Review: Night in the Woods

What I played: Completed the story in 11.5 hours.

In Night in the Woods, you play as Margaret Borowski (also known as Mae) as she arrives in her home, Possum Springs, after dropping out of college suddenly. Soon, you are introduced to her friends: Bea the crocodile, Gregg, the fox, and Gregg's boyfriend, Angus the bear, all of which stayed in Possum Springs after graduating from high school. Through the story, you follow Mae as she navigates the strangeness of small-town life after being the one to get out. What's beautiful about this game is its ability to capture the uncanny. Though the cast is comprised, entirely, of anthropomorphized animals and Possum Springs isn't a real place, the thoughts, feelings, and tensions portrayed in this game are all believable. If you've ever been to a small town in the Midwest suffering from a loss of jobs, you already know Possum Springs. If you've ever failed at something and ran home, you already know Mae.

Night in the Woods is technically a 2-D side scrolling platformer but, feels far more like an adventure game. Don't expect combat, because there is none and none of the platforming is particularly difficult. It exists more as a means of exploration. Which by the way, there's quite a bit to explore. Though the game doesn't have incredible replay value, it is impossible to see all the game has to offer in one play though.

You'll spend the majority of your time in Possum Springs making the trip between Mae's house and either Bea's family's shop or The Snack Falcon, where Greg works, every time down the same street, interacting with the same people, in same small town.Yes, it's drudgery but, it's the drudgery of living in a place. And that is what this game concerns itself with in large part. Every day the residents of Possum Springs have something new to say. I wouldn't call this set of townsfolk charismatic but, somehow, these people endeared themselves to me after walking up and down their street so many times. Their problems were familiar, I think often about the man sitting on his stoop who had been in and out of a job so many times he calls his resume a zombie resume because it's dead but still walking. Many folks have and are going through this same thing.  One thing Night in the Woods does fantastically is portraying the mundane but, even from early on there are hints that something odd is going on in Possum Springs and one of the game's greatest strengths is in watching things unfold.

Me too, Mae. Me too.

Me too, Mae. Me too.

There's no such thing as a normal town. Like people, every place has its mysteries and quirks. It would seem Night in the Wood's primary objective is to tackle these oddities hidden in Possum Springs and hold them next to the narratives of Mae and her friends. Some of the oddities the game tackles include: murder mysteries, meditations on divinity, grappling with mental illness, small town dynamics, familial disconnect, death, the collapse of the small town, the occult, and time, among other things. What is impressive about this is, even though Night in the Woods concerns itself with so much, it manages to balance them well. Nothing is going to beat you over the head. Night in the Woods raises its points and provides no concrete conclusions. That is left to the player and you can read as little or as much into things as you like.

But none of that would be possible without the sense of humor this game has and that humor's firm footing in reality. Gregg and Mae have a running thing where they ask each other "do you wanna go commit crimes?" and then they actually do. Things like breaking into a museum, breaking spare lights at the Snack Falcon or stealing from Gregg's boss, who trusted him. But there are other times when Gregg says, "Nah, I have a date." It's even found in Bea who, despite her best efforts, can't pretend, entirely, to hate Mae and Mae's sense of humor. In the way that life is better when you can laugh at yourself, Night in the Wood's characters laugh frequently at themselves and invite you to as well. 

Night in the Woods also is a prime example of a game that does representation right. The residents of Possum Springs are diverse, some are Queer, coded Black, young, old, disabled and/or able-bodied and it isn't sensationalized one way or another. It's a dimension of a larger person not the entirety of the person, like in other game's attempts at diversity. So in short, I fucking love this flawed and beautiful game and it's definitely worth taking a look at if you can get past the lack of action.

    8.5/10 Very Good