Three and Out: Night in the Woods
When my friend Dakota gifted me a copy of Night in the Woods, I had no idea I was stepping into the best game I’ve played all year. The deceptively cartoony sidescrolling adventure packed more emotional punches that any game this cute ever should: I laughed, I facepalmed, I danced along with the music. I felt a familiar millennial dread as I related to Mae, the game’s protagonist, a college dropout who struggles to face adulthood and embrace maturity. I felt invested in and connected to both Gregg and Bea, Mae’s two closest friends, and how you have the choice of spending more time with one friend than the other, which yields different scenarios and relationship consequences.
The balance of emotional and economic insecurity exhibited by the town of Possum Springs felt real and alive, like a character itself. Brilliantly written characters and lore pepper the town’s landscape, and never is an interaction a waste of your time. Everyone and everything in Possum Springs has purpose, even the hilariously named Snack Falcon store or the ludicrous Selmers poems, and the game rewards thorough exploration of Mae’s episodic life. Each dialogue option wavers between manic, dry humor and dark, serious commentary about contemporary life. I spent hours grinding on ‘Demontower,’ a mini dungeon crawler that I lovingly referred to as “shitty Hollow Knight,” and practicing the wonderful Guitar-Hero-like music sequences. There is simply an overabundance of great, fun things to do in this game.
Going in blind to Night in the Woods was the right decision for me, but I immediately want to play it again. There is more Demontower to grind, more relationship vignettes with Gregg and Bea to discover, different dialogue options to suggest, and surely more pages in Mae’s notebook to fill. But maybe that’s the wrong lesson for a game that’s so intent on examining how hard it is to let go of your past in the transition to adulthood. Maybe the Catcher in the Rye style narrative is telling us something deeper about how games should tell stories, not just how they can. This game revels in and simultaneously condemns nostalgia, redirecting us to savor what we have. But, according to Night in the Woods, the world is going to hell anyway, so it’s your call.