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Game Review: 'Night in the Woods'

Edited by GreenReaper as of Sat 5 May 2018 - 20:09
Your rating: None Average: 3.6 (8 votes)

A wide-eyed cat stands at the edge of a dark wood as night begins to fall.Night in the Woods (trailer) is an adventure game by Infinite Fall, a joint venture between game designer Alec Holowka, co-writer Bethany Hockenberry and animator Scott Benson. Kickstarted in October 2013 in the hopes of getting $50,000 USD, it not only reached its goal within 26 hours, it raised over $200,000 within a month!

This was probably helped by Howolka's credibility from making Aquaria in 2007 with Derek Yu. Although Night in the Woods (NITW for short) took longer to develop than initially expected, it was released in February 2017 to very positive reviews.

Featuring a cast of animal characters, it's a story-driven game with easy-going 2D platforming and exploration. It takes about 8 to 12 hours to play, and it's available on PC, Mac, Linux and PS4.

I liked this game a lot, and the tricky part with this review is that the less you know about the story, the better. It takes place in Possum Springs, a mid-sized (possibly Rust Belt) town with a struggling economy. You play a 20-year-old cat named Mae who's dropped out of college and returned home, trying to deal with (or avoid) some personal issues. Then a couple of… worrying things start to happen.

On the one hand, Mae wants to hang on to her rebellious teenage years. On the other, she wants to be recognized as an adult by other adults. In truth, she is neither; walking (and running and jumping) in her own liminal state as she approaches adulthood. After being away for two years and not staying in touch, some of the changes in town catch her off-guard. Her friends have a mix of reactions to her return. They're much further ahead in terms of maturity, and Mae's carefree attitude inadvertently creates tension.

The game plays out over about 14 days during the autumn as Mae travels around town and hangs out with people. Little details change from day to day, and new areas gradually open up that Mae can explore. This includes rooftops - Mae is particularly adept at walking along telephone pole wires. The visual design of this game is superb, smooth lines and simple shapes with subtle changes in color and tone creating a really engaging atmosphere.

In her friend's apartment, Mae says that she's terrified.The character designs are on the cartoony side, large heads with big eyes on small bodies with thin, noodly arms and legs, which works. After NITW came out, you might have noticed furry fans having their fursonas redesigned in a similar artstyle. And the game's characters are all animals! This feels largely symbolic, since I'm not sure their species are ever referred to in-game. Given that Mae is a cat, it's also a bit weird that there are regular pet cats around town. Every single grocery or convenience store seems to have an animal-based name.

Where this game really shines is with its storytelling. Although this makes it somewhat linear, there are different options to explore at a number of points, so you get a little replayability out of it. Depending on your actions, the ending remains basically the same with only minor cosmetic differences, however I didn't mind this at all. As the game progresses, the tone gets… dark. It also ventures into the supernatural - or does it? In many respects it keeps you guessing. (Though I think the supernatural is happening, based on some small details.)

Mae stands on a residential street.The dialogue is great and feels very realistic. Definitely turn on the text animation. While some games offer dialogue choices for the player's preferences (friendly, gruff, snarky, etc.), in NITW all of Mae's dialogue choices sound like things she would be likely to say. Usually you get two or three options. This is even offered during the game's opening text, although it's not made especially clear if you're playing for the first time.

The characters are really well-written! On many occasions you get the chance to hang out with Mae's gay and rebellious fox friend Gregg (he's pretty popular with a lot of furries), or with Mae's more distanced crocodile friend Bea, whose weary attitude isn't as fun but has more depth. Sometimes you'll be talking to someone, you'll make a dialogue choice and this will activate a short side-adventure, or it'll initialize events that will bring the day to a close.

The most frequent complaint is that the game only has one save slot, and it constantly auto-saves. So if you regret making a dialogue choice or ended a day before you'd finished exploring, you have to play the game over again. This is particularly aggravating if you're quite a ways into it. There are also numerous mini-games, some timed, so it's no surprise that people have tried to figure out how to work around the saving issue. The mini-games range from the familiar (like Guitar Hero) to the unexpected; some are easy, some are difficult. There's even an optional game-within-a-game called Demontower, a roguelike with shades of Hyper Light Drifter.

A teenage girl tells Mae, 'Our mothers told us not to talk to you.'If you're a completionist or want all the Steam achievements, be prepared to put in a lot of extra time; you'll likely have to save-and-replay some of the mini-games. Mae doodles in a notebook that she carries with her, and a new drawing might only get added if you climb to a particular spot on a particular day and look around. As the exploration area gets larger, it takes longer to look everywhere. If you're not good at platform jumping, it's not too challenging. I'm a clutz and I managed.

