Finally, a game that hoists you back into the rudderless banality of early adulthood. Night in the Woods was, for me, one of the most moving and intensely relatable games I’ve ever played. You begin as Mae Borowski, a 20-year-old caustic anthropomorphic feline who has just returned home to Possum Springs in late autumn after abruptly dropping out of college. The reason for her sudden departure from school unfolds as the story progresses, in tandem with the unearthing of a dark, deep secret hidden within the very crust of her quiet mill-town.
Mae is your average displaced youth. She is directionless compared to her peers, displays bouts of violence, and is prone to some cringey outbursts that will definitely give you second-hand embarrassment. But underneath it all, as is her closest friends’ constant refrain, she does mean well. She is quirky and imaginative, with her boundless, adorable energy.
Mae is undoubtedly suffering from depression, and likely a host of other mental ailments. But her naivete and whimsy showcase this inner darkness through the fractured, kaleidoscopic lens of an enchanted child. Even her fears are all supernatural, the stuff of childhood nightmares. When confronted with actual horror, finding a disembodied arm on the sidewalk, for example, her reaction is not one of fear, but unflinching wonder.
There are three constants in Mae’s life, all of whom you must somehow associate with each day – her bestie Gregg, a crime-loving fox with hyperactive tendencies, his humble, nerdy, teddy bear boyfriend, Angus, and Bea, a goth crocodile forced to grow up too soon. Throughout the game, you can choose which friend you’d like to cosy up with more, which will result in a slightly tailored ending for you.
Coming from a small mill-town myself, I found the charm of the townsfolk and their idiosyncrasies to be pretty damn accurate. The joys of Night in the Woods come from Mae’s small day-to-day interactions with these intriguing characters. You can play the game thoroughly and chat with everyone in the town each day, or, you can ignore everyone and only focus on your friends. It’s really up to you. But when you do find those hidden characters in the underbelly of the town, or in the churchyard, or idling in a desolate parking lot, you get to lose yourself in their lives a little bit. And that is a huge part of the game.
A word of (potentially spoilery) note: despite being privy to certain story arcs for your friends, depending on who you hang out with more, if you’re expecting your dialogue options in the game to affect your ending, they won’t. The game starts to follow a fairly linear route about two-thirds of the way through. I have an affinity for choice-based dialogue that leads to alternate endings, so this revelation was a bit of a bummer for me. Don’t let that deter you, though! The dialogue is deeply rich, and I found myself actually laughing out loud at some of Mae’s banter.
I would identify the tone of the game as optimistically bleak. The dichotomy of nihilism and love, good and evil, divinity and humanity, are deftly handled by the game’s creators. The light platforming mechanics, while occasionally tedious, are tolerable. You’ll also be challenged by some delightful mini-games, such as a Guitar Hero simulator (when you jam with your friends), or entering a knife fight with Gregg, or shoplifting pretzels. There’s even a dungeon crawler game within the game that’s surprisingly fun. But, to balance those joyful tidbits, you’ll be dealt some heavy hitting emotional blows. If you were ever in Mae’s shoes at any point in your life, an aimless adult-child in the throes of late autumn and early winter, I suspect that you too will develop a powerful bond with Night in the Woods.
Night in the Woods is currently available in the Nintendo eShop for €18.99.