Night In the Woods Review

Posted May 1, 2017 by Panda Emily Jarrell in Video Games

Developer: Infinite Fall

Publisher: Finji

Release Date: February 21, 2017

Platforms: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, PlayStation 4 (reviewed)

I’m not really a video games person; I could probably count on two hands the number of video games I’ve played in the 20+ years I’ve been capable of playing them, and the majority of that list would just be various Pokémon games. That being said, every once in a while, a game piques my interest, and I’ll buy it if I have something to play it on. Such was the case with Infinite Fall’s Night in the Woods.

In Night in the Woods, you play as Mae, a twenty year-old anthropomorphic cat who has just returned to her hometown of Possum Springs after dropping out of college. The story begins in media res with Mae arriving at the Possum Springs bus stop, and you follow her story as you explore the town, investigating areas or items when prompted and solving platforming puzzles to reach new areas. There are also several mini-games necessary for advancing the plot; my more game-savvy friends have compared these portions of the game to WarioWare. I don’t know what that is, so I’m just going to take their word for it. Either way, for someone who is very much a video gaming casual, this gameplay was both simple enough not to frustrate me and engaging enough to make me actually want to keep going.

I didn’t know they made a video game about Frank Reynolds.

The first act of the game focuses on Mae reconnecting with her old friends and other townsfolk, allowing the player to learn more about her and her past through days of exploring up and down the length of the side-scrolling town. Just as this gameplay begins to get repetitive, however, the story has a spooky tonal shift, and Mae begins to learn that things may not be what they seem in Possum Springs; it’s a little like if Twin Peaks were set in a dilapidated West Virginia mining town.

One of my favorite parts of the gameplay is the variety of dialogue options. The story remains relatively the same no matter what you pick, but different choices allow you to shape not only Mae’s relationships with other characters, but also the history of the town itself. This gives the game a decent amount of replay value, because the world of the game is slightly affected by which choices you make.

What struck me most about Night in the Woods was the art style, which is mostly lineless, but incredibly expressive. The game’s aesthetic is delightful and charming, which contrasts well with some of the darker and bleaker themes of the story. This can make the playing experience feel a little uneasy, as if there could be something eerie around any corner. Refreshingly, the majority of characters you see lack many of the gendered visual markers that are often relied upon to indicate if a character is male, female, or otherwise; some players have even initially mistaken Mae herself for a boy for this reason, an assumption that is quickly corrected through dialogue with other characters.

Ultimately, this game’s biggest strength lies in its story, which deftly tackles themes like mental illness, class struggle, and the changing of the times. Its treatment of mental illness is honest and authentic in a way that not a lot of media with mentally ill characters ever is.

Mae’s story is as much one of small town life as it is one of staring into the face of Lovecraftian madness, and it resonated with me emotionally in ways I didn’t anticipate. Your enjoyment of the game will probably be proportional to your feelings towards Mae herself, and she’s not always the easiest character to love. She has friends and they all seem to like each other for the most part, but she is awkward, self-deprecating, and socially inept in ways that can lead to more than one uncomfortable interaction with other characters, even if she went into them with the best intentions.

Mae, Gregg, Angus, and Bea

Night in the Woods requires a little patience, but its pacing is excellent and that patience is very much rewarded. If you like story-driven platformers that are also secretly a little bit of a dating simulator wherein your two choices are your gay dog best friend and a goth alligator, I can’t recommend enough that you give this game a shot.

About the Author

Panda Emily Jarrell