Games have often been a source of escapism for me; some people like to read stories, but I like to play them. However, for every Final Fantasy or Destiny that I play, where I can get caught up in a fantastical world full of heroes and villains, I do enjoy games that tell stories that are a bit more grounded. Night in the Woods is one of those games, where even though the art style implies that you are just playing a cute adventure game with anthropomorphic animals, the story and topics dig deep and tell a very relatable story. In fact, this may be one of the best-written games that I have played in quite some time, with some stellar writing and characters; Night in the Woods made me care more for the protagonist Mae and her friends than a number of games (and characters) I’ve played over the years.
Night in the Woods focuses primarily on one Margaret “Mae” Borowski, as she heads back to her hometown of Possum Springs after dropping out of college. As she settles back into town she reforms friendships with some of her old school friends, Gregg, Angus, and Bea, who welcome her back to the old band they used to play in when Mae still lived in town. The game plays out in days, and I enjoyed having the late night conversations with Mae’s dad as he lounges and watches some tv after a long day, or the chats with her mom when she wakes up in the morning.
The game is an adventure game, but relies heavily on dialogue, on talking with all sorts of people in Possum Springs, often with a lengthy chain of conversation that can occur. There is a little bit of platforming, but there’s no crazy challenging sections in the game, just lots of jumping and exploring to go down. One of the most important pieces of background to the game is the town and it’s local industry, where the town once relied upon coal as a primary source of labor, the coal mine has since shut down. The effects of the mine closure can be felt throughout the town, as Mae will talk to people who inform her of what’s gone on, and you see businesses close and homes abandoned as the game showcases the consequences of said closure.
It is the combination of deindustrialization of the town, the loss of jobs and people, and Mae’s own existential crises, that really captured my attention. Possum Springs feels like a real place, with very real people affected by advancements in technology and changes in global economies that affect small towns relying on things like coal. While the game is populated with very cute animals, the cuteness doesn’t change that they mirror any blue-collar town in everyday Canada or America that has faced the same types of closures and changes in the local way of life. Top that off with Mae, someone that is struggling with a number of mental health issues, and figuring out what to do with her life; I was constantly in awe once again at how real the developers at Infinite Fall have made these characters. There are some plot points, however, that lean towards the supernatural, and I think that helps you remember that it is a game, but it doesn’t ever get to be too much. The latter bit of the game really gets crazy, but again the characters are so well-written that you just want to see where the story will go and how Mae and her friends will solve some of the goings-on around Possum Springs.
As for the visuals of the game, Night in the Woods has a very charming, children’s book style, brought to life by artist Scott Benson. I found myself taking a number of screenshots throughout the game just because of how fantastic some of the scenes could be. From the dark woods at night to the hilly streets of Possum Springs, and to Mae’s crazy and vivid dreams, there’s a lot of great visuals to take in during the playthrough of Night in the Woods. Another great standout is definitely the soundtrack, which varies from some simple synth-electro pieces, chilled indie tracks, and even some great garage-punk sounds you get when Mae and her friends are jamming. Alec Holowka did a fantastic job on the soundtrack, and you can even pick it up on Bandcamp if you feel so inclined.
Night in the Woods has been out for around a year on PC; With the Nintendo Switch release, you get some of the additions seen in the special edition releases of the game. The Switch version adds some new mini-games and dream sequences, as well as the scenes from the pre-release mini-episodes that were originally only available on the PC. As I did not play this when it first came out on the PC or other consoles, I’m not really sure what bits were added in, so I would say they did a good job seamlessly dropping in the extra content. The game runs well docked and playing on the tv, however, sometimes there were some framerate dips when I was playing in handheld mode. It wasn’t ever too much of an issue though and happened fairly infrequently so it rarely took me out of the game.
The setting and characters of Night in the Woods may go down as some of my all-time favorites. As I was playing I just got caught up in the little town of Possum Springs and the daily goings-on of everyone there, and just never wanted it to end, even when the main story wraps up. It’s a game that tackles all sorts of topics so well, and with care, and rarely have I seen a game handle mental health issues especially like Night in the Woods does. If you’re looking for a great narrative-based adventure game to get caught up in, you really should play Night in the Woods. Well, what are you waiting for? Possum Springs is waiting for you.
A Nintendo Switch copy of Night in the Woods was provided by Finji for the purposes of this review.