Night in the Woods is one of those more artistic experiences. Not in a bad way mind you, but through creative and beautiful avenues. Sort of like Journey or Flower except with a discernible story. In fact, the plot and all its factors are what will keep you glued to the title, not the gameplay. I can tell you right now that Night in the Woods is a meaningful game. You’ll come to care for the characters through minimal gameplay. Do not walk into this expecting to be taken on an action packed thrill ride because that takes away nearly everything that makes this great.
The story follows Mae who returns home to Possum Springs after dropping out of a college. Her town is a small and quaint place full of anthropomorphic animals. It’s also a place that used to be industrious in the past thanks to coal mining, but now seems to be dying through loss of businesses or actual people. Mae’s homecoming is greeted with change and challenge. Her parents gained newfound problems, the friends she had have grown up (a few maybe not so much), there’s something low-key mysterious going on in the woods outside of town, and she’s on a classic journey of self-discovery. You know, that whole figuring yourself out and what you’ll become type thing. Typical and relatable fears.
Her dealings throughout the game involve the citizens of the town around her, if you decide to wander a bit, and hanging out with friends and family until she starts seeing things. Both real and imaginary. Mae’s friends also attempt to help her solve whatever it is going around town, but they have their own issues too which are on full display in certain missions. First and foremost though, Night in the Woods is about transitioning into adulthood and all the happy or sad problems that entails. That mystery thing going on, albeit cool and fun when finally revealed, takes a major backseat for the majority of the game. If you are expecting an entire ride dedicated to the thrill of what’s going on in those woods, you’ll be disappointed.
The dialogue, the exchanges, relationship drama, character interactions, and well developed personalities truly make Night in the Woods shine until antagonistic events occur. Everyone speaks through speech bubbles and text boxes with no voice acting to speak of. Regardless of the shortcoming, the characters leap off the screen with ease into their own person. You also feel what they feel and see what they see. The masterfully crafted dialogue you read ensures this. All lines that scrolled across and dictated behavior and thought processes were entirely believable. There were even a few times I felt incredibly awkward or nervous for our protagonists. When the game ramps up the drama, it really ramps up the damn drama and there’s no amount of choice you can do to stop it. It has to run its course like in real life. Yes, you can choose certain responses in select situations that will garner a slightly different response depending on what you choose. The real change comes by way of gameplay however.
The gameplay might as well be a day in the life of Mae. Each day she travels around Possum Springs in 2D platforming through a handful of locations. Some will only be accessible through story related endeavors. You can basically choose to explore the town and create a pattern to follow every day or go straight to a place that will move the main story along. I highly recommend reaching every nook and cranny you can find though on any given day. I ventured into subway tunnels, church grounds, cliffs, on top of buildings, and in abandoned buildings as far as the game would let me. My efforts were rewarded with side missions and added additional, completely believable characters to the mix. They didn’t effect the story in anyway, but I was glad to converse with them every time I made my daily route. And that’s essentially the gameplay. Minimalist platforming and interacting while reading and choosing dialogue.
The two exceptions to this involve two mini-games and select dream sequences. At the end of each day, Mae returns home to do what all angsty new adults do and that is sleep. She has a laptop in her bedroom that can be used to communicate with her best friends every night and allows her to play a cool dungeon crawler title. Although it gets repetitive killing monsters, finding keys, and exiting the area over and over again. During some days, and in order to advance the plot, you play bass in a band with your friends. A smaller version of Guitar Hero will then ensue. The dream sequences are more abstract in thought and require specific activations through traversal in order to proceed. Most of them to kind of drag along and definitely slow down the pace of our tale.
It goes without saying but the graphics and soundtrack for Night in the Woods are simply beautiful. The art design is simple yet elegant and every scene paints a picture. The music equally so and especially in the mornings. If you don’t push any buttons, Mae will remain asleep while soothing and enjoyable music plays. I know I mentioned it before and since we’re talking about pretty things, the writing just needs to be appreciated. It can be raw, real, believable, funny, emotional, and sometimes all those combined. It takes work to make a game, without voice acting, actually come to life through words alone. Outstandingly so through ten hours on a full playthrough.
A majority of this title’s cons are shared with the mentioned computer game. There are dips in pace at times and leave you repeating the same route through town over and over again. The conversations you have with the citizens can also drag. A few of them could have even ended two or three text boxes before. The slow burn leading up to the reveal of the “mystery” could be considered a con as well. Again, don’t go into this expecting a supernatural or horror twist to occur every ten minutes. The payoff at the end is definitely worth it, yet the game will predominately be about Mae and her life.
There is some replayability too. Some scenarios can only be played once at the expense of another. There will be several times where options to choose between hanging out with certain friends will override all the other missions. So some levels and conversations can only be viewed on a sole playthrough and that can change the story in minor ways too. Another example of minor plot changes is blowing by everything other than story progression scenarios. Essentially characters will have slightly different dialogue depending on the choices, or lack thereof, you make.
Night in the Woods is one of those art forms that takes you on a journey rather than providing exciting gameplay. This could have been a book or a movie and I would still relish the chance to dive into the world once more. The characters come to life like few other video game icons can and the conversations through written dialogue is some of the best gaming has to offer. It says something about a title when the only things you have to worry about are slight dips in pace and repetitive day to day motions. Although that very well could fit in with the game's theme. If you're looking for a unique and meaningful tale of self-discovery, Night in the Woods needs to be in your virtual library as soon as possible.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital version of the game bought at retail at the expense of the reviewer. It was reviewed with the latest patch available and was played on a base PS4.