Night in the Woods
There’s something strange that happens when you leave home for a long time before returning. Somehow, everything is the same but also different, and you are too, even if you don’t yet realize it. It’s a hard-to-describe feeling, but a running theme of growing up and finding your place in the world. That’s part of what Night in the Woods tries to capture, along with the feelings of small towns with long memories, hidden secrets, and strange occurrences. What’s happening in Possum Springs? That’s for you to figure out.
1 - Visuals
One of my absolute favorite things about Night in the Woods is its clean visual style and rockin’ color palettes. Whether it’s the clean-cut colors of each character, the way their overall palette changes in different lighting, the soft-but-vibrant gradients, or some of the truly wacky neon colors that populate Mae’s dreams, I am here for it. The colors feel rich, like the setting sun during the golden hour of photography, which perfectly pairs with the autumn setting and the adventure of being somewhere both familiar and new.
For colors and design that I still draw inspiration from, Visuals get 5 stars.
2 - Audio
One cool thing that Night in the Woods does to change up the gameplay are the music game sections, in which Mae plays the bass guitar in her friend’s band, or at home at night. It’s an interesting release from some of the tensions of the story and the game, a chance to step back and jam out for a moment. They’re catchy, and it’s fun to lose the game just as much as it is to win, with wrong notes turning your friends’ faces sour and startled.
For solid audio design and catchy songs, Audio earns a strong 4 stars.
3 - Story/Progression
Story, as always, is a tricky thing, and I love the story in Night in the Woods. I love the relationship dynamics, the character design. I love the side stories you can stumble across by talking to different NPCs, taking the left path rather than the right. The challenge lies in that final wrap-up, however. Night in the Woods emulates a lot of the really interesting social dynamics of family, friends, and a slowly-dying town. The characters feel real, have real concerns and real dreams. But the ending is… confusing, and slightly anticlimactic after the huge build-up of the rest of the game. And that’s like life too, isn’t it? Things don’t always wrap up super nicely, or in a satisfying way. The journey is the real joy, and that’s what shines in this game: the journey, and the relationships.
For a fantastic journey and a bit of a rocky ending, Story gets 4 stars.
4 - Gameplay
As a side-scrolling game, Night in the Woods really nails the weight of their characters and how they feel when running around the environment. When your main controls outside of the musical segments are walk, run, and jump, it’s important for it to feel right. Mae runs at a good clip, and the environment is largely scalable, if you climb up in the right areas. This brings replayability to the game, as there’s a story hidden in every nook and cranny and you’re largely rewarded for your exploration. With interspersed minigames to showcase more tactile moments, gameplay supports the narrative, taking a backseat to the story beats. That’s a good thing.
For reliable gameplay, if a little challenging at times (looking at you, Pumpkin Head Guy Song,) Gameplay gets 4 stars.
5 - Context
Night in the Woods grapples with a lot of difficult and complex topics and highlights a section of the US which rarely gets much time in the spotlight. Growing poverty, a diminishing job market, and a town that’s both alive and slowly dying, with closed storefronts more prominent than open ones, are all featured prominently. It reminds me of some of the coal-based towns in Appalachia. Parents have dreams that they hope their children can achieve, working harder and harder just to escape and be “anywhere else.” Youth work that relentless grind to get out, or just accept that they’ll never leave, perhaps bitter and jealous of their friends who do manage to escape. College might be a reliable ticket out if you can afford it, but that’s another barrier to escape velocity. There’s history rooted in small towns and tradition, and it’s both a source of support and a heavy weight on its citizens. It’s a nuanced thing, a town and its inhabitants. Night in the Woods shows both the good, the bad, and the ugly truth (like talking about losing your childhood home.)
For handling an important topic without shying away, Context gets 4 stars.
Night in the Woods is a game worth checking out, with a story to hook you and topics to give you pause. Growing up is hard, and looking back can be harder still, as not just places change, but people do too, little by little, without even realizing it. The harmony of the vivid graphics, nostalgic audio, and extensive story and character design make it an experience worth playing. It can be difficult to put into words, but please trust me here, and give this game a look.