Night in the Woods is an adventure game released for PC & PS4 on February 21, 2017. It was lovingly developed by Alec Holowka (@infinite_ammo), Scott Benson (@bombsfall) and Bethany Hockenberry (@cleodee). Published by Finji (@FinjiCo). For more info check out the game’s site. Screenshots taken by myself.
The premise is simple enough: Mae Borowski is just a 20-year-old college dropout who’s returned to her hometown of Possum Springs to reconnect with her old friends and sort out her life. But Night in the Woods is anything but simple. Every detail of this handcrafted world begged to be appreciated and explored, every aspect of the glorious soundtrack had me stopping and putting down my controller just to listen. Every conversation I had with the lovable creatures of Possum Springs touched me in a different way. I laughed outright, I got angry at those who didn’t understand, and at one point I downright sobbed. The mysteries of both the town and Mae’s friends kept me hooked, eager for more. And I got more than I could’ve ever hoped for.
The first thing that struck me as I got off the bus and made my way into town was the writing. Every character has distinct personality and complex emotions, they’re immediately interesting and endearing and I desperately wanted to learn everything I could about each one. From bus station janitor to Mae’s own mother, every character is well thought out and that alone made Night in the Woods a pleasure to play.
“Hello Mae! My best worst student!’ – Mr Chazokov
If impeccable writing wasn’t enough, the distinct visual style of the Pittsburgh-based artist Scott Benson really makes this game an experience like no other. Every inch and corner of the town and its many buildings is handcrafted, nothing was reused. The streets are alive and teeming with unique critters and conversations to keep every trek through town new and exciting. The care taken to present this lively, fascinating world is remarkable and definitely one of the most interesting uses of 2D art in adventure games I’ve ever encountered.
The day to day happenings of Possum Springs are familiar enough to anyone who grew up in a small town like I did. There’s a fall harvest fair, people on scooters going around town, old people complaining about kids these days, a big church with well-meaning people and small town shops that folks love and other small town shops that turn over all the time. I found it almost nostalgic to play, just like Mae returning to her childhood stomping grounds is a nostalgia trip for her. I felt like I lived in Possum Springs, I knew these people when I was a kid. It was comforting how familiar everything was.
Mae journals all her findings in her notebook, as her doctor prescribed to help her deal with her anger management. These notes come as she talks to people, observes things about her town and just lives her early twenties college dropout life. They provide insights into Mae and helped shape the way I played. I felt like Mae is a very sarcastic but caring woman and I played as such, not too dissimilar from my own personality. That connection is how I worked through her issues (or didn’t), much like how I work through my own issues (or don’t).
“Oh so it’s like you’re lacking a daytime hobby that pays money you don’t need for rent?” – Bea
Mae’s adventure through town is broken up by these amusing and endearing vignettes peppered throughout her story. These short episodes are minigames like a rhythm based band practice or a first person shoplifting challenge. They aren’t overly complicated or mechanically deep but they underscore the narrative and emotions of these characters and this world in a way that amplifies the experience. They mix up the walking and talking and while I never got bored of walking and talking I definitely loved diving into these little moments every chance I got.
But when you get down to it, the essence of Night in the Woods is the relationships. If you take away the gorgeous art and incredible music, it’s just Mae and her friends, exploring themselves and asking questions. It’s about the emotional connection, that over the course of play the characters developed between each other but the player also develops with each character. I talked to the other residents of Possum Springs like they were real and they felt alive. From Mae’s neighbour to the church pastor to the homeless man on the skirts of town, every animal was meaningful, well-written and most importantly special.
Just like Mae, I went to church every Sunday from when I could first remember things to near the end of high school. I lived in a small town with a fall festival, just like Mae. And I had an eclectic ensemble of friends for all of that, just like Mae did. People come and go, relationships sprout up and fade away, but the experiences, the conversations and the connections that we make through all of it stay with us and shape who we are and who we become. It’s the most important part of who we are, and those defining relationships, conversations and experiences are why Night in the Woods is so goddamn special.
There’s so much to love about Night in the Woods, so much to rave about. It’s truly an artistic achievement, it successfully crafts a world and characters who mean more to me than most people I meet in real life. And it tells a story, an actual authentic narrative of self-reflection and exploration of the human experience. At the end of the day, all good art aims to shine a light on our real world experiences, and Night in the Woods does this better than any game I’ve played so far in my short time on this earth.
“It’s not magic, it’s just ones and zeros, and we’re just atoms, and our perception of reality is just chemical reactions. Take those away and poof, there goes the universe.” – Angus
It’s hard to untangle the bundle of emotions and thoughts that Night in the Woods left me with. I’m happy and sad and frustrated and satisfied, all at the same time. I’m glad I got to experience Mae’s story but I’m incredibly sad it’s over. I’m so pleased I was able to visit Possum Springs and meet all the quirky, lovable denizens who make it their home, but I’m left with a sense of longing to remain there with them. I was so upset when the credits pulled me away when I would’ve given anything for 10 more minutes with these characters and this world. The charm, the wonder, the ordinary, the extraordinary- it all blends together to form this artistic masterpiece, something I’ve never quite experienced before and don’t believe I’ll ever experience again.