With elements from The Sun Also Rises, the Persona series, and Stephen King, Night in the Woods tells an incredibly human story through, ironically enough, anthropomorphic animals. With so many strong, compelling indie games vying for our attention in recent times, can Night in the Woods match the quality?
Walking into Night in the Woods requires taking a leap into the unknown. It’s hard to tell exactly what the game will be from the outset, as developer Infinity Fall meshes many different genres and gameplay mechanics that produces a game greater than the sum of its parts.
Mae Borowski, Night in the Woods‘ feline, college dropout, acts as the linchpin for which the narrative flows through. Mae represents millennials well; an eclectic style coupled with a carefree, yet morbid outlook on the world. If that sounds contradictory, that’s because millennials widely are contradictory beings. Mae has returned home to the dying town of Possum Springs in the hopes of recapturing the magic of her childhood and hometown friendships, but quickly finds that the town she returned to is not the one she left.
Watching Mae try to reintegrate with her friends and family stands out as Night in the Woods‘ strongest facet. A vast majority of the game gives off vibes of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, a 1926 novel about a cast of characters trying to find purpose and fill their time. As contrived as that may sound, Night in the Woods uses the time to allow players to build bonds with Mae’s various friends and family members. Some bonds will inevitably be more developed than others due to the finite amount of opportunities to spend time with NPCs, a la Persona. Because of Mae’s time away at college, it feels like she is also getting to know her friends for the first time, which makes the interactions much more genuine. As the tension ramps up in the last couple of hours, so do the emotional beats, all of which satisfyingly payoff.
Unfortunately, Night in the Woods may have bit off more than it can chew with other elements. The paranormal drama gets setup briefly with the rest of the exposition early on, but is rarely touched upon until late in the game, leading to pacing issues. The humdrum, day-to-day activities nicely offsets the awkwardness, but the suspense feels crammed into the last hour. Considering other aspects of the narrative had so much room to breath, the ending feels rushed and only tangentially connected to the greater theme of mortality.
Platforming also leaves something to be desired, mainly due to the portrayal of depth. The 2D, storybook environment, coupled with the combination of Mae’s floatiness and the need for precise jumps turns platforming into a nightmare. The dream sequences which rely heavily on platforming, while aesthetically and musically appealing, often feel like a slog and slows the already snail-like pace.
Night in the Woods oozes style everywhere. The simplistic look of a children’s book immediately feels pleasing, like curling up with a warm blanket and hot cocoa. But the clean aesthetic doesn’t cut corners; an immersive amount of detail brings Possum Springs to life without complex shapes or polygons. Never have I felt that the music was more integral for setting tone than in Night in the Woods. The quiet and ambient air would be significantly weaker if not for the music. The well-tuned, jazzy beats quickly became some of my favorite music in gaming.
No, Night in the Woods doesn’t hit every nail on the head, but it didn’t have to. If you want a quiet adventure through the human experience, look no further than this group of talking animals. Pacing and platforming issues aside, Night in the Woods provides a subtle tale of life and death with deep emotional connections, all while pleasing the senses, which shouldn’t be passed up.