Don’t Starve: Don’t Buy

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Don’t Starve is an aptly named title. The focus of the game is to survive the wilderness after being left in the middle of the woods with naught on your person. The first task posed to players is a simple one, find something to eat and survive through the night. Players will quickly come to realize that this is a central theme in the game, as they scavenge for food and fight off the ever encroaching darkness once the sun goes down.

Scavenging the land for resources is the key to survival. Grass can be picked, rocks plucked from the dirt, and twigs gathered from young saplings. Once a few basic materials have been accumulated, players can assemble tools to help them scavenge and build even greater items. Eventually, players can construct a science machine with which they are able to build prototypes of new, more intricate inventions. Unfortunately for this review, this machine did not allow me to invent a pair of rose colored glasses.

Progression is the name of the game when it comes to survival in Don’t Starve — a rock and twig become a pickaxe, a log becomes armor… if only the game could become fun. Players are unceremoniously dumped into the wilderness with no instruction and no foreseeable objective other than the titular task of feeding themselves. This task, however, becomes quite tedious, leaving players with only exploration to keep them intrigued. What I found while exploring was an abundance of forest flora, numerous aggressive fauna, and the skeletons of a few ill-fated predecessors just to remind me that I was playing a rogue-like of sorts.

Maybe if I get these trees out of the way, I can see where the game starts being enjoyable.

Maybe if I get these trees out of the way, I can see where the game starts being enjoyable.

Through all of my exploration, the one thing that I did not find was the gate to the fun. Yes, there is actually a hidden gate which leads to “Adventure Mode,” promising such sought after game mechanics as plot and purpose. I gave the game multiple sessions in which I tried my best to enjoy survival and search for adventure, but it just turned out to be a dull, fruitless endeavor. Gathering grass and twigs and rabbit faces is only entertaining for so long before one needs a bit more to remain engaged in the experience. I found nothing.

Other reviews for the game have been favorable, so I am hesitant to write it off as just a bad game. I feel more disappointed that the enjoyable portion of this title is so hidden. Why would a game designer require players to search for hours to find a portal which would transport them to the fun? The idea is unfathomable to me. Imagine if Dark Souls required players to navigate a scenic trek through the the Undead Berg and Blight Town, fending off a rumbling tummy before encountering a bonfire that would populate the world with enemies. Imagine if Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater was literally just about finding and eating snakes to stay alive in the jungle, then fashioning crude scissors from found materials to keep your mullet in tip-top shape. The core survival of Don’t Starve is just not enjoyable enough to justify hiding the adventure deep within it.

I am no stranger to survival or building games. This is not simply a gripe with the genre. If I am given a task to take resources and turn them into a great city, or a cache of weapons, or whatever else, I am more than happy to do so as long there is a solid sense of reward and progression to it. I could lose an entire night in Sim City, but I struggle to give Don’t Starve more than an hour or two before my face falls slack with utter indignation. I strongly believe that I must be doing something wrong if a game this well received can come across to me as such an uninteresting failure. I am a  glutton for punishment when it comes to overly complicated, impossibly inaccessible games, but Don’t Starve is just more than I can bear.

The horn is making something happen. Maybe this is what I'm supposed to do. No? Back to wandering...

The horn is making something happen. Maybe this is what I’m supposed to do. No? Back to wandering…

To the game’s benefit, the art style is charming in its own right. It does have sort of a Tim Burton kind of feel to it, reminiscent of The Nightmare Before Christmas or Paranorman. The characters themselves have their own set of unique strengths, allowing players to customize the way that they play. Enemies have a distinct style to them, as well. If players allow their character’s sanity to fall too low, the fuzzy bunnies soon morph into dark creatures, shadows come alive, and the darkness will come for you. The game is great conceptually, but the execution of the core gameplay is lacking. It is a shame that a title that looks this artfully charismatic just falls so flat when it comes down to execution.

Despite my faults with the game, I still find it difficult to simply label it as unplayable. Plenty of others have come to enjoy this title, and the many videos of Adventure Mode seem somewhat entertaining, if still not what I would call an engaging romp. The game is available for free as a browser-based game through Google Chrome. I would suggest trying it there first before dropping the cash on the Steam version. Don’t Starve will not be a game that I ever come back to.  Thankfully, Spring approaches with a bevy of other great titles to spend my time with.

 

4/10 – Unsatisfactory

 

 

 

 

Jon Malloy

Jon Malloy

Senior Writer & Editor at What's Jump?
Jon is a writer and co-founder of “What’s Jump?” With a passion for gaming, comedy, and discussion, Jon works to bring his unique views, along with a bit of humor, to his writing. With a background in information technology and development, his interests lean toward the newest trends and technological advancements. Reporting for “What’s Jump?” he is at home both behind the scenes and in front of the camera.
Jon Malloy
Jon Malloy

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