The game is absolutely great and the thing I loved most about it was the level of diversity it contained and how natural it felt. I believe we need more games like this that are actually talking about class and sexuality. Encountering angry and disillusioned young people in the game, trying to make their way while feeling hopeless and outraged is refreshing. One of the main cast, Bea, does this especially. She argues about capitalism and society (it was a little like seeing myself in-game at those points) in really natural ways.
I’m hopeful that games continue to be direct like this in talking about issues like mental health, government, sexuality and class. It was a really refreshing and notable experience to see a game set in a run-down small town with these themes at its centre. It came at an amazing time for me, personally. Having a genuine ogre in the White House and a demon as Prime Minister does get depressing, so it’s nice to see instances of games criticising society and how government has worked for decades now.
This game is really, really great.
Night in the Woods, released recently on PS4 and PC, is an indie adventure game centring on the player, Mae. Mae moves back to her hometown, Possum Springs, after a couple of years away in university and must reacquaint herself with the once-familiar place.
The game explores some really interesting themes through Mae’s homecoming and her circle of friends. The game tackles relationships people may not be accepting of, feeling isolated, the decline and death of small towns and industry, metal health, depression, family and immobile middle and lower classes. It’s essentially everything I love in a game in a really adorable art style so here, I’ll talk about the game a little and why I think it’s so fantastic.
Gameplay, style, sound.
The best parallel that I can draw between Night in the Woods to another game would be Oxenfree (one of my favourite games I played last year – would recommend). Taking control of Mae, a cute little cat, the player explores the 2D world and interacts with Mae’s old friends and family. Walking around the gorgeous environment of Possum Springs is always enjoyable. Set over autumn, the colours are beautiful and set the mood of the game excellently.
The game is really gorgeous, populated by animals which allow each personality to stand out even more. Each screen of the game felt totally distinct to any other. The environments range from small side streets, underground tunnels, forests, abandoned houses and mines. The game set its tone amazingly well through its style and soundtrack which is gorgeous. The music is all strong, fitting perfectly with the mood of the game and used really well through the story – one moment where the music cuts of entirely is particularly memorable because of this.
Often, the game places the player in what I’m hesitant to call minigames … but they’re essentially minigames. These were a big surprise just because of how much I actually liked them. Hitting light bulbs thrown by Gregg, Mae’s old best friend, at dusk with a baseball bat felt fun. It really allowed me to get into the heads of two twenty-year olds looking for trouble. These minigames all add something, they don’t feel like an interruption to the character interactions which is what I find is typically the case with puzzles like this.
Story, characters, writing.
Outside of exploring and these minigames, conversation is the other way that Mae interacts with her world. The writing is stellar. Interacting with other characters was a constant joy thanks to how convincing and developed they were. Even when Mae thinks aloud to herself, I felt that I was learning more about her and identifying with her character. Each personality has their flaws – including Mae. This mix makes the cast feel real and likeable. Mae, for example, can be impulsive, immature and selfish at times. This made for a convincing lead, and a realistic character with strong points and slightly less positive qualities.
One of my favourite thing about the game was Mae’s interactions with her old best friend, Gregg. Their relationship was adorable, engrossing, and strained as Mae returns home after a time away. They’re excited to see each other and this made every interaction between them enjoyable. When the cracks show in their friendship due to Gregg having moved on and gotten a boyfriend since Mae left, I felt invested despite this being a really personal issue between them. The other members of Mae’s inner circle are Bea, who is at first standoffish and bitter towards Mae and also has a habit of criticising society and capitalism (much respect); and Angus, Gregg’s boyfriend who is eager to move from the small town.
The main plot of the game in some ways takes a backseat to the interactions between the group and their own stories. That isn’t to say that it’s not enjoyable, though. I was constantly wanting to get to the bottom of the mystery in Possum Springs and it didn’t disappoint. The themes the game sets out to explore tie in well with the main thread and underscore the unease and discontent facing many people today.
Night in the Woods is an adorable and hugely engaging game. It’s refreshing to see a game so unabashed of focusing on a small group of characters over anything else. I found so much to identify with in the game and I’m thankful that it was released at the time it was. A game discussing issues including sexuality and class in matter-of-fact ways is so admirable, it’s done so well it was a pleasure to rage with Bea or learn more about Gregg and Angus’ relationship. I would love to see more games taking on these themes, especially as engaging as Night in the Woods.
Play it. It’s good.