Night in the Woods (Switch) Review
Night in the Woods is a game that will laugh with you and make you look inside yourself, often at the same time. It’s a game that tells you your issues and anxieties are legitimate, that things sometimes do suck, but also holds your hand and tells you that things can get better. It hits really close to home and presents a narrative that’s best explored through a videogame, as you have to work to build up relationships with the game’s cast and you get to see the fruits of your efforts play out over time. It’s a lovely experience to sit down and chill with at your own pace, especially if you’re someone feeling somewhat disillusioned with life at the time.
Mae Borowski has returned home after dropping out of college for reasons she doesn’t feel comfortable explaining. She’s struggling to keep things together and pick up the relationships she had with her friends and family where they left off before she went out into the world. Night in the Woods makes you spend a few weeks in the shoes of Mae as she goes about her life. Her hometown of Possum Springs is a small rural town full of people going about their days. The main plotline sees Mae hanging out with her old friends, trying to step back into her old life.
Don’t be fooled by the anthropomorphic animals and cute art style, this isn’t a game for kids – Night in the Woods deals with some heavy themes like death and depression. Each of the characters has a lot going on in their lives and there’s sure to be at least one you relate to, whether that be Bea and her frustration at not being able to live her dreams, Mae’s mother struggling to cope with financial trouble, or any number of other characters in the game with their own quirks and problems. The writing is full of charm and wit, jumping between laugh out loud humour and dark insight at the drop of a hat, and it doesn’t feel like it’s just paying lip service to its themes. While it may sound dour based on what I’ve said so far, there’s also a warmth to it. The characters are presented in a sympathetic light, and most of them are able to constructively work through their issues to a satisfactory end. The game has a paradoxical comforting melancholy to it, showing you that you aren’t alone and there’s always something worth holding onto when darkness feels like it’s engulfing everything.
There’s a really nice journey through the game as things gradually get weirder and spookier, and it avoids the cliches that often accompany plots about mental health that feature supernatural elements. The conclusion is especially poignant if you’ve taken the time to hang out with all the citizens of Possum Springs, as you’ll get to see the stories of all the townspeople reach satisfying resolutions after being built up over the course of the game. You can really feel the bonds that they’ve developed with Mae, and you can see the clear growth of their relationships over time. This is even true of the minor characters, like a man reading a newspaper at the window of his apartment. Mae creeps him out at first by popping up at his window and annoying him, but in time he warms up to her and even becomes the one to start off their conversations. It’s such a small part of the game, but it’s things like this that make it so warm and comforting.
Night in the Woods is a game where you get out what you put in. Sure, you can rush right through the main storyline, and you’ll get a short but satisfying experience – but you’ll be missing out on so much. You won’t have learnt the stories behind the constellations in the sky, you won’t have gone searching for treasure in the flooded subway, you won’t have played the roguelike game that Mae has installed on her computer. There’s so many nice experiences to be had, and you’ve got to go exploring to find some of them. There’s a lot of areas in the game that you’re never specifically directed to, some of which require you to jump and climb around the buildings around town. You never know where there might be a hidden entrance with secrets waiting for you.
You won’t see everything Night in the Woods has to offer on the first playthrough – not only are there so many hidden secrets that will require you to explore every nook and cranny of Possum Springs, but you’ll get different scenes during the storyline depending on which of Mae’s friends you hang out with at certain points. The game is around 5-10 hours long depending on how much optional content you seek out, so it’s a length that suits multiple playthroughs. However, if you see enough of it the first time then there isn’t enough different to warrant replaying the game, especially considering some of the slower sections. In particular there’s some dream sequences that, while aesthetically stunning, consist of drawn out platforming that isn’t enjoyable to replay. It’s a little annoying that you know you’ve missed out on things but also don’t want to go through the whole experience again for what might just be a few short scenes depending on how much you saw the first time.
Now, you may be wondering why I’ve spoken so much about the narrative and writing and not much about the ‘gameplay’, or what you ‘do’ in the game. You’ll need to do some platforming to get around town and there are a few minigames you’ll play during story events, but for the most part Night in the Woods isn’t that kind of game. It’s a game focused on story, and making you engage with the world and its inhabitants in order to get the most out of it. That’s not a criticism, but there’s people who aren’t into that kind of thing so it’s best to be aware of what the focus of the game is. It’s not a game to play for action or challenge, rather a nice game to play through at a slower pace to allow yourself to get lost in its world.
Night in the Woods is an experience that will last with me for a long time. It features socially engaged writing in an interesting plot, and while its focus is on the narrative it’s still something you should play rather than watch. There’s plenty to discover while exploring Possum Springs and a variety of characters to bond with, and you need to experience it yourself to get the full impact of it all. It’s just the right length and price point to offer a satisfying experience, ending just in time to avoid becoming too repetitive. I loved my stay in Possum Springs and would heartily recommend you take the trip there yourself.
+ Excellent writing
+ Chilled atmosphere
+ Exactly as long as it needs to be
- You can’t see everything in a single playthrough but there’s not enough different content to keep subsequent playthroughs fresh
- Dream sequences get a bit repetitive