa. (Here’s a little tip: when you want to go somewhere on our map, rotate the map so that the planned destination points “north,” so you can just walk “north” in a straight line to get there.)
There’s so much more to the basic gameplay that we could write a full-length book about it, but we think we’ll stop our discussion here to avoid spoilers and keep our review concise. Just know that the vastness of this game’s content is staggering, and we’re betting that replayability is almost infinite.
Now we’ll turn to other matters, like customization. First, you can customize almost everything about your experience by changing your World settings when starting a new file. Nearly every element can be manipulated, and you can save your own custom presets. Are you sick of deadly Hound attacks? Take them out! Want to easily find Beefalo? Set their frequency to “Lots”! Struggling to survive the night? Make your days extra long, which shortens nights to almost nothing! Of course, the same idea goes for players who want to increase the game’s difficulty, so even pros can create an insane challenge for themselves. In other words, Don’t Starve is completely adaptable for virtually any player, which is seriously awesome. (If creating a custom preset bores or overwhelms you, there are also three built-in presets to try!)
If editing the content of your entire World isn’t customization enough, you can also choose to play from 9 unique characters, with Wilson being the only unlocked character at the start. (Honestly, there may be even more characters to unlock, but we’re not totally sure, since we’ve only played the vanilla mode without DLC enabled.)
Each character comes with a special perk, and some perks are better than others. On top of this, most characters carry a potentially fatal flaw, which keeps things interesting and fun. Wilson is the only character without any downfalls, and his unique perk is super-helpful: he gradually grows a “magnificent beard,” which provides warmth through winter and can be shaved to harvest beard hair, a valuable and rare item.
As you play Don’t Starve, you’ll gain experience (provided you survive at least one night in each file), and you’ll gradually unlock the other characters. You can have up to five save files, so there’s plenty of room to explore each character and discover what you like best!
Now we’ll talk about the game’s incredible graphics and sound. The graphics are inspired by the spooky and surreal films of Tim Burton, and we’re also reminded of vintage horror illustrations, like those found in The Gashlycrumb Tinies. We’ve not found another game with graphics like these, and they’re a perfect fit for Don’t Starve’s gloomy atmosphere. On top of this, the sound design makes you feel like you’re really out in the wilderness; the bird sounds in particular are highly realistic, and we often questioned whether we were hearing real birds chirping outdoors (or even in our home!). Music doesn’t always play, but when it does, it’s fantastic. We think it would fit perfectly in a Tim Burton film, and it complements the steampunk-like, creepy, and whimsical nature of Don’t Starve. On top of this, your character’s “voice” is played by a musical instrument, which enhances the game’s overall soundscape.
Of course, every game has its drawbacks, and we have a few to mention here. First, there’s the matter of permanent death, which can be quite frustrating. When you die in Don’t Starve, it’s over, and you’ll have to begin again. However, there are rare items that allow for resurrection, so you can hope for the fortune of finding and/or crafting one of these for a little help. While the permadeath factor makes for a daunting challenge, you must remember that your world is completely customizable, so you can always make things easier for yourself and reduce your risk of death. (But also remember that making things too easy can result in a total snoozefest!)
Then, there’s the issue of bugs and glitches in the Switch version. When we first started playtesting, some enemies, land features, and crafted items were invisible sometimes or all the time, which was frustrating. But the developers recently released a patch for this, and so far, we’ve had no further issues. Of course, there may be other bugs of which we’re not aware, but we haven’t found anything game-breaking since the patch. Finally, there’s the issue of small text, which can make things difficult for players with even slight vision problems. Playing in handheld, having a giant TV, or playing close to your TV may alleviate this issue, and we hope that a future patch may enlarge the text and make Don’t Starve easier on your eyes.
All things considered, though, Don’t Starve is a near-perfect game, and for just $19.99, it’s an absolute Nintendeal! It’s perfect for on-the-go, making Don’t Starve a great fit for Switch. If you love crafting, exploring, and trying to survive, we think you’ll love this game. (We do, and we’re totally addicted!) While Don’t Starve presents a serious challenge, don’t forget that you can customize your world to make things easier on yourself, and although the game is big on trial and error, there are plenty of free online guides out there to help if you’re tired of getting nowhere on your own. Be prepared to spend a lot of time learning the ropes, and know that you’ll feel massively rewarded when you survive for long stretches at a time. If you like what you’ve seen here, we definitely recommend giving Don’t Starve a shot today!
Platform – Nintendo Switch eShop Download
Publisher – Klei Entertainment Inc.
Developer – Klei Entertainment
Price – $19.99
Genre – Adventure
Size – 1.1GB
Nick and Sarah are the ultimate gaming couple. Nick introduced Sarah to the world of Nintendo games. Nick’s favorites are platformers tough as nails, like Super Meat Boy, Celeste, and The End is Nigh. Sarah prefers titles with more exploration and simulation, like Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, and Skyrim. But Nick and Sarah both agree that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the best games of all time!