[Review] The Survivalists – Nintendo Switch

Written by Mel Curtis
  • Developer: Team17
  • Publisher: Team17
  • Release date: 09/10/2020
  • Price: £21.99 / $24.99
  • Review code provided by Team17

Introducing: The Survivalists Switch Review

I don’t think that I would say that survival games are my favourite thing in the world but I have played a handful of them over the years. Minecraft is obviously the one that I logged the most hours in back in the day and I think most people would agree that it is the game that all survival games have to measure themselves against now. However, I’m always happy to have another option on my switch to occupy my time and an open-ended game is at a good price is just what a lot of us need in these times where we can’t go out as much as we used to.

Washed Ashore

So, The Survivalists starts out with you drifting on a raft, already looking pretty battered and tattered. Eventually, you wake up after your raft has come to rest on a beach and from there, your goal is just to survive. You pick up some rocks, turn those into a basic tool and get to ravaging the landscape of the island you are trapped on in order to get what you need to survive. It’s simple and it’s really about all that you need to get going. These type of games aren’t ones that you play for the story, but for your own feeling of satisfaction and creation. The goal is to collect things, so you can survive better, to collect more things. It’s all about that loop.

That being said, I did like the little touches of environmental storytelling that could be found around the world. There are tons of little spots where you can find the remains that prove you’re doing better than the people who were here last. There’s little plane crashes or shipwrecks that you can scavenge for a material or two. There’s also notes from other survivors that you can find giving you lore and context to the world. These aren’t needed, but they’re a really nice touch that I appreciated getting to find when I was exploring the island.

Of course, there is the question of what happens when you manage to get the supplies to build a raft and move on from where you landed. That’s when the world really opens up to you and you’re able to see and explore even more. There are lots to find out there and getting to sail to another island only to return was pretty satisfying.

Monkey Fun

Now, survival games always need some kind of hook in order to make themselves stand out from the rest. Survival games kind of had a boom following the breakout success of Minecraft and since then there has been the struggle to find out how to make something great without making a game that is just frustrating management of player meters. The hook here is monkeys. That might sound odd since there are plenty of games with animals, but here we have the monkey system. All over the islands and in dungeons you can find monkeys trapped or wandering around. If you befriend these monkeys (most often by feeding them), you will be able to have them follow you around and even get them to do a task by first modelling it to them.

Having the monkeys is something that you are either going to love or hate as a mechanic, and that likely will make or break your enjoyment of the game overall. A decent amount of this is built around the assumption that you have been making use of the monkey helpers. Crafting and building are things that take time and if you’re not going to have their help, it’s going to feel really tedious to do. If you are going to do it yourself, you’re going to be stuck there watching, but with a monkey doing the building or cutting down trees, you’re freed up to work on something else and keep yourself moving.  It takes a bit of effort to figure it out exactly how to best utilise the monkeys, but I have no doubt that those who are mechanically minded will find some really impressive ways to get them working. 

You can even train your monkeys in combat to be sure that whatever fortress you build up is well defended. They can’t die, only be knocked out, so there’s not as much fear about putting them on the front lines because they will not be lost. However, I will admit that this is something that I really preferred mostly because the combat in this game isn’t great. Using a club or sword uses up your stamina, fairly quickly in fact. As a result, once you do just a few swings, which you might miss, by the way, you’re left open and defenceless until you get that stamina back. The fastest way for you to get away is to roll, but that requires stamina too, rendering it useless if you’re out of stamina. The enemies typically move much quicker than you do. I often found myself wishing that the stamina was closer to something like Stardew Valley, where using your tools would use up stamina, but this would not be the case for your combat items. Something like that could have really alleviated my frustration. Granted, the dungeons in the game are usually very short, but having every enemy in the room rush you the second that you set foot in it did not combine well with this combat system at all.

