Review: A Night in the Woods

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I won’t go so far as saying this is a walking simulator, as it’s a side scrolling, story driven “platformer,” but death isn’t really a thing, there isn’t a lot of action or quick reflex moments aside from some mini-games that you can do with some of the NPCs, and to be quite frank, if you are hoping for some metro-vania, or mario-qesue style game play in this you are going to be sorely disappointed…

…But I still urge you to give this little gem a shot.


STORY/WRITING:

You play as Mae Borowski as she readjusts to living at home with her folks in Possum Springs after dropping out of a couple years of college.  In your journey getting reacquainted with old friends and finding your place back home you and your friends begin to suspect something much darker is taking place in Possum Springs that others aren’t aware of.  Along with trying to solve this mystery you’ll find yourself questioning your future, friendships, and your place in the world.

The game maintains this chipper tone throughout.

So, that is the basics, but I’d also like to say just how well written the game is dialogue-wise.  While it does have a few more “like”s than I’d.. uh.. like.  It’s understandable given that it’s for characters in their 20’s who, like, say, like, like a lot.  Annoying, but true to form.  The great part is the utter random and often hilarious dialogue that the characters spit out.  Very witty and interesting humor the writers have imbued into these creations and it gives you a real sense of who the characters in the game are and how their lives likely were even before their exposition kicks in.  They all have a special way about them, and that is a tough thing to do when you’re only doing that through dialogue and no vocal audio.  So that has to be commended immensely.  The combination of character design and development is deeper than most AAA titles protagonists.
The game takes a very flat, cut-out approach with it’s style using very basic texture work and structure.  There isn’t any details to hint at an actual “cut-out” effect such as Paper Mario or Tear Away which add a lot of little details to illustrate “Hey, this is actual paper, guys!” Everything in NitW is just overtly flat, which is clearly the style they went for and it works quite well because it’s done cleanly and with obvious thought and skill.  The animation is great, each character moves in their own unique way and are never really stationary, unless of course that is their character and persona.  Most characters gently sway, bounce, move a little just to show life.  Running and turning quickly with Mae invokes a little puff of dust and a lean to compensate for the shift in weight to the other direction, walking along wires and fences and she’ll throw her arms out to maintain balance, etc.  It’s these little touches that bring the main character and others to life and those attentions to detail expands to Possum Springs itself: trees gently sway and lose leaves, cars sputter passed in the foreground, bystanders walk past, each with unique animations themselves.  The team really went out to make this a very two-dimensional game with a very lively world that has a charm and it really becomes apart of you as you play to the games finally.  I actually got a feeling that I was going to miss Possum Springs and it’s community.  That’s a trait of a great game.

The color choices aren’t eye popping, although they definitely aren’t  muted or dull either.  They did a great job of creating a color palette that both contrasts and compliments each other as to keep characters clearly identifiable, while providing quickly recognizable aspects to the basic structures.  You never sit and wonder what something is do to it’s vague representation as just enough fine detail and proper color selection is used to make everything easy on the eyes and quick to recognize.

While the art may put some off, much like Zelda: Wind Waker seemed to get under peoples skin due to the drastic shift in art style it took, I feel it conveys more with less and I love that kind of style when it’s implemented properly.  Wind Waker was actually my favorite Zed game

Sound design follows the theme of the rest of the artistic choices in the game: Simple representations of real life, it obviously gets the job done with a bit of charm.  Voices aren’t a thing at all, which is probably for the best, yet there isn’t any accompanying noise either, like you’d hear in Animal Crossing or other Sims.  It’s just a text crawl noise, which is a bit of a let down.  Also, while the environmental sounds do fill up the world and do a decent job of making that world feel alive, again, voice murmurs or background chatter would have been a nice added detail while walking passed NPCs and crowds, but nothing like that happens.  That is really the only stinging note to the overall artistry of the game is the lack of full sound presences.  That, is remedied a bit by the fantastic soundtrack.

Not only are the background loops very pleasant, but they invoke the exact feeling or emotion they aim for and fits each location perfectly, but the actual music in the game in the form of Guitar Hero style mini-games while your band practices is really memorable and continues the overall tone of the game really well.  I don’t know if it’s available, but I kindof want to buy just the soundtrack for A Night in the Woods.


While I know this isn’t going to be a game for everyone, especially those would don’t want to read a bunch and who can’t be hooked into games for story alone, which is, like, the huge majority of this game given it’s lack of action aside from the mini-games.  For those who enjoy clever writing, interesting, multi-threaded stories about finding your place in the world (also ghosts and murder maybe.) and can really appreciate quirky art styles than absolutely give this game a try.  It’s $19.99 on Xbox One, PS4 and Steam and is one of the few games that had me coming back until I finished it.

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