It’s hard to believe we’ve been playing the endearingly-creepy survival sim, Don’t Starve, for almost three years now. When it launched a PC beta in 2012, the experience already felt mostly complete, but developer Klei Entertainment has continued to iterate and push regular content updates designed to help or murder you. Their newest—and pleasantly surprising—offering is this week’s release of the Don’t Starve: Pocket Edition for iPad.
Despite its generously low price of $4.99, Don’t Starve: PE is the same full game you’ll find on PC, including the massive Reign of Giants DLC that introduced new seasons, characters (including my personal favorite, the spider-boy Webber), biomes, enemies, craftables, and more. These two can be purchased together for $18.99 on Steam, so the mobile version is objectively a great deal.
The only feature iPad players won’t have access to is Don’t Starve Together, the separate multiplayer expansion that lets you share the perils of death-by-frog with your pals, but we’ve got our fingers webbed for a future IAP that will allow cross-platform survival. Additionally, the large library of mods available to PC players are understandably not included, so gamers who have adopted Golden Freddy as their main character will need to readjust to life as a human/spider/standard robot.
But even without those two exceptions, the Pocket Edition is a massive, exhaustive experience that should not be missed.
Everything we commented on and loved in our original review still stands: Don’t Starve is a punishing roguelike that will do everything in its power to kill you, and that’s what makes it so much fun. Its bizarre universe is populated by hilarious and horrifying creatures that will often appear harmless up until the moment they eat your face. It’s just as easy to die by a self-inflicted forest fire as it is by killer bee swarm or darkness. Uncovering the twisted logic and strategies of this world is its challenge and reward; surviving even one more day is worth bragging about. Reign of Giants triples the accuracies of these statements, pitting players against even more unpredictable hazards, from giant bosses to tree-climbing catcoons to random lightning strikes.
This world in all its murderous glory is identical on the iPad, but now interacted with entirely via touch controls. Klei has done a superb job translating a complex and input-heavy game to the touchscreen, allowing players to perform all the same actions with only slight variations in execution. For the most part, your finger acts as the mouse cursor would, allowing tap to move, tap to pick up, tap-hold to chop, etc. Many interactions are performed automatically based on context: if you’ve equipped a spear and tap on a killable creature, you will attack it. Some of the contextual actions are surprisingly streamlined; while collecting berry bushes, I only had to equip the shovel and tap on them, and the game (and Wilson) did the rest.
Of course, since your finger doesn’t have a right-click option, some actions will take an extra movement to complete. Planting those same bushes required me to drag them to the ground and then select “plant” from the pop-up actions menu. Cooking and eating food requires the same type of selection. This means that actions PC players can perform with repeated single-clicks will take every-so-slightly longer on iPad. The difference is not significant, but given the choice between the two, I would still opt for mouse controls.
Additionally, no matter how pointy your finger is, it will never be as precise as a mouse cursor. While Don’t Starve: PE does exceptionally well at recognizing touch inputs for interacting with most items in-world, it understandably struggles when you’re surrounded by interactive objects overlapping one another. I encountered this issue for the first time in the middle of a forest, at night, as my torch was failing and a horde of spiders decided to introduce themselves. I was trying to pick up a back-up torch off the ground, but Wilson kept examining trees and attacking spiders instead. Luckily, zooming in and rotating the camera is still extremely easy thanks to pinch controls and the dedicated map arrows, so this shouldn’t be much of an issue outside of hectic, near-death arachnid attacks.
Finally, for some reason, Don’t Starve: PE seems much darker than its PC counterpart. While the game obviously gets dark at night, the lighting at dusk even on a full-brightness iPad 4 was so dim I was unable to see the brick road in front of me. Thinking I was too immersed and merely imagining it, I booted up the PC version—and dusk’s visibility is much better there.
Are any of these a deal-breaker? Absolutely not. Don’t Starve: Pocket Edition is still an absolute joy to play, especially since you can curl up under a blanket in a distant corner of the house with your beefalo plush. With the game’s auto-save function at the end of each day and save at quit, it’s easy to jump in and out of the world even in short bursts. And with five save slots and all the world-editing options you could dream of, you may be jumping between survival variations indefinitely. Better stock up on morsels and meatballs.
Don’t Starve: Pocket Edition is available now on the App Store.