Review: Night in the Woods

5 stars
Lovingly told interactive story about change, death and friendship

Night in the Woods is an adventure game available for virtually all platforms (as of this writing: Windows, macOS, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, Switch). The game mostly takes place from the perspective of college drop-out Mae Borowski, whose return to her hometown of Possum Springs leads to reunions, conflicts, weird dreams, and a gradually unfolding mystery.

The town is inhabited by anthropomorphic animals (and, oddly, by some actual animals); Mae herself is a 20-year-old cat. The player controls Mae in a manner similar to a jump-and-run game, but with the sense of safety of a point-and-click adventure. While there are areas of the game world that can be a bit tricky to reach, there is very little puzzle-solving.

From time to time, a scene turns into a mini-game (playing the bass guitar, stealing an item from a shop, hitting objects with a baseball bat). You often only get one shot at these games, and whether you succeed or fail will reveal small variations in the story.

While the story is more or less on rails, the game’s characters keep you engaged. There’s Mae’s old friend Gregg, a fox whose short attention span doesn’t seem to get in the way of his employment at the “Snack Falcon”. As time goes on, the depth of his love for his boyfriend, a bear named Angus, is revealed, who seems to be Gregg’s best hope of growing up.

From left to right: Germ, Bea, Angus, Mae, and Gregg at band practice. (Credit: Infinite Fall. Fair use.)

There’s Beatrice “Bea” Santello, a goth who seems initially hostile but who opens up after Mae spends more time with her. And of course there are Mae’s parents, who struggle to get their daughter to tell them what exactly caused her to drop out of college.

When speaking with other characters, you are often given multiple dialog options, but what you can say is constrained by Mae’s perspective on the world as a 20-year-old with … issues. After many experiences, Mae automatically scribbles notes into her personal journal, which are observations like “GREGG RULZ OK” or “THOUGHT: THIS PLACE IS FALLING APART”, often accompanied by cartoons.

As the game progresses, Mae draws little notes in her journal. (Credit: Infinite Fall. Fair use.)

Over time, the mystery at the heart of the story gradually becomes apparent. Mae experiences weird dreams and a growing sense of anxiety, and she witnesses strange goings-on in Possum Springs. The ultimate “reveal” is less important than Mae’s struggle to come to terms with her own fragility. There are discussions of death and religion, but they are meditative, not proselytizing.

Night in the Woods is a gorgeous game: the characters, landscapes and animations are simple but beautiful, enriched by context-specific background music (listen to the soundtrack). The writing is terrific and the pacing is generally good; the early game can feel a bit drawn out.

The main controls are easy to master, though some of the mini-games can feel a bit unfair the first time around. You’ll probably get at least one replay out of the game, to discover hidden branches of the story you missed the first time around, and to master the various mini-games.

On the Nintendo Switch, which is the version we played, the load times can be a bit frustrating: going from one screen to another can trigger a five second “loading” animation, and it’s in the nature of the game’s controls that you might do so accidentally a few times.

The Verdict

I highly recommend giving this game a chance, unless you’re put off by some of the themes of young adult drama and prefer your games to be more challenging. Currently, the game goes for $20 on Steam, which is a decent price for the amount of content that’s packed in here. While the game is not without its minor frustrations, I would give it 4.5 out of 5 stars, rounded up.