Existential Crises in Possum Springs
Note: Light Spoilers for Night in the Woods may follow.
Life sure ain’t easy when you are twenty years old, making that transition from home to college and then home again as you’ve dropped out. Tackling the weight of growing up whilst hanging on to the past and friends. Getting to band practice, having friendly knife fights with your best friend, feeding rats, making a robot baby, and stumbling upon severed limbs. All of these things and much more take place in Night in the Woods as you take control of young female feline Mae Borowski as she contemplates existence and beautiful poetry delivered by a friendly member of her town, Possum Springs.
Classified as an adventure/platformer, this definition might be quite generous. What must be made abundantly clear about Night in the Woods is that this isn’t a title about the gameplay, it is all about the story. If you are looking for a game with frantic combat and tough platforming then this title certainly isn’t for you. With that being said lets take a look at the gameplay presented in Night in the Woods before tackling its satisfying storytelling.
Controlling Mae is perfectly fine, she moves at a brisk pace and when jumping controls well. The platforming of the title comes into play as she goes around town looking for folks to interact with. Telephone lines, buildings, and trees can all be used to make it to other parts of the town so you can meet some of the strange residents of Possum Springs, but again it must be stressed that this never comes across as a challenge.
Jumping around town isn’t the only time players must explore as Mae, but also as she sleeps. Most nights Mae has strange dreams and you take control of her and have to search through a weird enviroment, find some musicians and then get to a specific location to move on. This part of the game I felt really let it down. A beautiful soundtrack wasn’t enough to make me overlook the sheer monotony of these segments. I could look past the repetitive side of exploring town as new bits steadily opened up and it’s a hard issue to tackle, but the dreams that you take control of Mae felt like something that could be cut out all together or at least turned into a cutscene. They really break the flow of the storytelling and don’t offer much or any challenge at all.
Night in the Woods offers a selection of minigames that Mae can play. The biggest and most fleshed out is Demontower, an old school dungeon crawler found on Mae’s laptop you can access after she rids it of all the malware she somehow got. It’s a fun little distraction, but one that will probably be overlooked on a first playthrough as you want to progress through the story. You can also pick up her bass and play a few songs which offer a varying amount of difficulty that did surprise me. There aren’t a great deal of songs, but they can be surprisingly catchy and also feature some funny lyrics. On top of these two fleshed out minigames there comes a plethora of small interactions you will find yourself taking part in as you progress through the story: firing a crossbow, smashing glass, a knife fight with Gregg. In fact all three of those activities take place with Gregg. These sections are neither here nor there and it is typically the story surrounding what is happening that makes them memorable.
However, as I did say the main hook for Night in the Woods is its story and Infinite Fall have done an excellent job of delivering an interesting narrative which is met with excellent writing. Mae’s adventure starts with her returning home from college, but won’t say the reason why she left. Whatever the reason it does become clear that she has some sort of underlying issue from her bizarre dreams and interactions with some people. As we see her interact with her friends Gregg, Bea, and Angus, and just live a normal life, a spanner is thrown in the works in the shape of a severed arm and an overarching device is implemented to move the story along.
The main appeal of the title is the interactions Mae has with her friends and fellow townsfolk. Hopes, fears, nightmares, dreams, anxiety, despair, death, the past, and the future are all kinds of topics that the writers skillfully tackle. They dance one of the most dangerous dances one can when writing a story. The existential crisis tango. For the most part they do an excellent job of just flirting with it, never going out on a second date and getting married. In one aspect of the title they did more than just get married they went on to have a big fat pretentious baby, but more on that later.
Every character in the town feels fleshed out. Her main group of friends all deliver emotional highs and lows when you take the time to get to know them, but even the average resident in Possum Springs seems to have so much to say and uncover throughout the course of her adventure. Here is where a repeat playthrough will be helpful as it is possible to miss some of the quests on offer. One of my personal favourite characters was Selmers, not for much reason apart from her incredibly comical poetry she recites for Mae. The game’s got jokes, its got tears, and its got heart.
Now my only issue with the story is the ending. The primary focus of the story is clearly the characters and the adventure they find themselves on is secondary, but regardless it doesn’t really excuse what can only be described as something incredibly anti-climatic. I won’t give anything specific away, but it was a shame. This aspect of the narrative was used to push the story along at the second half and it seems like they couldn’t think of an appropriate way to resolve the issue and just left it down to the ole “it’s meant to be glossed over” trope.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Night in the Woods was provided by Finji.