After a very successful Kickstarter campaign and several years in development, Night In The Woods has been one of the indie community’s most anticipated games this year. Now, finally playable, the game is a charming adventure game packed with mini games and memorable characters. A must-have for fans of games like Oxenfree and Firewatch.
Night In The Woods follows Mae Borowski, a rambunctious, sardonic cat, newly returned to her home in Possum Springs having just dropped out of college. Possum Springs is a small mining town that’s slowly being phased out of existence by time. The town is so tiny that residents have to drive out to the highway to be able to get delivery pizza, and the only food store in town since the grocery store closed is a convenience store called the Snack Falcon. Mae spends her time getting reacquainted with life before college: visiting her high school friends daily, talking to neighbors, and hopping around the power lines. She picks up right where she left off, playing in her old band and getting pizza with her friends, but something is amiss. Things in town quickly start to get weird with the discovery of a severed arm, and it’s up to Mae and her friends to find if there’s a conspiracy running amok or if Mae’s brain is just broken.
Night In The Woods is a game about relationships and building them as you see fit. You can be a Mae who just breezes through town to uncover a mystery, or you can be a part of the community, living out life with your punk ass friends and doing crimes (Crimes!). Mae is immature and ignorant, but that’s what makes her so lovable, saying things like ‘Sorry you have to work’ to her mom, only to be reminded that her mom’s always worked, or mistaking dolphins for endorphins. Her immaturity can be frustrating at times, but it’s also what makes her so relatable as a character and drives the majority of her growth.
For a game like this, which is more or less a light adventure, narrative is imperative. Luckily, Night In The Woods’ story is charming and engrossing. You feel as much a part of the town as Mae is, and while the feeling never gets too overly spooky, there is a thrill to discovering the secrets of the town.
The character writing is some of the best we’ve seen in any game. The dialogue is witty and sarcastic. It’s often laugh-out-loud funny, but never in a way that doesn’t feel natural. Each character is lovable and has a distinct personality, and by the end of the game, you feel a fondness for everyone.
A lot of this is helped by the fact that Infinite Fall has done a flawless job of capturing life in small town America. The bleakness of confines and the feeling of being trapped that rings through in the game’s tag line, ‘Hold Onto Anything.’ The relationships formed within a community where everyone knows each other and everyone is dealing with the same problems, having nothing to do but break lightbulbs and sword fight in the woods—all of this feels like it’s taken from someone’s actual life. Coupled with that, Night In The Woods deals with some very dark themes, from depression and anxiety, to poverty and death, and it navigates these waters beautifully. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game before now that can offhandedly make a joke about alcoholism and abuse that feels simultaneously relevant, tasteful, and deeply empathetic.
The dark themes are also what make or break the game depending on the player. It’s more or less the video game equivalent of emo (but Jawbreaker or Promise Ring emo, none of that Hawthorne Heights/cut my wrists bs). It won’t make you feel great, but it also won’t bum you out completely.
It will make you feel though, which is a thing I’d like to see video games do more often. Games like Life Is Strange and Firewatch provide excellent narratives that make you feel involved, but Night In The Woods makes you feel involved in the town itself and feel attached to the emotions that that carries. Each day you want to check in with Selmers to hear her stupid poetry or hop out to the edge of town to hang with Germ and the crust punks.
The only critique for the story of Night In The Woods is that the ending chapter feels separate from the rest of the proceedings, trying to usher along the majority of the story in one chapter after three chapters of lighter narrative/exploration segments. The end is not terrible, but it’s definitely not the ending you spend your time hoping for, ultimately leaving you wishing for more. Luckily the writing maintains it’s charm throughout and the last segment is linear, making for a quick detour.
Night In The Woods also suffers from some pacing issues. The game can feel slow at times, and to get the most out of it, you’ll find yourself repeatedly walking down the same streets and climbing the same buildings to talk to the same people on a daily basis. The writing manages to make it enjoyable, but over the course of 10-12 hours, the repetition can wear on you. I found myself enjoying this game much more in 1-2 hour segments than trying to power through it all at once.
Outside of the story, one of the main reasons that Night In The Woods drew so much hype originally is its art. The art design at a glance is cute and simple, but always charming and vibrant. Possum Springs is teeming with life, even if it’s just a possum rustling leaves as it runs behind a building. The game often feels like you’re playing a cartoon, helping to make it entirely approachable, which helps considering the weight the game carries with it.
The real highlight of the game is the soundtrack. Composed by developer Alec Holowka, the soundtrack for Night In The Woods is one of the best video game soundtracks you can find. It’s a charming mix of keyboards, violins, organs, accordions, and more that gives the game a light rustic feel with an old-timey carnival twist. The soundtrack feels like Fall should sound and mixes perfectly with the game’s art for an engrossing experience. Sound is also essential to the game as dream sequences focus on finding characters who slowly add new instruments to build the soundtrack as you explore and the rhythm games let you rock out with your animal pals.
Night In The Woods is a simple game. You walk. You jump. You occasionally play a mini game where you steal a pretzel. You walk some more. There are some light platforming elements but the most platform-y it gets is when you’re jumping around on rooftops, which isn’t really required to get through the game’s main narrative. The mini games do add a lot to the game. Walking and talking can get repetitive at times, so breaking it up with silly things to do, like spraying water from a fountain at mall shoppers or the awesome rhythm game segments, which go a long way to re-energize the feel of each chapter and keep you going.
While mini-games are fun, they’re not something I can find myself coming back for. The game has some alternative narrative options you can take, which I fully plan to revisit in the Fall, when my Autumn obsession is in full form. Until then, despite it having some replay value, I am content with my time as this is on the longer side in terms of narrative game runtime.
The Demon’s Tower warrants mention too. The Demon’s Tower is a game within a game found on Mae’s laptop. Equal parts Hyper Light Drifter and Dark Souls cat simulator, it’s a top down rogue-like that gets way harder as you go and also gives you less life with each level. It’s infurryating at times but overall a fun addition and an easy 2 hour rabbit hole if you die like an idiot over and over.
Overall, Night In The Woods is a charming and well-executed slice of American life in a small town. It’s pacing issues are minor and definitely not a reason to avoid diving in to Possum Springs to hang out with Gregg, Bea, and Angus. Infinite Fall have done a great job exploring heavy themes in a charming and comfortable way, and they’ve also managed to create a game that is a strong example of how to drive video games as a medium for story telling.
**On a side note, you can’t platinum this game yet or get all the Steam achievements. Some trophies don’t trigger correctly and a much needed New Game+ mode is hopefully coming. We reached out to the publisher and they are working on the issue.