Right in the feels.
‘It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry’ is a cliche usually reserved for rom-com movie trailers. Rarely have I seen a game which encapsulates this sentiment as strongly as Night in the Woods: Weird Autumn Edition.
A free expansion of Night in the Woods, Weird Autumn builds on the original with numerous extra scenarios, some of which were previously released standalone. Whether it’s enough to entice back former players is questionable, but this definitive edition – also now available on the Nintendo Switch – provides an even more welcoming opportunity for newcomers.
I approached Weird Autumn as one of said newcomers, with little idea of what to expect. The crux of the story revolves around a cat called Mae Borowski, her run-down hometown of Possum Springs and its other anthropomorphic residents. After dropping out of college – ‘it just didn’t work out’, she cagedly shrugs off the situation when asked – Mae moves back in with her parents and readjusts to her old surroundings. Struggling to come to terms with her failure, she drifts aimlessly from day to day, goofing off around town and hanging out with friends.
From what I’ve revealed so far, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Weird Autumn is a little pedestrian in nature. You wouldn’t be wrong, either. Heavy on dialogue and light on direct interaction, action enthusiasts need not apply here. But for a story of cats, dogs, birds and bears, Night in the Woods offers some of the most human writing I’ve seen in a game in recent memory.
It’s the ‘people’ you meet in Possum Springs which make it special. You’ll be spending the most time with Mae’s closest inner circle, including Bea, a sarcastic alligator in goth attire; Gregg, a hyperactive anarchic fox; and his boyfriend Angus, a quietly reserved but big-hearted bear. From the parties, band practices and misadventures you embark on together throughout Weird Autumn’s duration, it’s impossible not to fall in love with this charming bunch of misfits.
Yet these three are only the tip of the iceberg. Spend enough time getting to know the other inhabitants of Possum Springs and you’ll find that they all have a story to tell. There’s Selmers, a bear who went through a rough patch of opioid addiction, divorce and jail-time but has turned a corner and now expresses herself through poetry she’s all-too-keen to share. The avian pastor of the local church, Karen, questions even her own faith as she battles to provide shelter for a local homeless lynx called Bruce. A mouse called Lori suffers from low self-esteem and intrusive thoughts, but plans to work with her fascination of death by directing her own horror film some day.
Some characters take longer to open up than others, but all of them reward your persistence. Whether they’re finding it difficult to make ends meet, fit in or make something of themselves, what they have in common is that everyone is struggling. Weird Autumn has remarkably frank and sincere explorations of mental illness, not least through Mae herself. But it’s not all bleak. The darker subject matter is balanced out with genuinely brilliant humour, light-hearted minigames and a sense of hope in sight for most of its characters.
As if the fabulous writing wasn’t enough, Weird Autumn is presented with superb visual design. Its quirky 2D art is strikingly vibrant, feeling reminiscent of a graphic novel. A staggering attention to detail, from the yellowed leaves Mae kicks up as she walks to the squirrels hastily ferrying nuts across power lines, makes Possum Springs feel so alive.
What’s surprising is how hefty an undertaking Weird Autumn actually is. It should be approached at the pace of its sleepy town, soaking in the atmosphere and not leaving any conversational stone unturned, and playing in this manner will easily take in excess of 10-12 hours to reach completion. In fact, the game should have arguably been more ruthless in its self-editing. Its glacial tempo, repetitive daily routine and sometimes humdrum dialogues are a deliberate, conscious reflection of the lives of Possum Springs’ residents, I get it. But condensing some of the chaff and focusing more on the meatier scenarios would have made for a tighter experience overall.
More egregious, despite a typically linear structure there are choices to make which let you take part in only one scenario or another. From breaking into an abandoned store to exploring a haunted museum or fixing a senile lady’s boiler, these never fail to entertain. It’s disappointing that you’ll miss some over the course of a single playthrough.
Finally, the twist of Weird Autumn’s ending chapter is tonally inconsistent. Without spoiling anything, it undermines the impact of some of the more subtle themes explored throughout the game and ends on an odd note. Yet these criticisms put only a minor dampener on an otherwise wonderful tale. Extraordinarily heartfelt, Night In The Woods: Weird Autumn Edition is like simultaneously curling up with a good book and spending time with old friends.