Shea Reviews – Night in the Woods

Night in the Woods is a fairly small, simple game. You play as Mae, a 20-year-old cat that’s mostly just a person. She’s back home in Possum Springs after dropping out of college. There’s a supernatural element to the story that builds over time, but you’re mostly just living. You hang out with friends, wander around town, go on small adventures, meet new people, and sleep. Mae sleeps a lot, even for a cat.

I love how the world of Possum Springs develops over time. There’s a ton of history to this small town, and all of it feels true to life. I didn’t grow up in a run-down town like this, and I certainly wasn’t a rebellious slacker-type, but plenty of the relationships and circumstances still hit close to home for me. Everyone went through that period in young adulthood where they felt like they didn’t have control, missed their old friends, wanted to be someone — or somewhere — else, and struggled to develop adult relationships. Hell, some of that is still true for me and I’m almost 30.

The game has a simple look, but nails the small town feel.

Like most everything else about the game, the music and visuals are simple — but they really help sell the world of Possum Springs. Since you’re mostly just running around town, the music is an important factor in driving action, and you hear a lot of it over and over as you explore on different days. It never felt monotonous to me, at least not in a negative way. There is a certain amount of boredom to Night in the Woods that feels deliberate, so in that sense, the music is appropriate. Visually, the game has a papercraft look that totally fits the artistic aesthetic and characters. There’s a fluidity of motion that sells the expressiveness of the characters, though their giant eyes don’t hurt, either. Special shoutout to Mae’s ear that bobs as she runs. It’s adorable.

The writing in Night in the Woods is the absolute selling point of the experience, despite the fact that there’s no voice acting. It’s witty, charming, and feels true to that small town hipster perspective. There are times where everyone becomes a bit of a wit machine and the dialogue would feel more appropriate for a text conversation, but I enjoyed it throughout. The characters go back and forth rapidly between talking about vicious ways for each other to die and the meaning of life, but it rarely feels abrupt. I’d argue that some of their philosophizing is heavy-handed and naive, but these are 20-year-olds we’re talking about here.

The writing and characters are the best parts of Night in the Woods.

From a gameplay perspective, there isn’t much to Night in the Woods. The vast majority of the game consists of running from place to place and pressing square to advance text boxes. While the writing is great, I did start to lose interest in particularly long conversations. And boy do I wish Mae could run just a little bit faster. I don’t think I’d mind some of the more tedious nature of exploring the world if I wasn’t doing the same thing day after day. I understand that the monotony is deliberate in selling the circumstances, but it doesn’t always make for compelling gameplay.

Night in the Woods does have a handful of mini-game style sequences that break up the running and talking, which I appreciate. Unfortunately, most of them don’t control all that well. There’s a recurring Guitar Hero type game where you’re playing bass with your friends, and while I loved the actual songs, the sync of the buttons seems a little off — which, you know, is pretty important to nail in a Guitar Hero game. There’s another side game that’s a top-down 2D dungeon-crawling game. You even boot it up from Mae’s computer. I enjoyed it at first, but once the difficulty starts to ramp up, the weird hitboxes and enemy attacks become an annoyance.

The story is constantly building to some paranormal event, and things get quite weird toward the end. Honestly, I was very interested in where the story was going, but its resolution left something to be desired. It’s not that it uses cliches or lame twists or has a bad reveal, but that whole piece is handled with a bit of a shrug at the end, like the characters — and, frankly, the developers — don’t really care about it. That makes me not care about it, too. Though I will say, the dream sequences are some of the highlights of the game. They’re perfectly weird and spooky, and make great use of the simplistic graphics and lighting.

Night in the Woods brings the spooky quite well.

Night in the Woods is a game best played in short bursts, one day at a time. That helps mitigate the monotony, and not rushing through might help you better appreciate the build of the over-arching story. For me, though, it was hard to not be a little bored throughout. The fun writing and loveable characters don’t completely make up for the bland exploration and lackluster gameplay mechanics. Still, if you’re a fan of this genre of game, Night in the Woods brings a lot to the table that works.

8.4/10

So, what did you think of Night in the Woods! Let me know in the comments below, and check out my other video game reviews!

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