Capsule Review: Night in the Woods

A character-driven narrative mystery game with occasional platform/rhythm/adventure game elements. Play as Mae, twenty-year-old college dropout returning to her hometown of Possum Springs and reuniting with her family and friends and confronting how things have changed. Gameplay is mostly a matter of exploring the town, talking to inhabitants and passers-through, and deciding which friend to spend the evening with on each day.

Mae’s story of a painful and incomplete transition to adulthood is echoed in the story of Possum Springs, a formerly-prosperous mining town now falling into economic stagnation. The town and its inhabitants are well-realized with actual histories that organically explain how they became what they are today in ways that precede the player’s involvement and don’t just fill out a list of archetypes, though of course Mae’s family and friends receive the most development. The pacing may seem slow, with the town’s story in particular not kicking into gear until more than halfway through the game - before this point, it’s not clear there even is a mystery. My enjoyment was actually enhanced by having the major reveals spoiled ahead of time as this enabled me to better appreciate the foreshadowing and the way the plot threads slowly intertwined.

Mechanically, you spend most of your time walking and talking. Minor platformer elements and simple jumping puzzles are occasionally required to progress the story but mostly allow you to explore your town further and find optional content. There are also occasional breaks for minigames or other types of puzzles that vary in how well they’re integrated - I enjoyed the recurring Guitar Hero-like rhythm game for band practice, but most other sudden changes in gameplay felt immersion-breaking, tedious, or both. Thankfully, it’s impossible to fail any of them (though you can be stuck for a while in some of them). Similarly, your choices on who to spend time with won’t change or lock out any of the core story, but will determine which friend’s story gets most developed - you’ll have to play through twice with different choices if you want to see all of those scenes.

The story and characters are what really matter, so it’s good that they are compelling and memorable. I really like hanging out with Mae’s family and friends. Even side characters feel real and I’m going to be thinking about them for a long time.

I Stopped Playing When: I finished a playthrough, including the enjoyable-but-nonessential supplemental games Longest Night and Lost Constellation. I did not return for a second playthrough - while I was curious about the scenes I’d missed, I wasn’t interested in all the other repetition I’d have to go through to see them and the damage that would do to the game’s illusion.

Docprof's Rating:

Four Stars: Great. Not only did I finish the game, I probably played through the whole thing again and/or completed any optional objectives. It's an easy recommendation for any genre fan.

You can get it or learn more here.