Night In The Woods Review

See both the forest and the trees.

Both intensely personal and widely relatable, Night in the Woods doesn’t just tell a story--it gracefully captures complex, often unpleasant feelings and experiences. From the quiet melancholy of doing nothing on a rainy day to the emotional vacuum of severe depression, I felt deeply, sometimes too deeply, while wandering through the cartoon-animal version of a small Midwestern town. Its witty writing and character development keep its crushing existential themes grounded, making Night in the Woods one of the most evocative games I’ve played in a long time.

Night in the Woods follows 20-year-old Mae Borowski--who happens to be a cat--after she drops out of college in the beginning of fall and returns to her tiny hometown of Possum Springs. She’s an angsty troublemaker with a bit of a rap sheet and a sharp tongue, and you spend her first few days back kicking around town and catching up with people, including her high school friends Bea and Gregg. A few people allude to something awful Mae did in the past, while others talk about a kid from her high school who has gone missing.

There's enough small-town curiosity in those short, early interactions to be intriguing, but there are plenty of awkward moments that keep Mae’s homecoming feeling ordinary. You can talk to an old teacher (who likes Mae despite her awful behavior) and an elderly neighbor (who considers Mae a horrible nuisance), and it feels very real, like any small talk in your hometown--just with Mae’s distinct brand of snark. These interactions both offset and highlight the mysterious elements of Possum Springs, a balance Night in the Woods masterfully strikes throughout the entire story.

You’ll spend most of your time exploring Possum Springs through light platforming and optional interactions with the same few people you want to talk to, broken up by lighthearted, simple mini-games. For most of the game, you take things day by day, and that slow drip of information bolsters the development of Mae and her friends. This structure manages to feel aimless without being purposeless; every day is similar but not the same, and there’s always something new to learn about a neighbor or a dry remark from Mae to make the same few sights feel different each time. It’s understated worldbuilding that enhances the impact of the main story--especially through a better connection to Mae, her friends, and Possum Springs as a whole.

Many days end with a choice of activity, like going to the mall with one childhood friend or "doing crimes" with another. This is when a lot of the bigger--and stranger--events take place. Sometimes things are lighthearted, like sneaking into an abandoned grocery store just for the fun of it, but there are also serious talks about past mistakes or what exactly Mae is doing with her life. Watching her struggle to articulate her problems and awkwardly dodge questions about college is hard--especially if you’ve ever been in a similar position. Combined with melancholic music, a lot of Night in the Woods evokes the feeling of lying in bed all day, despondent and paralyzed by indecision and uncertainty.

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Initially, I had an incredibly hard time getting through more than a day without having to step away from the game for a bit. At 20 I was in a bad place with both school and depression, much like Mae, and playing felt more like looking in a very shameful mirror. But there’s enough going on in Possum Springs to distract from that early-20s, nearly drowning feeling, and instead of closing my game, I looked forward to the respite of mini-games and visiting friends at work, both for Mae’s sake and for mine.

I began checking every corner of town hoping to find the smallest or silliest of moments, and I often got them. I shoplifted pretzels (in a red-light, green-light style mini-game) for baby rats just to see what would happen if I fed them, and I listened to a neighbor’s dumb poetry every day because she could easily have been someone I know in real life. At the center of Night in the Woods is a story about a young adult who has gone numb, and those experiences on the periphery are what she--and anyone who’s lived through an emotional void--does to feel anything at all.

The unfortunate reality is that finicky controls, and even some scenes that feel forced, occasionally interrupt Night in the Woods’ evocative atmosphere. More than one scene requires you to complete simple platforming to proceed, for example; sometimes it’s unnecessarily hard to execute thanks to poorly placed platforms, and in general, having a hard objective is at odds with a game that is otherwise not really gamified.

At the center of Night in the Woods is a story about a young adult who has gone numb, and those experiences on the periphery are what she--and anyone who’s lived through an emotional void--does to feel anything at all.

Night in the Woods does have a game-within-a-game: a dungeon-crawler called Demontower that you can play on Mae’s computer. It’s another good distraction--I played it right before having Mae go to bed, much like I would in real life--and it’s a throwback to the kinds of games you might have put a lot of hours into in the mid-2000s. As a cute detail, you can pick up where Mae apparently left off a decade earlier (and if you don’t like Demontower, you can just go on the computer to IM your friends after a night out).

By the third and final act of the game, I had grown seriously attached to Mae and her crew of deeply flawed but charming weirdos. Their experiences in a struggling, dead-end town are relatable even if you’re nothing like them--and that’s what gives Night in the Woods its emotional impact.

