Don’t let frustration get in the way.
Don’t Starve debuted on the PC back in 2013. The next year it came out on the PlayStation 4 and Vita. So now we’ve got the Wii U version, which includes the DLC add-on Reign of Giants. The results are solid, although not really the enhancement you’d think considering the Wii U has an additional screen.
A big appeal of the hugely successful Minecraft is the Majora’s Mask-like time cycle. No, the game doesn’t reset back in time every 72 hours, but there’s something irresistible about having to do as much as you possibly can in a short amount of time. The downside, though, was the graphics. Nowadays the ultra-blocky look has inspired toys, but if you played Minecraft when it first debuted, the visuals were underwhelming. What’s great about Don’t Starve is the Tim Burton-inspired art style. If you’ve played Minecraft, you’ve pretty much played Don’t Starve but its distinctive look sets the game apart.
I love how Wilson looks like a famous Depp character named Edward but with regular non-pointy Freddy Krueger fingers and a less unkempt look. There’s even an elderly man who bears a resemblance to Vincent Price! Clearly, someone in the art department loved Edward Scissorhands, but I say go with it.
Turning attention to the plot, a scientist named Wilson has created a device that transports him to another dimension. Like Minecraft, you need to eat, not go crazy, maintain your resources, kill monsters, and not die. (Which you most certainly will.) Gamers tired of games that handhold players will appreciate how Don’t Starve pretty much just puts us in charge of Wilson with little guidance on what to do.
There are four seasons to be survived, each pretty different. The difficulty can get frustrating as you can spend days upon days building up only to lose it all. Which means it’s all about gathering, killing, repeat.
If you’re using the GamePad while looking at your television, it displays your map like most games. The somewhat disappointing issue is that when you play with only the GamePad there aren't many options. There’s a slider that only changes the size of your HUD. You’d think it would, say, make the text bigger…but no. The GamePad is serviceable but not much else, which is disappointing considering this is the type of game that one would play on the couch while something grander is on your HDTV. I’ve never played the Vita version, but I’ve heard it works well which, again, makes the somewhat cheap feel of the GamePad “off TV” feature kinda lame.
The main focus of the game is survival, as in “How can I use these branches I got from that tree?” or “Can I do things in the right order without throwing everything I did off kilter?” Knowing that failing means that you lose everything, save your leveling-up points, makes the entire experience nerve-racking. That’s one of the game’s strengths, though. Beyond the great art direction and discarding all the things you need to keep in your head, the experience of playing Don’t Starve is strangely akin to the feeling I used to have playing Tetris back in the day: Things start easy enough, manageable even, but eventually pressure and chaos ensues. It’s unavoidable. If you can control your frustration when you lose, it’s quite addicting. That is a big “if," though.
Overall, Don’t Starve on Wii U is a ridiculously engaging game of hunting and gathering. The wonderful art direction makes this more than just a Minecraft clone. The game can be quite brutal at times, but that just makes the sense of accomplishment feel more earned. I still feel it doesn’t make optimal use of the Wii U, but the core game solid and hard to put down.