Night in the Woods is a small indie game developed by Infinite Fall and released back in January of 2017. Obviously, many posts and reviews have been made about the game since, and you could easily read up on what the game is about.
I had my first experience with Night in the Woods when it came to the Nintendo Switch just a few months ago. While my initial playthrough ended back in February, this is a game that tells a highly relatable story that I often think back on. I briefly mentioned the game in my February recap but did not really delve into it.
Anyway, Night in the Woods is a light 2D adventure/exploration game. I sort of felt that it was part-platformer, part-simulation, with a variety of cute minigames thrown in, such as poking a severed arm with a stick, testing the player’s rhythmic skills at band practice, or eating pizza with your friends.
The gameplay was simple and rather relaxing, as players control a little black cat named Mae Borowski as she navigates her small hometown, Possum Springs, which is an artsy clone of any declining Midwestern town. The art style of the town and its inhabitants was charming and interesting.
Beneath the simple gameplay and cute art was a surprisingly relatable story that deals with pretty dark subjects. Mae is more than just a cute black cat– she’s also a directionless, dissociated and depressed college drop out. She is likably snarky and apathetic for the first portion of the game.
There’s also her odd gang of friends– all who appear to be growing up and moving on– that are written to be unique and believable. The writing of the dialogue feels both contemporary and realistic, which I think helps make it relatable, as she bickers with friends or catches up with neighbors and family.
The overall plot of the game involves Mae investigating the mystery of a missing citizen as well as an intimidating and seemly otherworldly killer. You play the game one day at a time, each day offering new information to uncover. As you progress, the plot thickens and Mae builds up her connections with her friends and her town.
A few different things kept me invested in uncovering this story: the sense of humor in the dialogue, the fact that you play as a little black cat, the mystery (of course), and the overwhelmingly familiar sense of melancholy and slight distraught that follows indecision.
Mae is a character who suffers from not knowing what it is she is doing with her life. She leaves college and she is plagued by her past, both mentally in the form of her reputation in Possum Springs, and physically by the town itself. She is depressed and anxious for most of the time and finds solace in her friendships.
Personally, my 20s have been filled with that struggle of trying to figure things out. How should my life be going? What should I be doing? What do I want to do? There are so many factors that influence how we live our lives, that it becomes a little overwhelming sometimes to figure out the direction we should be heading in.
Another aspect of Night in the Woods that I really enjoyed was how Mae’s friendships develop. The player is often given the choice on who to hang out with, Bae (the alligator girl), Gregg (the devious fox), or Angus (the cute bear with glasses/Gregg’s boyfriend). It was sort of like a choose-your-own-adventure story. I ended up following Bae because she reminded me of someone I would have hung out with in high school.
One part in the game deals with Mae witnessing some supernatural incident. When she goes around telling her friends and family about what she saw, no one believes her. But she feels so strongly that it is related to the severed arm they found and their missing classmate that she persists. Despite their skepticism, her friends ultimately go along with her. They might not believe that what she saw truly happened, but they do believe in her as their friend.
These moments in the game caused me to reflect on my own relationships. I have people in my life who support me and believe in me, even if they might have done things differently or think differently. Just like I’ve had people who are absolutely unsupportive or otherwise unbelieving. It is hard to believe in yourself when everyone around you seemingly thinks you’re full of shit. It was interesting to reflect on how bonds grow stronger when they’re nourished with support instead of doubt (or apathy).
I guess my biggest takeaway from Night in the Woods was this– even if we feel lost and confused, we shouldn’t just give up. Even if it seems that the people who should believe in us and support us really don’t, we shouldn’t stop trying. If we manage to push and follow our intuition, the people who do believe in us will shine through. And the rest doesn’t really matter.
Thanks for reading my rambling thoughts on Night in the Woods. I didn’t so much want to treat this as a review as just an explanation of how I related to the game. If you’re into fast-paced, high action games then this one might not be for you. But if you like character-driven storytelling, this is a great visual medium example of that.
And here’s a final snippet of advice from Papa Borowski:
— J. S.