"Night in the Woods is cool... but yeah, whatever dude."
For some people, there is something undeniably wonderful yet haunting about home towns. Getting sentimental about parks you played in as a kid, feeling nostalgia for your old bedroom and wondering what happened to your childhood best friends are all part of growing up. Night in the Woods is an adventure game built around this concept and while it could easily fall flat into a sappy, heavy-handed wreck, what I played at E3 was genuine, hilarious and I can't wait to explore the finished game when it's released later this year.
Mae is a 20 year old college dropout who moves back to her home town of Possum Springs. But, she has been gone for awhile and her town isn't the same place where she grew up; people have moved on, shops have closed down and the air feels different. The demo I played only hinted at this but apparently the real meat of the story revolves around a mystery of what is going on in the woods near town and beyond.
The closest thing Night in the Woods has to a core mechanic is simply walking around and talking to people. You talk to old friends and sometimes you have dialogue choices which are always appropriately angsty. The game is completely self aware and not long into the demo, Mae even asks, "is there some bug going around that makes people talk like fortune cookies?" Mae also keeps a thought journal where she will write or draw things after being inspired by things she hears in conversation. Even the options menu has settings for "reality virtualness" and "more raccoons." At every turn, Night in the Woods is attempting to charm the pants off you!
The visuals are incredibly eye-catching and hearken back to those never-truly-forgotten children's books. The 2D animation is fluid and, strangely enough for an adventure game, Night in the Woods is a joy to control. Running around town and hopping on powerlines is all in a day's work for Mae and it feels great. Fallen leaves litter the sidewalk and the autumnal palette emphasizes the theme of change. This is clean, 2D art at its finest.
The music is equally flattering and is composed by the game's programmer, Alec Holowka. The standout track of the demo comes from Mae attending band practice. Notes scroll down on the screen and you need to tap along to the corresponding notes like PaRappa the Rapper or Guitar Hero. The song has a cool punk groove with a slight digital sizzle that is super catchy.
Night in the Woods has the potential to be one of the most memorable titles of 2016. Funnily enough, it almost reminds me of FLCL; both works have similar themes of searching for identity and dealing with change. Powerlines and underpasses are used in both to evoke nostalgia and that unmistakable sense of childlike wonder. As far as video games go, Night in the Woods is an experience unlike anything I have seen before. Night in the Woods is cool... but yeah, whatever dude.