Video Game Review: Night in the Woods
After beginning its life as a Kickstarter project back in 2013, Night in the Woods arrived on Steam and the PlayStation 4 last February and then hit the Xbox One in December. It’s the story of a group of anthropomorphic animals living in a small town with nothing to do but practice instruments and do crimes, and it only gets stranger from there…
Despite being primarily a story-focused experience, Night in the Woods cobbles together a number of different gameplay elements. Navigating the town of Possum Springs offers some light platforming, taking part in band practice challenges you to hit the correct notes Guitar Hero style, and there are several other mini-games as well. It all handles adequately, and the variety is appreciated.
There is also a game within the game called Demontower, which you can play from the laptop in your room. It’s not robust enough to be a standalone, but it’s good for what it is. Unfortunately there is a tendency for your character to end up facing the wrong way when swinging its sword after moving. Our guess is that it’s an issue with controller sensitivity. Whatever it is, though, it’s frustrating.
Simply put, Night in the Woods is among the most visually endearing games we’ve played. Character design is really well done, and the way the world animates around you as you walk the streets is both vibrant and delightful. There’s loads of little secrets and detail work as well that serves to underscore how cleverly put together this entire world is.
An excellent soundtrack elevates the game’s presentation ever further, deftly matching the mood as you encounter various emotions. Your band practice songs have a very amateurish feel to them, which we assume is the intention, though we were too focused to follow the lyrics.
After suddenly and unexpectedly dropping out of college mid-semester, 20-year-old Mae Borowski arrives back in Possum Springs, where the closing of a local mine signaled a permanent downturn in the economy. Now it’s a small town with precious little opportunity within its borders, and it’s also populated entirely by anthropomorphic animals (and some regular animals as well).
Mae is a cat, and after taking up residence in her parents’ attic she sets about reconnecting with her friends. There’s Gregg, a wolf that works at the local convenient store, Bea, a chain-smoking gothic crocodile, and Angus, a soft-spoken hipster bear that is also Gregg’s boyfriend. Other characters play roles as well, but the game primarily revolves on these three and more specifically on your relationships with Gregg and Bea.
While a college dropout hanging with her buddies may not sound like the most interesting of setups, the skill with which it’s delivered had us hooked with minutes of Mae getting off the train. The writing is endlessly clever, and you’ll want to do and see everything you can every single day lest you miss a witty interaction. Perhaps even more impressive, Mae’s sarcasm never comes across as manufactured. It feels like these are snarky young adults living their lives.
Beyond the day-to-day doldrums of life in Possum Springs, Night in the Woods also adds elements of mystery and danger as you progress with strange disappearances happening in town. Mae’s take on the situation seems a bit farfetched, but it’s clear that something is amiss with her to begin with, including an event from earlier in her life that the townspeople cryptically reference.
Most days follow a pattern where you’ll get up, walk around town, interact with people and then choose whether to hang out with Gregg or Bea that evening. It is here that the game gets some replay value as you’ll want to go back to see what you missed by befriending one rather than the other. Obviously you can’t recapture everything from the original play through, but a second trip should push the game to around 20 hours.
As much as we enjoyed Night in the Woods, its payoff isn’t great, pasting an X-Files sort of vibe onto a mostly grounded story that touches on a lot of serious topics (abuse, mental illness, struggling with your place in life, depression, economic stagnation and more). It also feels like it rushes to the finish line a bit, though none of those things offset how effectively the story is told and relationships are built.
Night in the Woods tells an excellent, well-crafted story that creates real emotional connections and is able to broach serious issues in an approachable way thanks to its sharp writing.