Night in the Woods – Review
Switch (also on PS4 & Steam)
This isn’t the type of game I’d normally go for. I tend to fall on the action side of things. And while I’m a big fan of narrative and exposition, I usually like my games to feel ‘gamey’, with mechanics that make me feel like a surgeon cutting through the world with active precision. Night in the Woods is a far more sedate affair, more akin to an interactive storybook. You’ll spend most of the time clicking a button to read the next conversation bubble, interrupted by a few light platforming sections and a handful of mini-games. That said, a lot still happens, and I found myself glued to this title despite its slower pace.
The visual design of Night in the Woods plays a bit of a switch on you. At first, you think, “Hey, this is a nice, colourful town full of talking animals”, but it’s not long before a sinister undertone pulls you through a collection of serious issues. There’s dismemberment, death, depression and multiple conversations about dating, relationships and sexuality. In fact, the non-emotion of these anthropomorphic, child-like characters only serves to heighten the brutal seriousness of what occurs.
You play as Mae, a young cat-woman who has dropped out of college (for various reasons that she will allude to) and drifted back to her hometown of Possum Springs. Rather than slipping back into her old life, Mae finds a town rundown with depression and strange happenings. Her old friends are at first prickly to her, but they welcome her back into the fold soon enough, with regular band sessions where you’ll perform songs via a Guitar Hero-esque mini-game. Each of these songs can also be practised in Mae’s bedroom, and they’re all quite interesting songs, with enough offbeat challenge to make the mini-game enjoyable and challenging at the same time.
You then spend your days exploring the town as unemployed, unmotivated Mae, choosing to hang out with one of three main friends. Gregg is a mischievous fox who always wants to “do crimes”, which are literal crimes, such as stealing from seemingly abandoned stores or going out the back of his workplace to smash deliveries on the loading dock. Bea, meanwhile, is a far gloomier companion, yet over the course of the game, she becomes one of Mae’s closest friends. Bea’s mother is deceased, and her father was suffering a breakdown, which leaves her the stress of running the family store by herself. Bea is often very blunt with Mae, to the point where I avoided hanging out with her for a couple of days. Until the game forced me to.
One criticism I have is with the game’s linearity. While you have some choice in what to do each day, the overall narrative is narrow, and you’ll often feel like Mae has no real choices at all (which is perhaps all part of the point, in which case it does a good job). I also found the writing a bit erratic. One moment your friends will be spouting witty remarks, the next you’ll be told to leave because you’ve offended them deeply, and then the next day it’s as if nothing even happened. I guess this is somewhat like how someone who is suffering from anxiety and depression might see their world and the people they interact with. My initial reaction during play was one of confusion, blaming the writing itself, but perhaps – even if by accident – there’s more depth to the experience than I was able to appreciate at a surface level.
There’s a foreboding sense of wrongness as you play, and by the time the game builds up to its ending you’ll be dealing with some dark issues. To speak of them would spoil things and while that’s an easy copout, this really is the kind of game that you need to go through blind, so that when the punches do come they have maximum impact. I will say that I found the ending and epilogue a bit too open. However, it does leave room for the player to insert their own interpretation, which suits this title completely.
It is said that Dylan Burns has no shadow, or if he does that it portents a shifting of the elder signs that govern the floating curses of the universe, gathering their power and directing ill intent and misfortune to all game developers that enact post-release patches. Consequently, Dylan’s shadow curse finds itself working overtime, permanently engaged, thus the propagation of legend. When not guiding the swirling forces of evil, Dylan enjoys writing (evil) fiction, taking menacing walks, and lurking behind bus stops with a general demeanour that suggests malevolence.