Night in the Woods (Switch) Review – More than Cute Animals
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Infinite Fall
Release: 1st February 2018 (Switch)
Even though Night in the Woods wasn´t nearly as long in development as other Kickstarter financed games, with numerous delays, many doubted it would be released anytime soon back in 2017. Yet, after launching on Steam and the PS4 (later on Xbox One), the announcement of a Switch version was both foreseeable and great at the same time, giving people like me the opportunity to finally check this little gem out.
Night in the Woods is all about its story, focusing on the 20 years old female cat Mae, who returns home after dropping out of college. Yet, her little hometown Possum Springs is far from offering anything remotely interesting for young people. So when she comes back, hoping to spend her time once again with her best friends Gregg, Angus and Bae, she soon has to find out that nothing stayed the same.
Divided into 4 parts, Infinite Fall created a tale about a group of young adults, struggling between adulthood and their careless teenager years. Mae is your typical naive, sometimes childish character, simply wishing to spend the rest of her life together with friends, without ever worrying about work, money or all other worldly influences. However, life is never easy and Night in the Woods portrays it in a brutally honest fashion. From the childish but mature on the outside Gregg, who hates his job, to Angus, trying to hold everything together and Bae, Mae´s only other female friend, suffering from life itself.
Infinite Fall is able to create characters full of life through excellently written dialogues. A lot of the game is spent with Mae´s friends and every minute is used to break the happy seeming surface they initially present, to explore the realistic problems of young adults. Gregg, for example, isn´t only a childish fox, he´s a prime example of how video games can implement queer people, without having to rub it into the player’s face and there´s still so much more suffering in him. Every one of them has their problems, mental issues and other things they have to deal with, despite their appearance they are more human than many other video game characters. I can´t spoiler too much, as it´s the main reason to play Night in the Woods, but in the 8 hours playtime, I grew so close to this quirky but sad group of friends that only Persona 5´s cast could, in recent time.
The contrast between its realistic, actually really dark plot at times, and the almost childish, minimalistic, colorful visuals, is another big reason for its charm. Everything looks so cute, adorable, innocent and is then mixed with lines like “I´m horrified to death”, said by Mae who´s exciting waves her hands in the air. It´s a unique contrast used to create comedy relief in a natural way while building expectations that never are fulfilled.
Only the last act of the story was, at least for me, quite disappointing, as it breaks up with the typical melancholic drama, to establish a more straightforward one. Sadly, when a game is completely built around its complex symbolism or sensitive tackling of personality disorders, isn´t quite compatible with a more typical climax. Meaning, the end feels a lot like something ripped straight out from another game most of the time, even though it shares some similarities. As a result, I was mostly disappointed with the actual ending because it was so “unsurprising”.
The fact the whole game also bursts with animations for every model, leaves rustle in the wind, Mae´s steps produce dust, eyes move corresponding to the player, the town is inhabited by walking citizens. There´s just os much going on during every second, especially during the quite redundant city walks, the constant movement makes even the most repetitive exercise a view to behold. Combined with its amazing soundtrack, full of ear-catching, gorgeous tracks, Night in the Woods is an artistic masterpiece. The port itself did a great job at bringing this game to Nintendo´s console too. Running on a nearly constant 60fps in 720p or 1080p and coming with the two little, alright side stories, solely suffering from too long loading times when entering outdoor areas.
Only gameplay-wise Night in the Woods isn´t able to convince, offering mostly rudimentary actions. Every day starts out with Mae waking up and having to run through Possum Springs, pretty much the same route every time, in order to talk to her friends. Obviously, this process gets repetitive in no time, so Infinite Fall tried to add some flavor by placing many side characters on the way and adding a whole lot of movement to the whole scene. Still, after completing the game, I was burned out of this path as well.
Additionally, from time to time, there will also be little events, like poking an arm with a stick, exploring linear areas or eating pizza. None of those are particularly challenging nor can be lost, merely being little minigames to change up the flow. If you expected a challenge, you´ll surely be disappointed but for the plot-driven experience it wants to be, the gameplay is just right.
Night in the Woods is far more than just a great story about young adults, it´s an experience full of loveable characters, events, symbolism, and art. I love a lot about it, more than I initially expected, way more. Naturally, the gameplay department is more than lacking but in favor of creating a believable, human world, it´s a risk to be taken. At the end, it´s more of an experience that shouldn´t be missed by anyone, really. Especially on the Switch.
[A Review Code was provided by Finji]