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Published 15.09.2021 00:00
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Night in the Woods review

I had not previously played or heard much of anything about Night in the Woods prior to playing the mobile release. All I knew was it was a story about a girl coming back home from college set in a small town of adorable animal people. I assumed there would be some deeper storytelling given what I know about the game's creators, but I was not prepared to be so moved so many times while playing Night in the Woods, both by its writing and presentation. Despite this iOS version presenting a few control hiccups, you should absolutely play this game. If anything, it has gotten more relevant with age.

A tail of friendship

Night in the Woods is a game about a cat-girl named Mae. At the beginning of her sophomore year of college, she decides to leave and return to her parents' house in Possum Springs. Her hometown typifies a lot of small town America, particularly ones that had previously been built up around a particular industry. In the case of Possum Springs, it was a mining town until it wasn't, and now most of its residents run small businesses or work in chain stores to make a living.

It's not entirely clear why Mae left college, or what her plans are now that she is home, but the game puts you in the driver's seat to discover those answers by living out Mae's new daily routine, which mostly consists of sleeping in, hanging out with friends, and going to band practice. Certain events play out on certain days on their own, but for the most part you are otherwise in control of where you want to go and who you want to hang out with.

Small town, small screen

As you pass each day, you learn a little bit more about Mae and the people she interacts with in Possum Springs, and these interactions start to give shape to Mae's past as well as a mysterious future you uncover by the game's end. For the first few days you play out for Mae, though, Night in the Woods can feel a little directionless. This is likely intentional (for a variety of reasons), but I say this to say that the beginning of the game can feel pretty dragged out when accustomed to playing faster-paced mobile experiences or dipping in and out of it on your phone.

On the bright side, the game looks and feels mostly great on mobile. There are no ugly on-screen controls, allowing you to really take in the gorgeous and charming art without any obstruction. Also, most of the actions you do are simply matters of dragging on the screen to move and tapping through dialog. If you do find yourself getting interrupted often while playing, you'll also be delighted to know that the iOS version of Night in the Woods has a great auto-save system that smartly checkpoints at the beginning of any given scene.

Animal control

Outside of these general points about the mobile port, there are a few times when playing Night in the Woods using touch where things don't quite come together. Specifically, in any moments where the game gives you direct control of Mae's hands, it can be pretty confusing figuring out how the controls should work. Part of this could be because of the game's overall minimalism--there are no tutorials spelled out in the experience whatsoever--but some of it also has to do with control inconsistency.

For example, there is a moment relatively early in the game where you are supposed to grab an item without being seen. The way you perform this is to drag Mae's hands over the item and pull it to your pocket using your finger, but you have to completely remove your finger from the screen if someone turns to look at you. Later on in the story, you are tasked with moving some planks, and the control scheme for this requires you to drag Mae's paws over the plank and then tap to grab it. In both cases, you aren't told any of this information. You're just supposed to figure it out, and it took me a long time--particularly with the second instance--because of the inconsistency and lack of direction about how to perform different actions the game asks you to do. That said, I figured these things out on my own just fine, but I do wish they didn't slow my momentum in the way that they did.

The bottom line

Slight control issues aside, Night in the Woods is an amazing port of an incredible game. It's a bit of a slow burn, but the journey itself is beautiful and it makes the payoff that much more meaningful and rewarding. Absolutely buy and play this game if you haven't already. You will not regret it, even on mobile.

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