I first saw Night in the Woods when a friend was playing it while we were away for the weekend. The cute, cartoony art-style is reminiscent of Animal Crossing and struck me immediately.
But, you shouldn’t let the art-style fool you. Night in the Woods is a complex and deeply moving experience. The story follows Mae Borowski, a college dropout who has just returned to her hometown of Possum Springs.
While Mae has been gone, everything has changed and nothing has changed. You quickly get the impression that day-to-day life is the same in Possum Springs as before she left. But her friends who stayed behind when she went away have gradually become adults. They have jobs and they have cares in the world, something that Mae still lacks.
Mae struggles to readjust to the daily monotony of Possum Springs. Something that the player experiences first-hand as each day in-game effectively consists of the same routine over and over: walking through town, visiting various locations and interacting with NPCs, culminating with hanging out with one of your friends.
These are complex characters, with very human struggles. For me, this was best encapsulated by Mae’s friend Bea. She resents Mae for wasting her opportunity to escape Possum Springs. As Mae rekindles their relationships, we get to learns about Bea’s and her regrets.
Night in the Woods is a game that presents the world as it is. Most notably, it invites us to hear Mae’s innermost thoughts and feelings, sharing and understanding her struggle with her mental health.
But this doesn’t mean that Night in the Woods is a purely serious experience. It is at the same time charming and wry. For me, it was a reminder of my own twenties: a time filled with humour, but also the existential angst of finally becoming an adult.
I’ll finish with one final reflection. The day after I completed Night in the Woods a colleague asked me what I’d been playing. In response I described Night in the Woods as being like an existential version of Animal Crossing. I still don’t think I can find a more fitting description.