In the era of the Switch, I resent pretty much any video game that tethers me to my television. This includes Night in the Woods, which I wanted to revisit at the end of last year when its “director’s cut” Weird Autumn Edition launched. Carving out the time to replay the game in the midst of all my other responsibilities when it was on my PlayStation 4 proved a challenge, and I ultimately ended up not completing it or seeing the new content. However, Night in the Woods is now on the Switch, and given the game’s storybook style and focus on the mundane, it feels like a natural fit for the platform that lends itself to a less restrictive type of play.
Set in the small town of Possum Springs, Night in the Woods is an understated look at the life of the young adult in a small town. Mae, the protagonist but not quite the hero of this story, is a recent college dropout forced back into her childhood home with her parents. She forces her way back into the lives of her friends who are caught up in their own coming of age stories, like Gregg, a rehabilitated delinquent looking to leave Possum Springs forever with his boyfriend Angus and feeling trapped in the town as the only queer people there, and Bea, Mae’s childhood best friend who’s taken over her family’s story in the wake of her mother’s death. Mae’s resurgence throws a wrench in all of their lives, as they each have to come to terms with how the years apart have changed them and their priorities.
Night in the Woods isn’t a happy story for the group, as everyone is experiencing some kind of growing pain that forms a wedge between their friendships. There’s a sense of obligation to them at some points, as if they hang out with each other due to proximity. Possum Springs is a prison for them, and they know that if they aren’t there for each other that sense of entrapment will be the end of them. Night in the Woods is such an honest portrayal of living in a small town when your heart and mind are elsewhere that it feels bleak. There’s a hope of escape that runs through it, but it never forgets how suffocating the environment can be for people like Mae and Gregg. Gregg longs for a life with Angus free of judgement, and Mae stays because she has nowhere else to go. By the end, not everyone finds the answers to all the questions that haunt them, but Night in the Woods does cast a judgmental eye on how we can drag each other down into a hole of complacency, and it does so by casting the player in the role of the enabler.
Beyond these interpersonal relationships, Possum Springs is home to its own sets of problems. Jobs are in short supply, people are leaving the town at alarming rates, and meanwhile, those who are still there are trying to get by. Night in the Woods’ worldview is largely shaped by its cynicism of its setting, but it’s not without glimmers of hope that the people are worth the struggles of living within it. Mae’s parents specifically stand out, as they want more for their daughter than what this town has to offer.
Most of Night in the Woods is spent travelling around this town and talking with the townsfolk. Each of the citizens gets a minute amount of screen time compared to the main cast, but there are stories being told all throughout Possum Springs, each painting a picture of the good and the bad of the town. In between each new scene, there’s a solid variety of mini-games to break up the walking and talking. Band practice makes way for rhythm game sections, committing crimes with Gregg leads to some destruction of property, and Mae’s vivid dreaming creates environments for platforming. Some of this feels like fluff, but in Possum Springs you take fun where you can find it, and there’s enough variety in Mae’s antics to make each individual set piece feel fresh.
With the addition of the Weird Autumn content, there are new sides of these people to see. The update is available for all versions of the game for free, and comes pre-installed on the Switch edition. Those looking for a reason to revisit the game will find a lot to enjoy in this “director’s cut,” as well as supplementary side stories, such as the pre-release games Longest Night and Lost Constellation. These short games aren’t pertinent to Night in the Woods’ main story, but will give you some extra time with the excellent characters.
Night in the Woods is the kind of game I find new things in each time I replay it, and the Switch makes doing that practical in a way playing it on other platforms isn’t. It’s the definitive place to play this incredibly special game.