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Friday, March 17, 2017

Night in the Woods Review: Rite of Possum Springs.

Do you ever get the feeling that something was made just for you? Something that seems to take your musings on fear, insecurity, and loathing and makes them funnier than they have any right to be? Night in the Woods is a watershed moment in gaming. It's almost like I've been waiting for something like this since 1996. I don't want to oversell it, but there is a very good reason it has a 10/10 on steam reviews. That reason is I have NEVER played a game this well written. I just want to shout superlatives from the rooftops now, so here we go.

People may argue that NITW is visual novel, that it's not interactive enough, that it's forced ending robs it of any lasting impact. You may feel like your time in Possum Springs is "wasted" and there are solid arguments for calling this a flash in the pan. I'll even fess up that the final act is a rushed misstep. But I say it's all about the journey. I can only speak to my own experience and my own experience was a goddamn trip, man.

The story of Night in the Woods is a new one, though painfully familiar to anyone in their 20's. Mae is a cat that was too anxious and depressed to finish college and chose to move back home with her parents while she figures out what to do next. All day every day she hops around town meeting up with her friends at their workplaces, walking on power lines, getting heckled by old neighbors, anything to drown out her creeping feelings of failure and inadequacy.

This shouldn't be anything but a stone cold bummer. So why did it make me laugh out loud more than any game I've ever played? I'll give you a hint, because this is the seminal creative text of my generation. It earns that title by understanding that everyday life can be funny or sad and is routinely both at once. This is the millennial tragedy writ small and it. Is. Hilarious

Punch lines are set up that don't pay off for hours. There are quick 30 second conversations with your mother that manage to be emotional roller coasters. There's a scene in which you start a knife fight with your best friend and it's not a mellow dramatic showdown. It's just some dumb fun you're both having. 

When NITW has characters read poetry, it's actually poetic. When you think the story is going to point towards a happy ending for anyone, a barbed anecdote about their past suddenly makes it impossible. Addiction, abuse, loss, and irrational self destruction are given a grace and humor that escapes not just most games, but a lot of writing in general. No, really. Stephen King couldn't pull off characters this three-dimensional or fun to save his life and remember I warned ya'll about the superlatives.

The one aspect that falls short is it's attempt at cosmic horror. That's kinda my wheelhouse and if you came to play you best not give me the ending to American Gods (but with a mine this time instead of a lake). How is it that in a game about a sad small town the ghostly kidnapper manages to be the least interesting thing about it? It also comes perilously close to having the villain be a problem that solves itself and for a game that's so good at dialogue and characters... that's a stark rookie mistake.

So I'd say take your time. Talk to everyone. Climb the buildings. Go to Church. Just fall in love with Possum Springs and take the ghost hunt with a grain of salt. This is just the first project from these guys and they've already thrown down the gauntlet for anyone trying to tell stories through games. If you can't see that this is now the high water mark then you aren't paying close enough attention.