Hitbox Review: Night in the Woods

Graphic by Michaeline Collins.

Developed by Infinite Fall and published by Finji, Night in the Woods is a narrative adventure game that tackles fundamental human issues.

Night in the Woods was released on Feb. 21, 2017 on PC and PlayStation 4 for $20. It later released on Dec. 13, 2017 for Xbox One and on Feb. 1, 2018 for Nintendo Switch. 

iOS and Android versions of the game were announced for release in 2018 as well. However, both mobile versions have yet to be released, with no official updated release date. “No date for the iOS release is planned at this time. However, I can pretty confidently say to not count on a Q1 [2019] release,” Harris Foster, the Community Manager for Finji, said in a Reddit thread in December of 2018.

Night in the Woods was funded through Kickstarter, where it raised over 400% of its goal of $50,000. When the Kickstarter ended, the game was backed by 7,372 people and raised $209,375 to fund the development of the project.

Because Night in the Woods is primarily about the story and events which take place in the game, it would be almost impossible for me not to spoil anything. However, I will attempt to avoid discussing major plot points in this review. Spoiler warning ahead

Night in the Woods examines small-town life and coping with stressful life events. The player character, Mae Borowski, is a 20-year-old college dropout who finds herself living with her parents back in her hometown of Possum Springs.

All of the characters in the game are animals, but it seems there are non-sentient animals running around town as well. Screenshot by John Novotny.

Night in the Woods’ moment to moment gameplay is running and jumping around town and talking to people, whether it be Mae’s parents, her friends Gregg, Bea and Angus or her poetry-loving neighbor, Selmers. There’s also a janitor who may be either God or a stoner. Occasionally, Mae and her friends will meet up for band practice and the player will be treated to original garage band hits such as “Die Anywhere Else” and “Weird Autumn.” The player also has the option of practicing songs in Mae’s bedroom. 

The Hitbox reviewer found Gregg (right) to be the most enjoyable character because of his penchant for committing crimes and waving his arms wildly when he gets excited. Screenshot curtesy of finji.co/games/nightinthewoods/.
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The player can run and jump on power lines, fences and other obstacles to reach characters and talk to them. However, Night in the Woods’ movement is hampered by the character animation being limited to 30 frames per second. This results in an experience that could feel smoother had it been in a higher framerate. The game’s framerate is not capped on PC, which combined with the 30 frames per second animation looks jarring and out of place.

The player can play a simple hack and slash game on the computer in Mae’s room called DemonTower. Screenshot by John Novotny.

After about the first hour, the player will begin to understand what the general gameplay loop of Night in the Woods will be. It usually involves waking and checking your laptop for messages from your friends, then going downstairs to talk to your mom and making your way to Gregg at the Snack Falcon or Bae at the Ol’ Pickaxe hardware store, while talking to everyone you see on the way there. After talking with them, you’ll have an adventure with one or more friends and end up at home afterward. Then, after talking to your dad and maybe watching some Garbo & Malloy on television, you’ll head to bed and play through an incredibly weird dream about finding four musicians. The player will then wake up the next day and the cycle repeats. Unless there is a special event, such as the party in the woods or Harvest Festival, this is what the player will be doing for about nine hours. 

That isn’t to say the formula isn’t enjoyable at times. Some of the conversations are amusingly witty, while others invite the player to contemplate their place in the universe and the age-old question: what is the meaning of life? The engaging writing, in combination with the gameplay loop, often kept me hooked, wondering what was going to happen the next day and playing for just a little longer.

Whether it’s coping with mental illness or understanding our place in the universe, Night in the Woods is ripe for interpretations and finding meaning in stressful life events. Several other sites, such as Kotaku, have written about Night in the Woods’ depiction of mental illness

While I completely acknowledge there is substance in Night in the Woods on a deeper level in regards to mental illness, my attention remained on the surface with an intriguing story about friendship and a not-quite-right small town with a mystery lurking behind the next tree. However, Night in the Woods only capitalizes on the small town mystery in the last few hours with the reveal of a classic trope. 

I enjoyed most of the time I spent playing Night in the Woods. However, there were times I only felt compelled to keep playing to complete the game for this review. My first two hours were more enjoyable because of how shockingly good the dialogue is. Once I started to get into the middle of the game, it started to become somewhat boring, with the dream sequences being particularly annoying. However, the story began to regain its momentum towards the end.

It’s somewhat difficult to recommend Night in the Woods. For $20, the player gets about 8-12 hours of gameplay, which isn’t the worst value proposition considering the quality of the writing. Unless you’re in the mood for it or know you like this style of game, it probably won’t be worth the price unless it’s on sale. Night in the Woods isn’t a game I would have played in my own time. I didn’t find the story particularly satisfying, but I did discover compelling and relatable characters that I desperately wish were in a different medium.

Want to suggest a video game for review? Contact John Novotny at [email protected]