2010 me would have thought Night in the Woods was among the greatest games ever. He would have found a perfect place to slide this in to his pop cultures favorites alongside the quirk-fests 500 Days of Summer, Scott Pilgrim, and Donnie Darko. Similar to the 2015 breakout hit, Life is Strange, Night in the Woods fully embraces its Indie movie roots to tug at your inner sense of whimsy to turn a fairly simple game into something much more.
The game centers around a group of animal friends in their early twenties trying to find their way in the world. Mae, the feline protagonist, has left college and returned home for reasons unknown. Back in Possum Springs, she tries to reconnect with her family and the friends she left behind who are trying their best to settle in to adulthood by either accepting the lot they’ve been given like the chain-smoking hard working alligator Bea or by saving up to leave this place in their dust like the only gay couple in town, the mischievous fox Gregg and the stoic bear Angus.
Together you commit minor acts of mischief your friends lovingly refer to as crimes while learning important lessons about growing up. Each day, you talk to the townspeople (my personal favorite being the bear poet Selmers), try to reconnect with your parents, and decide what friend to hang out with each night culminating in odd but fun mini-games ranging from guitar hero like band practice to creating your own Frankenstein’s monster from a Chuck E Cheese robot. It’s in these moments of wonder with your friends that the game truly shines.
Despite a fairly short playtime (about 8 hours), the game takes a while to get going as the first half leans too heavily into the Indie movie influences. Starting in part 3, the game really hits its stride as Mae falls further into depression and has to rely on her friends to pick her up in a much stranger, older version of the Goonies leading to the discovery of what’s really going on inside the crumbling town that seems straight out of a supernatural Hot Fuzz. In the end, I truly enjoyed my time with Night in the Woods, but I don’t think it’s a game that’s going to stand-out all that much given my current place in life, and that’s definitely not a bad thing. While at times this invoked some nice nostalgia for my younger more uncertain days, it failed to make the impact I’m sure it has on someone freshly out of college. Even though your mileage may vary, there are still plenty of wonderful bits of story surrounding a compelling mystery to make it worth the relatively brief journey.