I’ve just finished playing Night in the Woods and am still struggling with the urge to boot it up and play it again. It is—in my opinion—a masterpiece.
In the game, you play Mae, a twenty year old girl returning home to the sleepy mountain town of Possum Springs after dropping out of college. You meet up with your parents and your friends from high school, attempting to re-integrate into a life you left behind.
It’s a combination of platformer and visual novel, with rhythm based mini-games sprinkled throughout. The art direction is minimalist, featuring anthropomorphic animal characters (think Robin Hood or Zootopia), vibrantly colored assets set against a beautiful fall landscape and some of the most charming dialogue I’ve ever read in my entire life.
The gameplay itself is simple. Move, jump and interact pretty much sum it up. The mini-games can be challenging, but there isn’t any kind of money or inventory system in the game. There aren’t any collectable or usable items that you’re trying to grind out so there’s no pressure to perform well. In fact, most of the mini-games aren’t repeatable so you’re forced to personally interact with one of the story’s central themes, learning to let go of personal failures and move on.
None of that is why you come to Night in the Woods however. You pick up this game for the characters and ho-boy are these characters juicy!
Mae is a counter-culture college drop out with a sharp wit, tempered by a low sense of self worth and a powerful sense of guilt. Her clumsy charm, self-awareness and die-hard loyalty make her instantly likable, and extraordinarily sympathetic.
But as brilliant as Mae is on her own, it’s the community of Possum Springs that takes this game to the next level.
Bea was the Valedictorian of her high school class, but her father had a nervous breakdown when her mother died, leaving her as the only one left to take over the family business. This killed her dream of going to college, budding a sense of resentment toward Mae (her former best friend) for dropping out.
Gregg works in a mini-mart and is dealing with anger issues of his own. He has a strongly destructive nature, fed by his boundless energy that is in constant conflict with his desire to be viewed as a good person. He feels unworthy of the love of his boyfriend Angus, while simultaneously wanting nothing more than to be the person that Angus needs.
Angus is more reserved. He’s quiet, polite, scientifically minded and gentler than his friends. Angus is usually the voice of reason in most situations, citing his history of childhood abuse as having taught him to appreciate good people all the more, but he can also be less forgiving when his friends are threatened.
Was that enough? I could honestly go on for pages talking about all the different characters in this game. I already feel like I’m doing it a disservice by not going into the carnival of emotions I felt during my interactions with Mae’s parents, but reviews aren’t essay’s Cody!
So in the interest of wrapping this up, I’m only going to discuss one more thing.
Mae’s journey weaves stress, depression and existential dread with Lovecraftian supernatural horror. It gets intense… and philosophical… and the answers it comes to aren’t always the ones you’re used to hearing. Most of the things I’ve talked about are aesthetic, but there is a beating heart to this game that I can’t explain without spoiling the story.
So I hope you play it.
Thanks for reading,
Ps. I streamed my playthrough of Night in the Woods on Twitch and got to talk to a lot of people who love the game just as much as I do! My pole for what I should play next resulted in a tie between Yakuza: Kiwami and Life is Strange 2, but given that the final chapter of LoS 2 will be released on December 3rd, I decided that the timing for that one was just too perfect so that’s what I’m going with.
If you’d like to watch me play, chat, give me a follow, or vote on what I should play next, check out my channel here:
PPS: The poll app doesn’t seem to work (or even appear) on phones. I’m not sure why.