I think it’s safe to say that 2017’s Night in The Woods, developed by the crew at Infinite Fall and published by Finji, has the potential to be an undeniable cult classic in the gaming community. That is, if it isn’t already.
Perhaps one of the main reasons that this title has become such an indie darling is due to how Night in the Woods, on one hand, is able to adhere to the fine standards one can expect from such a release.
There’s the sophisticated storytelling and the 2D aesthetic that’s pretty much become the go-to look of indie games.
As opposed to its indie ilk, though, it was obvious upon my playthrough that Night in The Woods didn’t have a gameplay-first focus, instead opting to grab you hook, line, and sinker with its amazing– and oftentimes heavy– narrative.
This Night in the Woods review will look at everything you can expect from this game. Ultimately, I’ll answer the question: is it worth playing or are you better off with some AAA blockbuster instead?
Welcome to Possum Springs
Night in the Woods centers around Mae Borowski, an anthropomorphized cat that also happens to be a college dropout, who decides to go back to her hometown of Possum Springs.
This fictionalized depiction of rural America is as much a character in the story as Mae is, with both of them having all too real problems and crises that will hit players right at home.
In the game, you’re tasked with controlling Mae as you traverse around town meeting its residents.
Chief among them are Bea, a goth croc whose intellect is stifled by day-job tedium; Gregg, a mischievous greaser fox who’s a textbook townie; and his boyfriend Angus, a dapper, mild-mannered bear that provides a great foil to Gregg’s lovably brash personality.
As you go through Night in the Woods, you’ll form and strengthen your relationships with these characters. All the while, Mae and the gang will also get embroiled in a conspiracy yarn as players progress through it.
I will say that NitW’s overarching story, dialogue, and– by some mystery that eludes me– characters stand as its strongest suits.
NitW’s narrative is equal parts mystery, conspiracy thriller, coming-of-age story, and psychological drama: a miasma that ultimately comes up with an engaging experience that’s germane to real life on so many levels.
Right from the start, NitW piqued my curiosity and made me want to find out answers to so many questions within its story. Why did Mae drop out of college? How did Possum Springs fall into such hard times? What’s up with Gregg’s spaghetti arms?
Admittedly, some of you might find NitW’s rather glacial pace in delivering its story to be off-putting, and I’d agree. Simply put, not everyone will find the slow burn of revelations and realizations to be a thrill ride.
However, there’s something to be commended here, as NiTW’s slow narrative delivery is expertly offset by its dialogue. Each conversation that Mae has with even the most ancillary of characters within Possum Springs is a showcase of characterisation.
It’s not as much quippy as it is reminiscent of the cynical wit usually found in teenagers from the 90s.
Speaking of, I’d even go so far as to say the main characters of NitW almost belong in an old Kevin Smith movie. You know, before he went and did movies about walrus chimeras and goose-stepping sausages.
In most cases, Mae may very well be the poster child for insufferable young adults, but Infinite Fall manages to make her likable with some damn fine redeeming qualities just as you’re ready to turn off your console or PC.
It’s a balancing act that the production team masterfully accomplishes.
What makes it even more impressive is how this “loveable asshole” character is somewhat a rarity even when you compare it to other titles in the interactive story genre, like the Life is Strange series or one of TellTale’s games.
As a whole, NitW’s driving force is its narrative. Sure, it might drag on a tad, but the exchanges between its characters and the downright interesting secrets of Possum Springs are worth digging.
(Game)Playing Around a Night in the Woods
As with what you’d expect from most indie titles, NitW likes to experiment with the overall gameplay here. Long story short, this title is a mish-mash of genres.
Primarily, it’s a social sim that’s conducted via a side scrolling platformer that favors exploration and peppered with minigames that range from dungeon crawling rogue-likes to rhythm games.
More specifically, I’d say the social sim aspect of NiTW is lighter compared to other titles in the genre. There’s an overarching story here, so don’t expect a glut of alternate endings a la Atlus’ Catherine or Doki Doki Literature Club.
You can also access Mae’s sketchbook-slash-journal, which gives you clues that help you move the story along.
All that said, the dialogue options presented to you in NitW won’t have any major consequences in the story. Now, the illusion of choice might be annoying if this was any other game, but the sarcastic wit of the characters’ dialogue more than makes up for it.
On the platforming side of things, it’s nothing to write home about. Mae has a triple jump mechanic you can use to get from point A to point B, but it’s nothing revolutionary for the genre.
Like I said, this game veers more toward exploration and NPC interaction. At worst, the platforming segments in NitW feel more like a chore than, well, a game. The minigames are more entertaining, on the other hand, though to varying degrees.
For example, the Demon Tower minigame, a top-down rogue-like, is way more addictive compared to Mae’s Dream segments, which just rehashes NitW’s mediocre platforming mechanics albeit with a bit of boss battles and fetch quests thrown in.
Whereas a title like Supergiant Games’ Hades seamlessly blends the rogue-like genre with a dating simulator, there’s a sense of disparity within NitW’s overall gameplay. However, it’s not so bad that it’ll ruin the entire experience for you.
What I’m saying is, NitW’s gameplay seems tacked on, making it feel like hurdles you just have to go through to get to the next part of its far superior story.
The Sights and Sounds of Possum Springs
With the exception of the Demon Tower minigame, which uses pixel art, NitW’s visuals uses rendered 2D models for its characters and environments. The result is a nicely atmospheric setting that has a bit of a paper cutout look to it combined with hints of folk art.
Much like other aspects of this game, NitW’s art style might not be for everyone. I personally don’t find it to be quite phenomenal on its own.
However, the 60fps frame rate and the subtle changes and movements within Possum Springs– from autumn leaves to chimney smoke– as you play along manages to make the game much more life-like than other titles out there that use this visual style.
When it comes to audio, I will say that NitW’s choice of indie rock-inspired riffs with tinges of synth makes the game look like a Fox Searchlight coming-of-age movie from the 2010s, and I simply love it.
If there’s one gripe I have with NiTW’s audio, it’s the lack of voiced dialogue. But hey, that’s something completely acceptable considering this isn’t a AAA release. Plus, it just adds to the whole indie charm of the deal.
Both its sounds and sights combine for a charming presentation, all things considered. At best, you can even rightfully treat NitW’s visuals and audio as akin to an animated feature film aimed at adults.
Should You Play Night in the Woods in 2022?
I highly recommend Night in the Woods if, like the game, you’re the type of person who’s looking for balance.
You might be looking for a superbly crafted story but find quicktime events to be tedious and unnecessary. On the other hand, you might be tired of Warriors-style games that make you mindlessly button mash your way within a lackluster narrative.
Well, Night in the Woods proves you can have both. Sure, the gameplay is not as polished as I’d want it to be, but it sure beats having to “press F to pay respects”.
If nothing else, its story stands as a shining example of what video game storytelling could be: complex, emotional, and all too human.
So, yeah, you should play Night in The Woods!
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