Getting Rugged

There were a few other things that lightly bothered me while I was playing as well. I feel like your hunger meter goes down a bit too quickly for the amount of effort that it takes to get food. This is something that is much more of a problem in the early game since once you’ve been doing long enough, you’ll be plentily stocked with food. However, early in the game, I thought eating berries didn’t do anything since the refill was so small for each unit consumed. Once you get deep enough, this isn’t a problem anymore, but I could see it frustrating and turning away some new players early on. 

The way that crafting recipes has to be slowly unlocked by doing something earlier in the skill tree first rather than just material requirements was certainly an annoyance that turned me off. At first, I appreciated having things open up slowly to me, but the lack of communication of what was coming next on the branch that I was going down did lead to me crafting randomly for a while as I tried to find the type of object that I was actually searching for. Most strange to me was the way that I had to go down the branch relating to making a better bed in order to find the sail for the raft I had built. Even if the prior was needed in order to make the item that came later, it might have been better to allow visibility.

Just as frustrating is the fact that this is a game that requires manual saving. This is done by sleeping in a bed, something that the game does not require you to otherwise do unless you want to advance time. But, you had best not forget that this is the way to save your game, because you could end up losing a lot of progress. I don’t mind a game that asks you to end each day by sleeping and then saves only there, but there was one point where I was sailing around without a bed and left unable to save until I went to an island, gathered what I needed, and built one there so I could save. Yes, I could have just suspended the game, but if you’re sharing a switch with someone else, that could be something of a risk when they pick it up to play something else.

What’s That Shiny Thing

The pixel art that makes up the world is cute and poppy, but could be a little repetitive, I found. However, I feel like that is more of a fault of the setting rather than a fault of design. There are only so many ways that you can put a tree on a beach and make it interesting. However, there is enough variation that you won’t be getting lost too easily and I was never bored while I was exploring. The characters, animals, and enemies are all visually distinct and I found the little goblins were the perfect mix between creepy and cute that I love to see in a game like this. Animations of anything living was also a delight, having enough bounce to keep their movements always interesting. The pixel world having some depth with cliffs and pits was also a nice touch that made things a little more visually interesting.

This is one of those games that I am likely to play silenced while listening to something else, but I wouldn’t say that’s entirely a fault of the game. Games of this nature just lend themselves to listening to something else while playing and I never felt I was at any kind of a disadvantage by quieting my system. That being said, there are some sounds here that can get pretty repetitive if you are working on the same project for a long time or doing the same thing over and over again.

Packing up

There is online multiplayer here, and I did get the chance to play a little bit of it. While in a public game, I did even have a player join in with 5 monkeys that they were able to bring from their own game. When you join in on someone else’s game, there is the ability to bring some things back and forth if you have gotten the specific item that allows this. You’re also able to bring up to five of our monkey army, which can be a big boon if you’re helping out a newer player. Other than that, it’s not really that much different when trying to play. However, there is the issue that communication isn’t that great in the mode. This is one of those games that gives you just a menu to communicate with. There’s a lot of options, sure, but there wasn’t an option to directly type in the game, which meant that things had to be demonstrated or vaguely danced around until the other person gets the point. If you’re intending to play this online with other people, it might be better to be in a group call while playing.

The game ran technically fine wherever I chose to play. This is one of those games that is pretty good for playing a bit at the end of the day while you’re laying in bed, which is how I spent most of my time with it. However, I would warn that the game is one that takes a while to load up when you are booting it from being completely exited.

Sunset

Overall, I think there are some great things that this game does like the monkey helpers or that the world refreshes so resources never run out, but the frustrations that come along with it make this a very mixed experience for me. I don’t think this is one that I will be deleting from my system, but I also don’t think I’m going to be spending a ton of time with it after this review. The frustrations that I experienced won’t bother everyone, and if they don’t get to you, then that’s great! They did get to me, though. 

Pros

  • Monkey Helpers
  • Adorable Art
  • Satisfying core loop

Cons

  • Several frustrations that hold back the game
  • Poor combat
  • Only has manual saving

Verdict

The Survivalists is a mixed bag of good and bad whose ratio between the two will shift back and forth depending on each player’s needs.

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