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Review: Don’t Starve: Nintendo Switch Edition (Nintendo Switch)By Renan At 16.04.2018 11:48

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Normally, a lack of explanation or information would be a bad thing. It's a practice that roots itself in frustration, but Don't Starve's presentation insists that this deep level of discovery is necessary for the overall experience. Outside of a few initial item recipes to offer the basics of survival, Wilson is entirely alone in the wilderness. Surviving past the first day requires a quick understanding of how to craft, how to cook, and where to go to stay safe. Once night falls, Wilson will be stalked by an unseen enemy and periodically attacked unless he's near a source of light. Should darkness fall before Wilson can reach a light source or set up a fire, he will be unable to craft anything and will certainly perish before the sun comes up.

Most initial runs will end in pitch black as desperation, and the realisation that something has gone terribly wrong, sinks in. As overwhelming as it can be to die on the first day without accomplishing a single thing, it does serve as a suitable warning for what's to come. Starting with the second run, it's obvious that a fire needs to be built before the sun fully sets. From there on out, the learning curve continues mostly through trial and error. Death will happen, and often, which can be a frustrating thought. After all, the point of a survival game is to survive for as long as possible. The overall goal doesn't change as every run should be about surviving as long as possible, but the first few runs will almost certainly revolve around adjusting to the day-night cycle, building new items, and adventuring into the different biomes to familiarise Wilson with the flora and fauna.

This lack of direction allows for the rewarding moments to feel all the more impactful. Discovering something new or developing a strategy is significantly more meaningful in a setting with no hand holding because it means it was come upon through genuine exploration or experimentation. Surviving long enough to see the season change into winter is a reward in and of itself, because it was achieved through sheer skill and understanding of the wilderness. It can take quite some time for summer to pass, but getting through it once ensures that future playthroughs won't be as difficult since the hardest part has already been accomplished. Knowing where to go, what to do, and how to do it is the most important step to surviving.

While keeping warm by the fire and making sure never to step out in total darkness is certainly a good strategy to stay alive, there are other mechanics that need to be tended to. Health, Hunger, and Sanity will all naturally drop with the passage of time. Hunting for food, crafting armour, building weapons, and finding methods of staying sane are incredibly important. Just about any animal can be hunted for food, but they are fast enough where building a spear will likely be necessary in order to consistently bring back enough food to stay nourished through the night; scavenging for materials will naturally lead the way to more craftable items, but building a Science Machine should be the first major step to any playthrough as it paves the way more better equipment and weapons; lastly, sanity can be managed by eating comfort foods, sleeping comfortably, or killing frightening enemies. All the tools are present for survival, they just aren't made explicitly clear.

It should go without saying that the very nature of trial and error in a game does inevitably lead to routine. The more that death occurs, the clearer the most optimal route becomes. What separates Don't Starve from other titles in the genre, regarding routine, is the scope of any given run. Given the randomly-generated worlds, it can be frustrating at times to rediscover where all the biomes are located, but they do ensure there's still an element of danger early on. More importantly, the late game can go in just about any direction once survival is guaranteed. There's still much to do after surviving, such as killing bosses, enacting revenge on whatever keeps attacking whenever night falls, and discovering the doorway to Adventure mode: an alternate take on the standard sandbox survival mode, but with a proper story. Survival is always at the core of the experience, but each run can be instilled with an identity of its own.

Alternate characters can also be unlocked by either meeting the right criteria or levelling up enough. Upon dying, 20 XP is awarded for each day survived. Racking up enough days unlocks a healthy host of new playable characters, each one sporting different quirks and perks to differentiate themselves from Wilson. The base game already had a total of nine playable characters, but all the DLC, which is included with the Nintendo Switch port, ups the count to sixteen. The DLC packs themselves are plenty hefty and add a host of new content to an already content-heavy experience. Better yet, they can be toggled on and off in order to allow players to progress at their own pace before they tackle Reign of Giants or Shipwrecked.

By far, Don't Starve's greatest strength is its aesthetics. From the art, to the music, to the atmosphere, this is rooted in gothic horror. The design of the world is simply spectacular, with an almost Tim Burton-esque storybook quality to the models. Unfortunately, the Switch port is home to a few bugs that obscure certain sprites: rabbit holes are missing entirely and beefalos often disappear, only leaving their shadows behind. Along with a few music and sound effect issues, the Switch port is certainly lacking in polish compared to the original release. Thankfully, the base game is strong enough as is and Klei Entertainment has made a habit of producing healthy updates for the title - some of which are already on the way according to official Twitter updates. It's a disappointment to see such bugs at launch, but it's nothing that cannot, and is not going to, be fixed.

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Final Score
Without a doubt, [i]Dont' Starve[/i] is the gold standard as far as the survival genre is concerned. Every playthrough is a mentally demanding endurance match to stay alive, and it's a better game overall for it. Although it's easy to fall into routine a few hours in, the sheer potential and scope of each run ensures there's seldom a dull moment. The Switch port does unfortunately suffer from some visual glitches that make the game harder than it needs to be for newcomers, but nothing to the point where the core gameplay is rendered unplayable, and most are already reportedly being fixed right now. Dark, whimsical, and genuinely challenging, with a rewarding difficulty curve, [i]Don't Starve[/i] is a worthy addition to the Nintendo Switch's library.

9

/10

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