Editor's Note: This review is spoiler-free.
Night in the Woods, the new game from indie-team Infinite Fall came out Tuesday, and I finally carved out the time this weekend to really sit down with it and give it a proper review. This game is personal, heartfelt, and artfully crafted, and I'm honestly impressed given the tiny team and limited resources. This gem was well worth the wait. For those of us seeking something different from the endless mountain of games pumping out on Steam every day, I'm happy to say that this game is worth your time and your twenty dollars if you're a fan of this genre. Is the game for everyone? Probably not; but I'm pretty happy they stuck to their vision and I'm sure their audience is as well.
You are Mae, a girl that has just returned home to her small town only to being bombarded by the drama that always seems to overwhelm isolated communities. Full disclosure: I have to admit to having some life coincidences in common with the protagonist at the beginning of this game. Just like Mae, I grew up in a tiny, poor, and very cynical town in rural New England where everyone knew everybody, and I dropped out of my first college at 18 when it just wasn't the right fit (I later changed Universities and graduated in 3 years, but those months after the drop-out truly stung). This is basically where you start your journey. Imagine coming back to a very small and insensitive community, all the ups and downs that come with it (awesome friends, judgy neighbours), and this exactly what you'd expect.
The game is part platformer, part story, and part 'a little bit of everything' in-between. The opening scene asks you to make a series of text choices that will shape the beginning, and later choices will continue to shape your path and the transformation of the town around you. Completionists take note: you would need to complete the game multiple times if you're interested in seeing all the possible outcomes. The story, dialogue, and artistic direction are spot-on for those seeking a nostalgic, moody experience, but the platforming and progression can be finicky (especially on keyboard), so I recommend jumping around and bashing your head against things if you get a bit stuck. Usually you'll find your way through a situation after you try a few things.
The great: If you want to experience what it's like to be a young adult in the middle of nowhere, small-town North America, this is the game for you. It fires the feels on all four cylinders and does a good job giving Mae a pretty distinct personality and path for you to gently mould. I came at the experience from a nostalgic angle, but it could easily be experienced by anyone that's interested in a young adult drama. As a note, however, it may not be for those of you that are allergic to young adult novels or sweet hipster tunes. I found the soundtrack to be quite fitting and a great complement to the atmosphere, but I know some gamers just won't find it to be their jam. Some of my friends (also in their 30's) found Mae and her friends to be a bit on the annoying side since they couldn't really relate to them, but maybe we're just at that age where it becomes more and more difficult to remember how f*ing tough it was to be a teenager. Lest we forget that the feelings of disempowerment alone were enough to send us into verbal obscenities!
The okay: I managed to get stuck in the first five minutes of the game when I didn't realize I had to break a log to be able to progress from the bus station. In retrospect I felt a bit dumb, but it really wasn't clear to me that this was what I had to do (no subtle lighting on the branch, or similar, which could have provided a bit of direction). The platforming can occasionally be a bit finicky and some puzzles start out unclear but overall it's just fine. I suppose I also wish I had a little more agency over was how I was able to respond to some of the dialogue, but you can't have everything and this complaint is a nitpick at most.
Why you should play it: Night in the Woods will give lots of players a great retrospective on the formative years just out of high school, but it also does some neat exploration regarding how even one person can shape their surroundings and transform the way their friends and neighbours impact the community around them. There are some really special moments between characters that ring painfully true to young adulthood, and if you've ever gone through a bout of aimlessness or depression (or at least wondered what it's like), this game will illustrate the crippling states of "meh" and "ugh" for you pretty effectively. The quirky art style, electronic music, and down-to-earth dialogue give this game a punk, indie vibe that breathes life into the anthropomorphic cast and the mini games (although not perfect) are fun and will have you smiling. Just wait until you run into the Guitar-Hero-esque band practice (which I had no idea was coming and hilariously stumbled my way through) and the Demontower game-inside-the-game!
Overall I gladly give this title a strong 4 out of 5, and I'd go even higher with what might even be some simple bug fixes for the mac version. <3