The general approach of playing Don't Starve: Giant Edition is set rather early. Once you reach your first rank up - no doubt through a few feeble run-throughs where you are easily offed by the environment, whimpering and confused - you're awarded with a pyromaniacal character with which you can prattle about and convert everything to ashes, should you feel so inclined.
Don't Starve is definitely a survival game with challenge at its foundation. Each time your character wakes up on its randomly generated wilderness of science and magic, it will be a scramble to collect the items needed to stay fed, healthy, and sane. If you die - and you most often will - you have no other choice but to start over again at day one. You can save, but the file will vanish with your character if you kick the bucket.
And yet there's an undeniable whimsy to it all, too, from its Tim Burton-esque pop-up book style to the soundtrack that seems taken out of a dreary circus. It's a mix that straddles the line between cautionary living to eek out as many more days as possible and the temptation to stupidly prance up to that menacing-looking thing just to, ya know, see what it does!
This debut of Don't Starve on the Wii U comes with the Reign of Giants add-on, which can be included or excluded at one's leisure. A first-time player isn't going to be able to tell what exactly it brings to the world without some exploration and experimentation, which all seems an intentional part of the job description. There is only a small, vague backstory before getting thrown in for the first time. No tutorials to be found here, but the controls are provided and everything is labeled intuitively enough that collecting, crafting, and using items is easy to pick up after testing things out a bit. Actually figuring out how to acquire and unlock access to tools for survival is left entirely up to the player, as it should be in this case.
While the system functions nicely, however, there are some disappointing elements when it comes to its integration with the Wii U's strengths. The GamePad serves as a map when playing on the TV, which is certainly useful given how vast the environment can be. That's about the best you're going to get from the second screen, though, aside from a bit more detailed information on your status counters. The map can be moved around by touch, as well as zoomed in or out and centered on the location of the character, but no other touch functionality is to be had. That feels like a let-down, as stylus controls would seem quite useful for navigating the crafting and item menus.
Off-TV play is available and still looks beautiful on the GamePad screen, but text and some items can be harder to read or identify. The HUD can be adjusted, although its largest size might still not be enough for some, and an option to increase the size of the in-game text would also be welcomed. One last nitpick is that loading times can feel somewhat extensive.
Within its solid and increasingly arduous heart of survival and exploration, Don't Starve: Giant Edition beats with a personality head and shoulders above the hoard of Minecraft clones out there. The sense of never knowing what might lie just ahead and the promise of unlocking additional characters possessing individual quirks will likely be addictive to many who enjoy this type of journey. Others, however, might not be as motivated without a sense of plot or defined objectives. It also feels like an opportunity was missed in optimizing the game for the Wii U's capabilities, but there are plenty of worse things to go without out there. Definitely one to try for those who hear the call of the wild… among other unidentifiable things.