Game Review: NIGHT IN THE WOODS

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website | steam

Playthrough threads:

I covered this game in my #BPlaysGames threads on Twitter. It’s got tons of pics and videos and live reactions. You can find the threads here:

Notes on Diversity/Inclusion (spoilers here):

  • Gregg and Angus are gay and in a healthy and mutually fulfilling relationship. THEY ARE REAL SWEET. IT IS A JOY TO SEE.
  • Mae is bi. Apparently her only criteria for a partner is someone she can wrestle with; someone with the GRRR in them.
  • The whole damn town is poor/working poor.
  • This game is Mental Health Issues City. Mae has depression. Angus is still coping with some nasty childhood trauma. Gregg is heavily coded as having bipolar.

Content Warnings (spoilers here):

  • In terms of plot, there is some definite creepiness, like finding a severed arm on the sidewalk, and seeing a robed and hooded figure run off with a kid at dusk.
  • There is discussion of murder, though you don’t see it happen.
  • Depending on your game choices, you may hear about some really gnarly trauma Angus went through as a kid.*
  • Depending on your game choices, you may get into a consensual knife fight with Gregg.
  • Mae discusses a violent episode from her past related to her mental health where she beat up a kid. This is part of the critical path, so I don’t think you can avoid it.
  • I only did one playthough, so there may be more potentially triggering content that I didn’t see.

Review:

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up Night in the Woods. All I knew was that there was some hype around it, and that it was supposed to be good, and that it featured a cat. From the title, I figured it was creepy.

Well, it is creepy, but it also smashed my heart into a thousand pieces and glued it back together about thirty times.

The game starts with Mae Borowski, a black cat person, waiting at the bus stop for her parents to pick her up. But her parents never do. So she has to run through the woods at night to make her way home. Thus starts the journey of Mae the fall she drops out of college and shit starts to slide sideways in the small podunk town of Possum Springs.

As someone with continually unreliable parents, and as someone who grew up in a dying town, I connected with this game on so many levels. I still have friends who work back home in convenience stores, who are scrimping and saving to live somewhere marginally better. The writing in this game is sharp and darkly funny. Mae wants to fail, but she wants to do it somewhere familiar, and somewhere where at least everyone is failing a little. And my generation knows that feeling hard.

I was expecting this to be a short game, but it isn’t. The game is technically a sidescroller, but it’s interrupted by a multitude of minigames that pop up. You can steal pretzels to feed to rats living in an abandoned parade float. You can play your bass–rock band style–at band practice. Depending on who you decide to spend the day with, you can shoot crossbows. Or you can tinker with the fountain at the mostly abandoned mall. Or you can play a videogame called Demontower on your laptop in your room. But you’re never bored.

The rhythm of the game is marked by the passage of days. Mae gets up, wanders around town, and goes to sleep. You get to choose who she hangs out with, whether she talks to or ignores her parents, whether she spends time with her old friends or makes new ones. There are a few major events along the game’s critical path–the Harfest Pageant is pretty great–but otherwise you’re filling in the backstory, and the backstory is delightful. At night, Mae has to tackle her strange dreamscape.

The last third of the game involves ghosts and a cult. I won’t say anymore than that, but the things the game is tackling here are timely and political. The writing remains good. Mae has her friends with her to the end. There is horror, and there is hope.

Takeaway & Rating:

I loved this game. Unabashedly and wholeheartedly. The art is adorable and stunning. The music is great. The writing is some of the funniest and most heart-wrenching I’ve read in a long time. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

5stars

*As someone with a not terribly dissimilar background to Angus, this was somewhat triggering to me. The game does foreshadow that He’s Seen Some Shit and that His Family Sucks, but there’s no foreshadowing when the convo happens. It just happens, and then my Feelings Gates opened real wide and I was just outright weeping on my keyboard.