Various songs, books, and movies always say you can go home, that no matter where you are in life your home is waiting for you. Night in the Woods offers that you can always go home, but home may not be what you remembered. Exploring a dying small town may not sound like the most exciting thing, so does Night in the Woods bring an interesting take to this story, or should you camp elsewhere?
You play as Mae Borowski, a 20-year-old cat who dropped out of college for reasons she’s not quite ready to share. Moving back in with her parents at Possum Springs, and trying to catch up with her friends, Mae is just trying to live her life again. Of course, this means dealing with the fact that her friends have grown up and have jobs, Possum Springs isn’t quite how she left it, and things are getting a bit weird with Mae’s dreams. Naturally, things begin to take a turn for the strange in the town itself, but I’m going to stop there because the less you know about this plot going in, the happier you’ll be.
What you need to know is how well Night in the Woods gets its narrative across, thanks in no small part to some absolutely fantastic writing. Each character in Night in the Woods feels like a real flawed person, Mae herself most of all. Relating with the dropout is easy, as she’s at a strange point in her life where she’s completely unsure what her next move is or how she should be dealing with the situations that come her way. Whether she’s sending awkward IMs to her friends begging them to hang with her, standing in front of a mirror trying to give herself a pep-talk to encourage herself to go to a party, or trashing a bathroom at a fast food restaurant because she’s upset with ruining her friend’s night out, Mae is a character that everyone can probably see a little of themselves in.
Of course, it’s not just Mae. Her best friend Gregg and his boyfriend Angus are trying to establish a life for themselves, attempting to stick to their plan of moving out of Possum Springs and to a bigger city while also trying to work out issues between them and families that don’t care for them. Mae’s other closest friend, Bea, wants nothing more than the life Mae decided to leave but is stuck in town trying her best to run her parents shop after her mom died of cancer. Even smaller characters, like local weirdo and possible psychopath Germ, horror movie aficionado Lori, and wannabe poet Selmers, all have little quirks, interesting histories, and great scenes of bonding with Mae over the course of the game.
Interestingly enough, you may not catch every scene. One of the most important aspects of Night in the Woods is exploring Possum Springs and constantly checking out new areas you couldn’t reach before as construction ends, or rechecking old areas and keeping tabs on your friends. Every time you do a major scene in the game the time moves forward by one day and characters all move on with their lives. If you chose not to spend a few moments looking for constellations with Mae’s old teacher, then you lose the chance to do so on that day, possibly keeping you from seeing all the constellations with him. It’s always worth taking a run around town and checking out each character’s movements and life events.
There are several different gameplay ideas at work in Night in the Woods, but it’s all wrapped around a simple 2D platformer. Mae can jump a few times in a row to boost her last jump to reach higher locations, walk along wires like they’re tightropes, and some other basic skills. It’s not really the focus of the game, but it’s done well enough that I legitimately enjoyed getting around town. Your platforming skills are only really put to the test during Mae’s dreams, which sees her navigating some twisted landscapes to find ghostly music players. These sections aren’t hard since it’s impossible to die, but it’s still fun jumping around and figuring out how to get to each location.
Most of the time when you interact with something you get into a little mini-game. The most common is a rhythm game which occurs when Mae and her band practices their songs. Mae plays bass, and you’ll be hitting buttons as they fly down the track along with the bass parts of their songs. It’s a really well-made Guitar Hero-styled game, and watching your band react to you hitting the correct or incorrect notes is hilarious. However, this isn’t the only mini-game. Stealing pretzels from a store then feeding them to Mae’s pet rats. Trashing a bathroom by scratching up mirrors and stuffing wads of toilet paper into the hand driver. Trying to help your friend transport a creepy robot up the steps and to his apartment. By the end of Night in the Woods I must have seen a solid 15 different gameplay ideas, and I know I missed a few outside of that.
To give an example as to how creative and varied Night in the Woods can be, at one point Mae went into the woods with Gregg. First, they had a knife fight, and this involved moving your hand up and down to dodge Gregg’s jabs while jabbing back and trying to hit his hand. Following that the two decided to break the log they were on by timing jumps to snap it in two. After that, they grabbed Gregg’s crossbow and you partake in a simple first-person shooting minigame trying to hit a target with a wobbly crosshair. Every one of these events was unique, fun, controlled well, and could have been quality ideas to toss into a WarioWare-style minigame collection, and this holds true for all the change-ups I mentioned before as well almost every other minigame I ran into.
I want to give a special shout out to Demontower (or, as it’s called in-game, “Demontower: Part IV – Slaughter of the Blood Thief”), the amazingly well-made game loaded onto Mae’s computer. Reminding me of a scaled down Hyper Light Drifter, Demontower is so good that it could have honestly put several $10 indie games to shame with just a little more polish. You’ll climb a tower while dashing around, attacking monsters and avoiding their attacks until you find a key, which you then use to get to the level’s boss and take them on so you climb the tower to the next level. It’s not complicated, but it doesn’t have to be, as it does a lot with simple gameplay and easily provides an extra hour or two of fun to a 10-hour long game.
All of this is wrapped up in an artistically impressive package. Night in the Woods is lovely to look at, having and art style that makes some fantastic use of colors and perspective. There’s some great direction around the cinematics, with animations that seem to “skip” around really quickly and funny sound effects that give the scenes a great and humorous slant. However, this does lead to my only problem with the game, which is the loading screens. Every area seems to have several very short loading screens between them. It’s really not so bad that I was bothered by them, but the loading is there. Honestly, it’s a bit of a stretch to say I even did notice, as I mostly only thought this up when I was trying to find any sort of negative experience I had with the game. The soundtrack that accompanies the game is equally great, featuring quiet moody themes around town, fun little upbeat songs in stores (I swear the video store is playing a cover of some song I just can’t quite place), and kicking in during the rare moments it has to. I’d listen to this outside of the game easily.
Look, Night in the Woods is seriously a masterpiece. At various times I cried, I cheered, I was angry at characters or regretted something that happened. I saw a bit of myself in every character, related to the world, smiled at all the gameplay segments, and more. I can’t recommend this game enough. Spend a night in the woods. Come home.
Night in the Woods is basically everything I always hope games can be. Powerful and moving with gameplay that's clever, rewarding, and unique, all wrapped up in one of my favorite presentations. Don't pass this up.
- Easily Relatable Story with Wonderful Characters
- Constantly Changing Gameplay
- Lovely Art Style, Beautiful Soundtrack
- A Lot of Small Loading Screens