Review: Don't Starve: Shipwrecked

By Mark Robinson 24 Jan 2017 0

Review: Don't Starve: Shipwrecked

Released 26 Dec 2016

Developer: Klei Entertainment
Available from:
App Store
Reviewed on: iPad Mini 2

I can’t tell you exactly what it is that makes me (and others) find the punishing nature of roguelikes so appealing. Perhaps it’s that “eureka!” moment after hours of trials and tribulations that you finally feel like you have a grasp on the game, or it could be the communities that are built, creating wikis, guides, and playthroughs, that fully dissect a game apart to reveal all its tricks and secrets. From the perspective of the developer, it allows them to create a core foundation, for which they can constantly add and tinker with for years after the game’s initial release. If done right, it can give a game an incredible level of replay value.

For the uninitiated, Don’t Starve is a survival roguelike, where the challenge is to live for as long as possible, encountering a world where just about everything wants to kill you. It’s a game where you expect to die, and with dying comes a lesson learned for next time. There is a health, insanity, and food meter, and if any of these fall to zero, it’s game over. There’s that overriding Minecraft theme of crafting elements to obtain and craft more elements that is necessary for survival. Except here, death is inevitable – it’s just about how long you can prevent it. It’s a polarizing game because of its unrelenting difficulty and you may have already made your mind up if this is a game for you.

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Don’t Starve: Shipwrecked released as a DLC expansion pack on March 31, 2016. Whereas the original release allowed players to carryover their progress, the iOS version is a standalone app. While this may frustrate some players who played Don't Starve: Pocket Edition, this expansion has enough content added that it stands on its own with enough of its own identity.

The game has more of a tropical setting, but this is no paradise. You will need to procure items and elements that are necessary for survival. Unfortunately, the world is now split into small islands, with each only holding a finite amount of resources (if any at all) and this will mean being forced to hop from island to island. Further (and I mean a lot further) down the line you will be able to create renewable sources, allowing you to settle in one location to focus on survival, but you need to earn that by learning the intricacies and systems… and by dying a lot. Your items are breakable, so you need to be on the constant look out to keep stocked up. It’s this constant tension of watching your meters slowly drop away, and the need to think several steps ahead to keep yourself replenished at all times.

The ocean is a treacherous beast and the biggest new enemy you’ll face in Shipwrecked. Your first few attempts at sailing will most likely be met with a swift demise, but again, each attempt you learn a little more: sail too late in the day and you won’t make it through the night; tackle a wave that is a little too big and you’ll meet a watery grave. There is also an abundance of sea life, from jellyfish to sharks that can be collected for resources.

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The ocean is split into several different depths, and the more adventurous you are, the more you are likely to be rewarded. Again, it’s trial and error, as you’ll likely end up stranded several times before you start to clock on to the right amount of stock to take, and when to head back to land.

The other mechanic that will have no fear about murdering you over and over is the weather. The false positive at the start of a mild, tropical setting soon gives way to torrential rain, hurricanes, and even volcanic eruptions. Each of these comes with their own hazards to deal with – some more obvious than others, and the terror that smothers over as you realise you are woefully underprepared for each of these changes is real.

Not everything is smooth sailing on the technical side. If you load the game up, feel free to make a cup of tea, perhaps even make a sandwich - you will have the time, which is surprising considering the game is a just over half a gigabyte. The touchscreen controls are not perfect, as the game doesn’t always register the item you are trying to pick. Considering the inventory menu is compact and you will be spending a lot of time trawling through it, Don’t Starve is not the kind of a game where you can waste time having to re-select an axe, as one wrong move can end up with your demise. The virtual stick has recently been added – originally found on Don’t Starve Pocket Edition – and is a welcome installment to help alleviate this issue.

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Don’t Starve is a polarizing game for many, and Shipwrecked will only enhance your view depending on which side of the fence you sit. An inherent issue with its core design is that starting a new game after making a marathon attempt takes some real motivation. Don’t Starve is a real slow burn, and each new attempt takes a while to get going. The thrill of making it past 50 days is thrilling, and death after this is heartbreaking. The way to approach the game, as is the case for all roguelikes, is to have no fear of fiddling and poking with the mechanics and options available to you – the game invites you to do so. Just don't poke too much; the game will bite your finger off.

With all that said, there is something genuinely charming and thrilling about exploring the world of Shipwrecked, and how each island has its own unique biome; a feat made all the more impressive by the random procedural nature of the game. Yes, there is a degree of luck involved, as there is with all roguelikes, and those who prefer the fate of destiny slotted firmly in their own hands might not appreciate how unforgiving the game can be. But everything you need to know is mentioned in the loading screen: “generating a keen sense of despair.”

Punishing yet charming, this Tim Burton-esque world of exploration and terror will hook new players and old.

Review: Don't Starve: Shipwrecked

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