It’s easy to get lost in your own life. Sometimes plans don’t work out or you never really had one to begin with, making that awkward trek back to square one all the more frustrating. Doubly so when you stumble back into a place you thought you knew so well and realize that while you stayed the same, everything you knew about it changed. It’s rare to find a piece of media that captures certain, specific moods and ideas so well, yet here we are with Night in the Woods.

Die Anywhere Else

Through Night in the Woods we meet Mae, a stunted college dropout cat moving back to her childhood home. Not quite an adult and not quite a teen, Mae finds herself unable to even try to make anything of herself in Possum Springs. You’ll spend your days sleeping ’til dusk, chatting up townspeople, jumping around on power lines, committing petty crimes with the few friends you have, and maybe even playing a little bass. These and other activities form the backbone of the gameplay, but it’s the story, style, and characters that really carry this one.

The presentation is absolutely worth gushing over. The town changes as days come and go, with the lighting in certain days and areas just begging you to find scenic spots and grab a screenshot. Great care has clearly gone into capturing the small town feel, and the music matches up with this little world through every campfire party and amateur band practice. Infrequent, surreal dreamscapes offer blasts of neon into the otherwise soft oranges and yellows of the season, while boarded up shops and the simple yet expressive characters remind you that this isn’t exactly a happy place for most.

With themes of self-doubt and loathing, disengagement from the world around you, a lack of progression in your life, it’s easy to think that Night in the Woods could be a dreary affair — yet somehow the tone didn’t make me roll my eyes. The characters are relatable in their own ways, and the writing can be so over-the-top at times it rolls right into dark and audacious humor. The slice of life nature of the game was what stuck with me the most, and even when it takes turns into a bigger story arc that goes from mundane Autumn familiarity into (sometimes literal) nightmares.

Gregg rulz ok

For the majority of the game, every day gives you a core task or two. These are usually meeting up with a certain character or attending an event, and you’re allowed to head straight to them once you get your lay of the land, but the heart of this game comes from taking the time to get to know everyone you can. The game’s story can be finished in a couple hours, but with so much (more often than not amusing) dialogue between characters you can easily stretch that out to the ten to 12 range. Take the time to see what people are thinking or feeling, climb up to the rooftops, and gather up as many sketches in your journal as you can. Even without those though, the game’s core themes and plot are compelling enough on their own.

The bulk of the forced encounters are between Mae and her two friends Bea and Gregg, and even more than Mae they’re the real standouts. Bea’s cutting sarcasm and distaste with Mae’s return couldn’t be further from Gregg’s manic joy, and it’ll take multiple playthroughs to see their storylines in full. The rest of the core cast is rounded out by the likes of Gregg’s boyfriend Angus and Mae’s family, but even characters you only talk to once or twice can leave their mark.

At the end of everything, hold on to anything

This is an easy game for me to recommend to anyone, though the biggest obstacle in your enjoyment is going to be yourself. There isn’t a lot of “game” here, and what is boils down to (sometimes frustrating) platforming to get around town and a few minigames between reading and learning about the people of this town. Still, I fully encourage trying it if given a chance or just jumping right in. And if you’ve already given it a go there’s a few reasons to double dip on Switch. The game runs fantastically in handheld to the point it was my preferred means. This version also includes the “Weird Autumn” update content right out the gate, offering new dialogue options, events, and more that those coming home can enjoy the unexpected turns along the way.

The highest praise I can give Night in the Woods is that it made me care. Every in-game day was a chance to take in some new detail about these very flawed and likable characters. When I can start playing a game and not realize I’ve been at it ’til three in the morning, that means something. If my own set of nightmare eyes are anything to judge by, it won’t be long before I’m coming home to Possum Springs again.

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8.5
  • A story carried by characters worth learning and caring about
  • Gorgeous visuals help capture the mood and compliment the narrative
  • Ability to make your own dialogue choices and choose who you spend time with adds plenty of replayability
  • Not much “game” here for anyone looking for it
  • For all of its positive qualities, its themes and narrative just might not be for everyone

System: Nintendo Switch

Release Date: February 1, 2018

Categories: Adventure, Platformer

Publisher: Finji

Developer: Infinite Fall

Written by Ricky Berg

When he isn’t writing for Nintendo Wire, Ricky’s anticipating the next Kirby, Fire Emblem, or if the stars ever align, Mother 3 to be released. Till then he’ll have the warm comfort of Super Smash Bros. to keep him going.

Ricky Berg