From beginning to end to epilogue, Night in the Woods is ultimately open to individual interpretation. How you relate to it depends on your own experiences and choices, including Mae’s dialogue and who you decide to spend time with. Though its charming and angsty story works well on its own merits, it’s special because of how it prioritizes conveying emotion over telling a straight narrative.

Editor's note: This review has been updated to reflect our time with the Nintendo Switch version of the game. -- February 1, 2018

Back To Top
The Good
Witty writing and humor
Relatable but flawed characters
Silly moments break up a hard-hitting story
Evocative and emotional
Charming details help develop characters and the town
The Bad
Unnecessarily gamified sections
9
Superb
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Kallie took 12 hours to play through Night in the Woods using a complimentary copy provided to GameSpot. She successfully raised the baby rats.
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CALPWN7

This seems very interesting and relatable, which is powerful in a video game. I read another article that referred to it as a serious Animal Crossing. I will definitely play this one soon.

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couly

Would my 4 year old like this? or is it actually for adults?

Avatar image for dimetro7
dimetro7

@couly: From what I have heard, I don't know if your 4 year old will get a lot out of this game. It sounds like there is a good amount of reading and the game also delves into some more young adult/ mature ideas. I haven't played it, but that is everything I have heard from articles I have read.

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couly

@dimetro7: Thanks I had reservations

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dimetro7

@couly: No problem! I am planning on picking it up and going through it this weekend. If I get far enough along into it, I will let you know what I think and maybe it could be something you guys play together.

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couly

@dimetro7: That's exactly why I asked! we play Spelunky (he's amazing at it) , Ori and the blind forest, Shovel knight and goes horse riding in Assassin's Creed :)

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dimetro7

@couly: That is awesome. If you are looking for games in general to play together, it seems like steamworld dig 2 is pretty accessible. I have been playing some Thumper as well which is a lot of fun. I don't know if it could be construed as scary because it can be a little intense with the music, but it is just different button combos so could be an option as well.

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couly

@dimetro7: That looks awesome! thanks. I left the room for two minutes yesterday, came back and he was attacking a level 40 elephant in AC. :D

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dimetro7

@couly: lol. chip off the old block

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Heavleemetal

WTF does 'unnecessarily gamified sections' mean?

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cameron997456

@heavleemetal: I think it is referring to the platforming at night which get repetitive very quickly and seems more forced that it does good for the story, they could have done many others things other than the platforming to get their point across but continuously did it. It looked to be added in because it was a video game not for story purposes.

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JavaClaws

This isn’t my typical type. Typically a sports, rpg, racing and action-rpg player. But this is intriguing. I’m open to new fun gaming. What’s your advice?

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JustPlainLucas

Jesus... I just picked up Celeste and now it looks like I have to pick up another Switch game... I CAN'T KEEP UP!

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RogerioFM

@JustPlainLucas: Have you played Golf Story? Dear God that's amazing.

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JustPlainLucas

@RogerioFM: Nope, but it's on my list to get ... eventually.

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Angelraid

This game is so relatable. I totally remember the times I would steal things just to see what would happen :P

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RogerioFM

As someone who suffers from depression, I'm kind of apprehensive to give this one a try. I know too well the emotional void and crippling sensation of depression, not sure I need another trigger.

Still, I'm glad there is a good game that covers the subject.

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fatalbanana

@RogerioFM: I know exactly what you mean, however, this isn't the kind of game you think it is. Though things like depression and anxiety are themes this game touches on they are presented in subtle and nuanced ways as to not be particularly crushing or overbearing. I didn't find it triggering as much as I found it just relatable.

It never made me feel bad but it did make me nod my head and say "yup, that's what that's like" I don't think you should write the game off I enjoyed my time with it a great deal everyone's different though.

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codenamedutchez

Picked this up on my Xbox and it is outstanding!

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Pink_Yoshi

@codenamedutchez: They should have reviewed the Xbox version alongside the Switch.

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k--m--k

I want to play this for story but I am fed up with side scrolling games.

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McGuirex3

Wait this game has no VO's? If so pretty much not for me tho hope other gamers enjoy!

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iloveyourface

@McGuirex3: imagine your own! they can talk as fast as you want them. great stuff.

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McGuirex3

@iloveyourface: "imagine your own"

I'm not sure that helps but thanks just the same friend and have a great weekend

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OmegaSloth

@McGuirex3: its like a visual novel but if thats not your type of game thats alright.

Avatar image for McGuirex3
McGuirex3

@omegasloth:

Thanks OmegaSloth and have yourself a great day/weekend!

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iloveyourface

@McGuirex3: take care bro!

