When I used to actually care about video game Kickstarter projects, Cosmic Star Heroine and Night in the Woods were two of the ones that looked the most promising. In fact the Night in the Woods Kickstarter trailer had spectacular art and a super catchy song and it was on my radar ever since. When it released I got it day one on PS4 but didn’t really end up playing much at the time. Almost a year later and it has released on the Nintendo Switch and the port is almost perfect.
Mae is a college dropout who has just returned back to her hometown. It seems like everyone else has grown up and moved on but she is still the same and it shows through early interactions. In fact the cast of main characters here is more memorable than most gaming casts. I love the conversations between Mae and her parents, her friends like Gregg and Bea, and even the random NPCs you can talk to while walking around town. I don’t want to get into story details because it is fantastic and you need to experience it for yourself but there are themes of mental illness, anxiety, depression, and more. Even though there’s no voice acting, the subtle expression changes and animations brilliantly convey the humour and somber tone of various situations in Night in the Woods. The experience is amplified even more if you can find someone to relate to within the game but I feel like Mae will be relatable to most people at least initially.
This is more of a point and click interaction experience with a bit of platforming. The bulk of your experience here will be akin to old 90s adventures but with none of the annoyances of those games. There is a guitar hero like minigame that is quite fun although I had a rough time initially since I’m still not used the A B X Y controls on the Switch as I am with the PlayStation controller after years of rhythm games on that. Aside from the music game, there is an experience that’s similar to Hyper Light Drifter in Demon Tower that you can play from your laptop as Mae. Exploring through town is a blast and the developers have thought of almost everything as I tried to jump on a trashcan only to have it react with some HD rumble.
Visually this maybe one of the most eye catching games I’ve played since Firewatch and Persona 5. Every background area could be a wallpaper and the characters are as well designed as they are well written. Possum Springs maybe a small area when it comes to scale but it feels alive thanks to unique interactions spread across people in the town and in the narrative as a whole. The most striking aspect of the visuals outside the lovely designs is the lighting. Through the use of some really nice contrast and smart lighting, the scenes end up being more immersive. This is complemented by the super smooth animation and subtle things like character traits ranging from an ear twitch to small expression changes.
Alec Holowka of Towerfall fame did the music for this and the gigantic soundtrack is full of memorable tunes. There’s a smart use of recurring tunes throughout different songs. This is akin to the leitmotifs in Undertale’s soundtrack but here it is even more subtle and there are multiple variances of a few tunes throughout the soundtrack. The guitar hero like segments have their own music as well.
I was a little apprehensive of this release when it comes to performance because Unity has a poor history with performance on consoles. While there is some slowdown in certain sections, the overall port is very nice running at native resolution in both docked and handheld modes. I hope future patches can fix the performance because outside of that, some long load times are the only flaws with this release. For a game that’s pretty simple, the load times are far too long. One thing I would like to see is touch support. This is getting an iOS version down the line and the Switch allows for multiple input methods. Games like SteamWorld Heist have both button and touch options.
I’m glad Night in the Woods released on the Switch so I could play it on and off at home or outside since I mostly play the Switch as a portable. While the port looks great it needs a bit of work in the performance side of things. This is easily a game worth playing for anyone looking to get engrossed into a gorgeous little world with memorable characters and great humour.