I definitely need to mention that if you're suffering from depression, there are characters in this game who are dealing with some heavy stuff, in case that's a trigger for you. There's an ongoing question of how one can hold on to happiness when day-to-day life frequently sucks. On the bright side, you sometimes get to smash things with a baseball bat. At one point, Mae has a crisis of faith (not that she had much to begin with) - While there are a few characters of faith in the game, there are one or two skeptics who are a bit more outspoken. The in-game religion is not described, but its saints and mythology are certainly different. A sign of some thoughtful world-building.

Overall, it's really difficult to describe how everything in NITW comes together, how its traits combine and make it work so well. Like how the music adds to the game's atmosphere - it's not stuff I'd listen to in a car, but put together with the great visual style, it really enhances the mood. I also love how the story is paced out, and how all the characters feel so relatable. A testament to its success is that there's been quite a lot of fan art, both inside and outside furry fandom, ranging from the cartoony to realistic to in-between, including human versions.

Bottom-line: If you're ok with low-action, occasional mini-games, engaging characters and a well-developed story that gets dark, you should definitely give this a try. For a second opinion, my co-editor Sonious posted his thoughts about it on YouTube.

Gamers! Has anyone played The First Tree yet, or other things with furry appeal? Send Flayrah a review!

Mae and Gregg stand next to a tranquil pond in the woods.Additional links:


Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

Night in the Woods will always have a place in my heart given it was the very first game I started with for my friday night streaming sessions. The characterization was so thick it was easy to find comfortable voices for each of them.

There are some very great covers of music on this game as well, particularly of the Guitar Hero-eque mini games. I think my favorite covers of these are by Mando Pony.

I haven't heard many covers of Pumpkin Head... the last and most difficult song. Probably because it was so odd compared to the others.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (2 votes)

Lovely ^^
I love story-driven well-written videogames ^^

Your rating: None Average: 5 (2 votes)

The dialogue and other interactions between characters in this game felt very realistic.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (2 votes)

The dialog and monologues of Mae to herself certainly built the world around the characters without heavy exposition. A major problem with last year's Ursa Major winner Major/Minor is that characters felt like they were explaining something in an unnatural manner that sort of broke immersion here and there.

You feel part of this world because of the natural progression of information. You know Bae dislikes Mae, but you don't find out why until a more direct conflict between Mae and her comes up when it slips out why she has a bit of a grudge.

The story is about a character stuck between childhood and adulthood and the two friends she can hang out with are specific symbols of both directions. Both the positive and negative aspects (adulthood can make you feel important and needed, but also be imprisoning with that responsibility; childhood while more free and carefree is fleeting and will be gone before you know it)

There is probably a million different ways to analyze the story, its characters and its meaning. And you can literally spend more hours talking about the narrative of the game then playing it itself. That's extremely impressive.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (2 votes)

Endearing yet unnerving, the game unfolds as a mix of Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr Fox and David Lynch's Blue Velvet -- the severed limb at the start feels like a pretty deliberate homage to Blue Velvet's ear.

Your rating: None Average: 1 (4 votes)

I agree with 2 Gryphon after watching this trailer. And if the fascist line was meant to be serious then that's just dumb.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

If you want to avoid the scene of the college student saying they want to punch fascists, always hang out with Greg, whose more anarchistic styling you may enjoy more than Bae.

I'm actually quite curious how you'd twist this kind of game to have spin it to have some conservative messaging.

Your rating: None Average: 4 (5 votes)

I thought you said you were leaving this site, you sad, pathetic wanker!

Your rating: None Average: 1 (4 votes)

Also, are you sure the cat's not a boy?

Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)

We played the game dude, she's a she.

Anthropomorphic styling do have a tendency to make gender more ambiguous, such as the physicality of animals for some species is hard to tell the difference by just looking at their body.

Your rating: None Average: 4 (1 vote)

Pretty sure that Mae's androgyny is intentional.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

Well there isn't really any particularly "effeminate" acting characters at all. Other than Mae's mom, perhaps.

I think that in its own way shows the changing defining factors of gender roles between generations (becoming more androgenic themselves), more than purposeful androgyny of a single character. Though the androgyny probably helps in allowing it to be approached by male and female players alike.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

NITW game update: The "Weird Autumn edition" should be out now with additional content, as well as an XBox port.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

Edit: I accidentally neglected mentioning an important third contributor to the game, co-writer Bethany Hockenberry. Terribly sorry about that; the article now credits her properly!

Also, on Twitter there's been a really interesting discussion about the tendency of the game's players to try and figure out everything, when in fact subjectivity is meant to be part of the design.

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