We have come to expect a lot from the games that independent developers bring us. These developers are offered an opportunity that many bigger groups don’t have. They can develop deep experiences that enable the player to seep into a world and become absorbed in the world that they create. We can enjoy the depths of what these developers have to offer and enjoy the subtle commentary that waits for us to listen. With Night in the Woods, we get a very human story that begs to be listened to.
Night in the Woods is another of these games that has a lot to say but also focuses much more heavily on its world and characters. We see this world through the eyes of Mae Borowski, a recent college dropout who has returned to her hometown of Possum Springs. Being back, Mae reconnects with her well-meaning parents and old friends as she traverses a world that seems to walk the line of familiarity and unfamiliarity. It is this background you will spend a lot of time in, running from place to place, treading through the challenges of Mae’s situation.
Night in the Woods offers excellent social commentary on the idea of growing up; through Mae we are able to experience a world that changes, with new faces mixing with the old, and the world she knew, vanishing. Possum Springs is a broken town that has seen its booming mine economy fade, and its shops close, its many faces changing as the young leave in search of a better life.
You have to hand it to the writers of this game, they do an amazing job bringing the town of Possum Springs to life. Thanks to Mae, we are able to see how this town changed and how it affected everyone. The world is beautifully explored to create a depressing picture of how time changes everything and the world we know one day becomes a stranger the next.
The dialogue is aptly written for exploring these moments, but they are best handled through simple interaction. The meat of the game follows Mae and her friends. We are able to explore how the lives of the people whom Mae had grown distant from during her time away changed as they were forced to grow to deal with difficult circumstances. We actively see the challenges of growing up and how they have helped the characters to either grow or collapse.
It is the little moments that stand out the most as scenes play out all fun and happy but soon spiral. In one such scene, Mae and her friend Gregg have a night out, and what starts as mostly harmless fun between the pair soon shifts to Gregg questioning if he is a good person. The tonal shifts from silly fun to powerful moments of self-reflection are strong, sticking with the player as these characters pour their heart out.
But most scenes do something similar. Barely a conversation passes by that doesn’t affect you in some manner, whether through a main character or a random character you meet on the street. Much of the dialogue sticks with you, forcing you to dwell on the topics discussed, to consider the challenges of growing up, and to own your issues. Night in the Woods has you wanting to visit every person you meet to see what profound thing they might say or challenge you with. Despite the residents being anthropomorphic animals this often feels like the most human game experience in recent memory.
There are weak elements in Night in the Woods, though. While the regular story beats and conversations are wonderful, the mystery elements that surround Possum Springs do leave a bit to be desired. Some elements seem to come from left field, but luckily are explained somewhat through the games' expanded story. The addition of the Weird Autumn content grants a better understanding of the town’s dark secrets as you explore Mae’s dreams, which connect to the grand mystery. The mystery elements are initially interesting, but they begin to drag the final hour through vague and underwhelming answers.
Due to the nature of the game there is a distinct lack of typical gameplay, but there are a handful of smaller elements that grace the game and break up conversations. The meat of the game will have you running back and forth through Possum Springs, enjoying a light touch of platforming as you bound along rooftops and powerlines and seek out the varying conversations.
There are also rhythm games where you play songs by pressing the buttons in correct timing, which sometimes proves difficult. These aren’t bad and can make a nice distraction, especially being available all the time through Mae’s room, but mostly these are just nice moments that further highlight Mae’s acceptance by her friends.
There is also a small Rougelite game called "Demontower." This is available through Mae’s laptop. In it, you fight through levels to reach a boss; the enemy variety and moves are nice, although some may like it while others won't. Thankfully, it is hidden away in the corner of a laptop screen, and can be ignored.
Now is the best time to play this game; thanks to the Weird Autumn content, there is more to see and do than before. You can also enjoy two side stories that expand the games' lore. Longest Night is a simple stargazing adventure, and this originally acted as a means of showing prospective players a sample of the games' ideas. Lost Constellation, on the other hand, is a short prequel campaign that further delves into the past events, which is nice for those who want just a little more from the game.
Night in the Woods doesn’t really have much in the way of typical gameplay, outside of the mundane nature of wandering through the town and partaking in light platforming elements. But this is a game that you still experience. Night in the Woods is a game you will remember thanks to its delightfully captivating social commentary and memorable characters.