Developer: Klei Entertainment
There’s something rotten in the world of Don’t Starve!. It’s supposed to be a jolly old camping trip where we sing folk music sitting around the fire while roasting marshmallows. Yet I can’t seem to craft a banjo. So I just stare at the hypnotic fireplace, stomach grumbling, waiting for the night to be – wait, what the heck was that? Did something move? What’s that growling sound? No, no no no NO-!
And that was how I died on the fifth night.
When Klei Entertainment (Shank, Mark of the Ninja) was making Don’t Starve!, they seem to have had a very specific audience in their mind: those who like to play hopscotch on the lines between life and death. You are dropped into the middle of somewhere and you must survive. There are no signs or text boxes saying that you should punch some wood or stay away from frogs. And because of that, the game turns into something horrifyingly beautiful.
Saying Klei Entertainment has restyled Minecraft does not do the game justice. There are common roots, however; you are plonked somewhere and you must survive. But this game focuses on the survival, in contrast to Minecraft’s focus on the creativity. You cut trees, start a campfire and chase after those cursed rabbits, give up and start gathering petals and seeds to eat. Once you’ve become accustomed to this system (chase rabbits, swear, eat berries) the goal shifts to unlocking all the technology, so you can strive for a better living condition.
Yet no matter how much you flourish, you always feel exposed. You are never quite sure how to heal yourself, you only have one weapon, and you are unsure of how effective it is. And then on some nights, you are attacked, making sure that you are always on your toes. This notion of insecurity is supported by the 2D isometric view the game is set on. You can’t put a roof over your head, and any building materials are either scarce expensive. The graphics look like something from Emily the Strange’s world, but with Klei’s artistic style. The sound effects are Lovecraftian, but with a bit of charm. All of these elements are skilfully crafted and co-ordinated, able to immerse you in the dark world of Don’t Starve! – and it works. Freud would have a field day if he saw this.
However, once you’ve progressed and you’re able to systematically survive through several days, the solitude becomes dull. The actions required to survive becomes repetitive and the items to progress your tech tree are either too rare, or you’re baffled as to how you should obtain them. It lacks the creativity that is allowed in Minecraft; you can’t progress any further than the essentials. Thus the only reason you’re still playing is because of all the time you’ve invested on that save file. Death is not an option either, as your world is deleted once you die.
With multiple characters, something of a plot, and a soundtrack that recalls the Addams Family, this is a unique experience. If you enjoyed Minecraft’s survival aspect, then you’ll love this. But if you wanted to decorate your world with pixelated Pikachu, just play Terraria or Minecraft.