If you don’t live in a small town and have ever wondered what it’s like to live in one, simply play Night in the Woods and there you go. Night in the Woods is a shining example of articulating the emotional experience of living in a small town when you’re undergoing a mid-life crisis at 20.
Night in the Woods is a narrative adventure centered around Mae Borowski, a recent college dropout who returns to her hometown of Possum Springs. Her main reason for coming back is to resume a former, more aimless life of being an adult, minus the responsibility of holding down a job and paying bills like everyone else. As she settles back into her routine of being trapped between teenage angst and adulthood, Mae unwittingly discovers something spooky happening behind the scenes of Possum Springs. She decides to investigate the mystery with some help from her friends Gregg, Angus, and Bea, while also rejuvenating her friendships with them.
Did I mention Mae is a cat person? And that everyone else is also anthropomorphic? It’s that kind of art design that made me say to myself “I’ve got to play this.”
Anthropomorphism in artwork isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but something about Night in the Woods makes it work. Some of the most profound stories I’ve read feature anthropomorphic art or characters alluding to deep themes and ideas, such as the graphic novel Maus. Night in the Woods is similar in that its design is simple yet its ideas are complex. It also helps that there is such great attention paid to the details in the background of Possum Springs and in the little things that caught my attention while exploring, such as kicking up autumn leaves and the sound made while walking along telephone pole wires like an acrobat (because, and I have to reiterate this, Mae is a cat person). The bright palette of colours and almost childlike design gives Night in the Woods an advantage to go dark when it needs to for its young adult themes and scenarios, such as the discovery of a disembodied arm on the sidewalk…which, as Mae, you get to poke with a stick.
If you’ve read my piece on Aquaria, then you already know that I’m a big fan of Alec Holowka’s talent as a composer, and Night in the Woods‘s soundtrack is no exception. Holowka seems especially apt at creating the right atmosphere for the right scene, whether it’s for a pleasant backdrop while Mae’s strolling through her neighbourhood, or while hanging out at a lousy party that Mae and her friends go to. One of my favourite tracks, aside from the opening theme, is the second level music for Demon Tower, an unlockable minigame which you unlock as an extra mini game later on. The music itself becomes one of Night in the Woods’ characters.
As part of Night in the Woods’ story, Mae’s circle of family and friends is the absolute best aspect of Possum Springs. There is a little bit of someone in each of them that I am reminded of, whether it’s Gregg who’s so hyperactive and happy that it’s contagious; or Angus, who’s so chill and laidback that he’s great to relax with and open up to; or Bea, who went through a lot of adult-changing stuff at an earlier age than Mae, and reminds me of one of my best friends.
Even the neighbours have their own personality, from the poet down the street who’s more talented than you realize, to the angsty goths and teens lounging around, doing their own thing in their own world. Putting that effort into the little details is something I can always appreciate in a narrative, and Night in the Woods has it in spades.
If there’s absolutely one problem I have with Night in the Woods, it’s the ending. After everything that happened following the disembodied arm, it felt so anticlimactic. There are heavy, emotional scenes that occur before the final one, which ended so abruptly that I was actually not sure as to what had just happened—it didn’t feel like there was any payoff to the monumental scenes leading to the end, such as Mae’s wild, lucid dreams.
That said, I do understand the reasoning behind the abrupt ending. The whole point of Night in the Woods is to make you feel like you’re living a big part of Mae’s life. And the thing about life is it moves on whether you really want it to or not. Sometimes life moves on without you even realizing it. And there are some things in life that are never, ever fully explained—that’s what happens in Night in the Woods. I still don’t understand some of the things in Mae’s life (the curious Mae meets in the beginning for example), but I do understand that despite their bigness, they were only one small part of the life that she needed to address. And so, life moves on. I may not like the execution of how the ending went down, but I don’t think it’s the worst ending—just an unsatisfying one.
Despite the ending, Night in the Woods is an amazing game, and if there’s any other word to describe it, it would be “relatable.” I relate to the small town of Possum Springs, from its run-down buildings with vacancies open, to its drizzly rainy days. I relate to all of the characters because most of them bear such an uncanny similarity to my own circle of family and friends. I swear, it’s like Infinite Ammo took a peek at my life and said, “Yep, we can make a videogame out of this.” I can even relate to Mae, though her personality and mine are very different. I’m not a college dropout, but I have experienced the sensation of being so lost and out of sorts in life after graduation, that most of my days were spent thinking, “Well, what the fuck do I do now?” That concern is ever present in Night in the Woods. So, if you ever feel alone or stumped in life, take comfort in the fact that there’s now a videogame for filling in that void.