Night in the Woods affected me very deeply. I have been suffering from severe depression for 9 months. If you’ve ever suffered from depression or a similar ailment, you might have realized that although most people are willing to console you, or offer advice, they usually just don’t get it. And it can be hard to get through the most difficult times if you don’t have someone who really understands the situation. Night in the Woods is a narrative-driven adventure game that gets it. It gets a lot of things, from dealing with depression to the dying state of the middle class, to how youth communicate. It has buckets of very impressive humor, lots of minigames to play, and a mystery-based story that will have you riveted the entire journey. Games like Heavy Rain, The Walking Dead, Journey, The Last of Us, and Life is Strange have challenged what a video game needs to look like, and how much a game makes us feel. Night in the Woods stands tall amongst those games; I would even argue taller.
Imagine if Superbad, Twin Peaks, and Animal Farm had a baby. That’s what Night in the Woods would look like, and it’s that good. The game follows Mae as she moves back to her hometown of Possum Springs because she has decided that college isn’t for her (and for other reasons unknown). She spends her days traveling around town, hanging out with her friends, and trying to dig herself out of the melancholic slump she’s found herself in. The tone of the early game is very nostalgic, and it really made me want to hang out with my parents. But there’s also something kind of sinister about the tone. The game is called Night in the Woods, after all. What’s smart is that the game lets you ponder this, just until you’ve dropped your guard, then Mae and her friends find a severed arm on the ground. This Blue Velvet moment mixed with a Twin Peaks vibe really drove the game forward and the rest of the narrative never lulled. Oh, and also Mae is a cat.
“The Samurai Jack-like graphics seem cutesy, but Night in the Woods earns a master class in tone.”
Night in the Woods is a narrative-focused game, like the popular Telltale point-and-click games, but features a 2D adventure/platforming core, which worked well with its choose-your-own-adventure style. Choices the player makes throughout their days in Possum Springs affect which friends they grow closest to, what minigames they will get to play, and which trophies they will get. The entire game cannot be experienced on one playthrough. For example, if the player goes to band practice they get to play a music rhythm minigame, if they choose to hang out with Gregg they get to smash light bulbs behind the local convenience store, or if you hang out with Bea, they might go to the mall and spray people with the fountain. If you spend more time with one friend, you’ll get to discover more of their backstory.
As the game progresses, the town slowly unlocks, and the player meets new characters, all with mini-plots. A lot of these plots threads contain some kind of commentary on the shrinking state of the middle class, the job market for millennials, the state of working class small towns, or lighter topics like poetry, music love, and stargazing. I took cultural studies courses that were built around the idea of a novel capturing real life dialogue, and nothing I ever read nailed it like Night in the Woods. The dialogue in this game is a treat for anyone who loves humor or storytelling. Every single character and mini-plot has something hilarious and insightful to offer. The intricacy of Night in the Woods’ characters and world is staggering.
Like Animal Farm, and Maus before it, Night in the Woods effectively uses personified animals as effective characters. The visual style of the game is both vibrant and creepy. The Samurai Jack-like graphics seem cutesy, but Night in the Woods earns a master class in tone. The music was so fantastic that there were times when I would stop playing because I wanted to keep hearing the score. It’s synth heavy and features elements of post-rock, dream pop, shoegaze, and chillwave, which were all very appealing to my elitist musical palette. And Night in the Woods also knows that silence can be a powerful emotional backdrop.
Night in the Woods is a masterpiece, which may come across like lofty praise considering its indie nature, but it’s wholly earned in every way. It’s not going to appeal to everyone, but if you are an adventure, Metroidvania, sandbox, 2D platformer, or point-and-click fan, then please do yourself a favor and play this interesting, moving, hilarious, and fun experience.
*** PS4 copy purchased by the reviewer ***
- Very socially relevant themes
- Clever, and hilarious dialogue
- Intriguing mystery plot
- Multidimensional characters
- Not gameplay centric
- Some might find gameplay repetitive
- Not a long game