Luke Silvers ’20 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Night in the Woods is a game about real life.
You are Mae Borowski, a college dropout returning to her dreary rust belt home, trying to pick up the pieces of the life she left behind. While Mae tries to continue from where she left off, pretending like she never left, too much has changed in the two years of her absence. As she gets reacclimated to her hometown, local happenings begin to get stranger and stranger, all centered around the mysterious woods on the outside of town.
Night in the Woods is part Gone Home, part The Breakfast Club, and part Zootopia, with a dash of Scott Pilgrim for good measure. It is a millennial simulator of sorts; Mae, despite being a cat, has incredibly human struggles. She represses her past. She fights with her parents. She struggles with her body image. She openly admits that she’s seen a therapist for anger problems. Issues like this are almost never seen in video games, which makes Night in the Woods a welcome exception from the norm.
An average day in Mae’s life consists of sleeping late, talking to people around town, and spending time with her band of misfit friends. Possum Springs is charming in its familiarity, but it’s the people in it that make it truly special. In the forefront are Mae’s friends Gregg, Angus, Bea, and Germ, who make the game truly special with their individual stories and their little quirks. Their stories are prominent and emotional, dealing with love, loss, and identity, but it’s the little things, their quirks, that make these characters truly special, and make them feel incredibly real. Gregg leaves the pizza crust while the rest of the group eats it, for instance: Gregg’s eating habits don’t affect gameplay at all, but it’s something that he just does. It’s an attention to detail that gets left out of a lot of games today.
One of the best aspects of Night in the Woods is the spot-on portrayal of youth rebellion. The things that Mae does aren’t good, but they don’t make her a bad person. She gets blackout drunk, she steals things she doesn’t need, and her computer even gets infested with malware because she watches what she calls “not for kids stuff.” The game handles these topics with a certain elegance, not portraying these as particularly positive but just a part of life, a simple reality for a complex character like Mae.
This isn’t to say that the game doesn’t give you choices. Not only are there a reasonable amount of dialogue options, but there’s only so much time in the day, so you can only spend so much time with your friends. You have to split up your time between them, deciding whether to go to the mall with Bea or to “do some crimes” with Gregg. You can pour in all your time with one friend or balance it out, and your choices affect what Mae’s story ends up being. Night in the Woods may not give you full reign over everything that Mae does, but her immersive story makes up for it regardless.
Night in the Woods not only examines Mae’s mind with her interactions, but it also explores her subconscious in incredibly stylized dream sequences. Mae’s dreams take the form of surreal landscapes that twist familiar backdrops of American life in purple and black with dashes of neon pink, blue, and orange. The unique aesthetic coupled with a uniquely evolving soundtrack make for a mysterious contrast with Mae’s daily life that, while strange, just works.
Night in the Woods is just different. It’s funny, heartfelt, cheerful, and melancholy, but more than anything else, it’s real. It’s a game about spending time with your friends and trying to face the uncertain future, yet also a game about feeling like an outsider and struggling to find your place. Anyone who has ever been at the end of their time as a teenager can find someone or something to relate to. After all, we’ve all had to come back home sometime.