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hushed_kasket

@iloveyourface, @McGuirex3: *Relationship goals*

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Tweavr

Awesome! Really glad this thing is finally out and is doing so well C:

Avatar image for deactivated-5bd1e31726b43

Really as good as Horizon Zero Dawn??? I think you should have raised that score a couple of notches... 9.4 maybe. Been playing Horizon and it is really really amazing.

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Warlord_Irochi

@Legend_of_Link: Reviews are personal opinions of the reviewers, not a measure of objective quality.

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santinegrete

@Legend_of_Link: I honestly think the 9 of this game is for it's own merits. You won't be hunting cyber beasts in a great living and original setting that's also so open.

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Sound_Demon

@Legend_of_Link: Yes it's as good as horizon zero dawn is, in its own field. A horror book and non fiction can both be great books with the same score rating. Neither is it necessary that people who enjoy one will enjoy the other. When I was 3, I learned that everyone likes different stuff for different reasons.

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darkSYNced

@Legend_of_Link: It's alright, been playing it and don't see what's so special, other than the graphics and the amazing photo mode. But it is well refined and well made, a great game, maybe just not for me.

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wexorian

@Legend_of_Link: Yeah that's how reviews work in MORONLAND filled with FANBOYS :)

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RogerioFM

@Legend_of_Link: Whoa, to this day and age there still are idiots who don't know how reviews work

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McGuirex3

@RogerioFM:

"idiots", really dude! Please try to be Nice you know the way you'd like ppl to be w/ you. Have yourself a fantastic day Ok!

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greaseman1985

@McGuirex3: You're no fun. You don't understand how comment sections work :)

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RogerioFM

@McGuirex3: Fine, I'll try to behave.

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McGuirex3

@RogerioFM:

Thanks friend big-time cuz at the end of the day/week/month/year will (ALL) be better!

Avatar image for deactivated-5bd1e31726b43

@RogerioFM: I am just saying that I have a hard time believing this game is the same quality and depth that Horizon has. Jeez when they give two games the same score that is saying to me that both are equally good. Calling me an idiot is not very nice.

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fatalbanana

@Legend_of_Link: Two different games having the same score does not mean they are comparable. The things that make Horizon good are not the same things that make this game good. If every game was compared to each other in reviews it would be useless to consumers because you're assuming your readers taste. Your personal preferences in the games you play means a ton when evaluating a game. If you enjoy the kind of game Night in The Woods is than it will probably be a 9 to you same with Horizon. Does not mean everyone who plays games will like it or find what they think makes a good game to them in it. Reviews should be taken with the game in question and what your personal tastes are.

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@fatalbanana: Thanks for the clarification. That actually helps.

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zedetach

@Legend_of_Link: When it comes to very subjective games like this, it's hard to judge it based on reviews because it ultimately relies on your ability to relate to the game's character and story on a personal level in order for you to enjoy it.

This is almost the complete opposite of a traditional game like Horizon Dawn where gameplay is at the forefront of the experience and so it's much easier to trust that the review is a fairly accurate assessment of how good the game is.

I for one will not enjoy Night in The Woods because I've gone past the phase of being an emo dude and so its reviews like this that do a good job of helping me make an informed decision on whether or not I should purchase the game.

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RogerioFM

@Legend_of_Link: I suppose I exaggerated, apologies.

Avatar image for deactivated-5bd1e31726b43

@RogerioFM: Thanks. I totally see your point

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Killermonkey97

@Legend_of_Link: It just seems like a condescending thing to say for a game like this that is going for such a different thing than Horizon or Zelda. And also scores on GS only go whole numbers and more about feel than an attempt at being rational and being based on a set base of factors. Sorry that the idiot word offended ya at the time, just wanted to let ya know to not take it so hard : ))) (though I can get the need for explanation)

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fatalbanana

@Legend_of_Link: Yeah, that's not how reviews work...

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NaturallyEvil

@fatalbanana: But when a site uses a numeric rating scale for something as complex and open to interpretation as video games or movies, then they encourage the notion that they can be treated like sports scores or rankings. People might not misunderstand the ratings as much if gaming "journalism" on the whole wasn't mostly garbage.

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Night in the Woods More Info

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  • First Released Feb 21, 2017
    released
    • Linux
    • Macintosh
    • + 4 more
    • Nintendo Switch
    • PC
    • PlayStation 4
    • Xbox One
    Night In The Woods is a 2D story-focused adventure/exploration game with many extracurricular activities to enjoy, characters to meet, and secrets to discover.
    6.9
    Average Rating42 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Night in the Woods
    Developed by:
    Infinite Fall, Finji
    Published by:
    Infinite Fall, Finji, Playism, Limited Run Games
    Genre(s):
    Adventure
    Theme(s):
    Fantasy
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Teen
    Crude Humor, Drug Reference, Fantasy Violence, Language, Mild Blood, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco