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At the End of Everything, Hold on to Anything
Night in the Woods is a game that places its central social themes above all else. You play as Mae, a college dropout returning home to live with her parents. The town of Possum Springs used to be something in the past, but now struggles as poverty, unemployment, and the population drain hit it hard. The game touches many subjects related to this, including alcoholism, homelessness, mental issues, and domestic abuse. And while the game certainly can and will make you feel bad on occasion, it has an overall optimistic tone. It’s a game about coming to terms with problems and trying to move on.
A lot of Night in the Woods is spent talking to people, and the writing may be the most impressive thing about it. The dialogue feels natural and believable. Unlike many video games, where every character is written to clearly express what is on their mind, the people of Possum Springs sometimes struggle to express themselves, a style closer to real life. While Night in the Woods gives you choices during these exchanges, it doesn’t pretend that they will have a major impact on how the story plays out as some other games do. The impact of these choices is often smaller in scale, giving you additional background information, though there are a few fun exceptions, as sometimes things are brought up again later and thus have impact on later scenes.
The game is divided into days, which you will spend exploring the town and talking to people, followed by a main hangout with one or more of Mae’s friends. During these hangouts you will get to know your friends and their problems and they will eventually drive the main story forward. Sometimes you will have to chose which friend to spend the day with, and these choices have a bigger impact on the game as they all lead to different scenes, often filled with the ups and downs of any given relationship. If you intend to see all of them, you will have to play through the game at least twice.
The daily routine of running through town is an integral part of the game and may be its biggest weakness, as it can sometimes feel repetitive despite there being new and unique possibilities each day. But seeing the different subplots around town move forward or finding new areas or secrets is generally a rewarding affair in Night in the Woods as they nicely fit the themes and even affect the ending of the game.
The town’s layout demonstrates the game’s well-thought-out design. While movement from left to right commonly represents movement forward in 2D games, this game is oriented towards the left, implying a movement into the past. The further left you go, the older and more run-down Possum Springs becomes, from abandoned buildings, video stores, and empty parking lots to the old coal mines of the glory days, while the town’s exit all the way to the right is blocked by road work throughout a large part of the game.
There are a lot of other things to praise about Night in the Woods: the quirky mini-games (including “Ancient Doom Spire Demontower Part IV: Slaughter of the Blood Thief” which could easily stand on its own), the clear and colorful art style, and the excellent soundtrack where each song is unique to a specific scene.
It should be clear by now that I absolutely loved this game and would recommend it to everyone. It’s fresh, unique, thematically bold, and just plain fun. One character or location that seems slightly familiar is enough for Night in the Woods to pull you in.
Strong Characters, Weak Foundation
Night in the Woods is a game that relies on its characters. You control Mae, a 20-year-old cat returning to her home town of Possum Springs after dropping out of college. Not quite knowing what to do with herself, she spends her days slumming with her friends: a fox, a bear, and a crocodile. Despite being a story revolving around a bunch of animals, these characters come off as incredibly human. The flawed, believable, and lovable characters are ultimately the game’s strength. Unfortunately, the game that surrounds these characters is not as enjoyable.
Night in the Woods is a narrative-driven side-scrolling game, and as one would expect from the genre, gameplay is pretty light. There’s some platforming scattered throughout the roughly 8-hour adventure, but most of your time will be spent walking through Possum Springs talking to its residents and hanging out with your friends, Gregg, Bea, and Angus.
The characters start out simple, but as each day goes by you become closer with them and see that they all have their own issues. The dialogue between characters is often fairly humorous as everyone adopts a blunt style of speaking, but the conversations always feel genuine. The characters aren’t just there to service Mae’s story; they feel incredibly real. This extends beyond the main cast of young adults too. Even Mae’s mother, who appears at first to be the sweet supportive mom you would expect to find in a video game, ends up having her own unique traits and accompanying baggage.
While the character work is quite well done, the game surrounding it wasn’t very engaging. The first half of the game follows Mae as she tries to settle back into a normal life at Possum Springs. While I feel this part of the game is crucial for developing these characters, it also feels meandering. On several occasions I was left wondering if the story was truly going anywhere. And even when the narrative is hijacked halfway through to focus on a town mystery, it ends up feeling like a story that didn’t need to be there, and a story that didn’t have much in terms of a resolution.
I think back on my time with a Night in the Woods feeling conflicted. It is incredibly charming and features characters I grew quite attached to. I think a lot of people will connect with this game on a personal level. The characters go through relatable struggles, and the game handles the concept of mental illness very well. But the slow pace and meandering story brought the game down for me, and ultimately the great characters weren’t enough to make this an enjoyable experience overall.
Night in the Woods was developed by Infinite Fall and published by Finji. It launched on 21 February 2017 on PC and PlayStation 4, and was released with an expansion on Xbox One on 13 December 2017. The extended version came to Nintendo Switch on 1 February 2018. A mobile version is currently in development.
Finji provided a copy of Night in the Woods for Wendel. Jörn paid for his own copy. Neither reviewer was in direct contact with Infinite Fall or Finji.
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