Ryan's Always Right: Night in the Woods
Do you like being sad? Well, have I got a game for you. Night in the Woods is a single-player adventure where you play as Mae, a young college dropout who has returned home and is struggling to find her place in the world. As you explore your hometown and try to rekindle lost friendships, Mae’s troubled past slowly reveals itself as she transitions into adulthood and her mental state deteriorates.
Night in the Woods is a story about growing up, but unlike most games which typically focus on adolescence, Night in the Woods is about early adulthood. At 20 years old, Mae isn’t a kid anymore by age but her actions and perception of the world show otherwise. She’s only been away from home for 2 years, but much has changed since then. While Mae has been in college, her friends have all transitioned into the “real” world. They have jobs and responsibilities, they have intimate relationships and bills to pay, and life for them simply isn’t centered around fun anymore.
This isn’t to say that Mae doesn’t have her own problems, she certainly does, but she severely lacks empathy and understanding of the plight of those around her and of what being an adult truly means. Her relationship with her parents isn’t great and while Mae is upset because she feels like nobody understands her, she really makes no effort to be understood. She chastises people for treating her like a kid, asserting that she’s an adult and “can handle the truth,” but simultaneously refuses to open up about her own past and won’t even tell her friends or parents why she dropped out of school. Mae severely struggles with her mental health, but so does everyone else.
The story is convoluted, embodying the walking enigma that is human nature. Every character in Night in the Woods has their own hopes and desires as well as their own hardships and failings. Whether or not you want to uncover all of this is up to you. At its core Night in the Woods is just a glorified walking simulator, prioritizing exploration and dialogue above all else. While it does have some minor puzzle and platforming elements, neither is very difficult or significant. This game largely consists of walking around the town, talking to the same people every day, and seeing how their lives are changing alongside your own.
In terms of gameplay, Night in the Woods is pretty lacking. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing in such a story-centric game, I found that some of the design choices created unwanted lulls and that the pacing of the game and storytelling was simply off at times. For example, the core gameplay is walking around and exploring, but your character moves rather slowly and walking to the same place 40 times in a row can get tiring. The walking-sim-type gameplay is broken up by various minigames and events, but none of them contributed to the story significantly enough to warrant their forced inclusion. I also found the repeated dream sequences to be rather tedious over time, although I’ll admit that they did provide some of the prettiest artwork in the game.
Night in the Woods is honestly a pretty brutal game. You’re stuck in this loop between hope and sadness, slowly realizing and coming to terms with everything adulthood entails. While I’d argue that the age of the player is insignificant for most games, I think that Night in the Woods finds its strength in resonance and that a player would likely have to be at least in their 20’s and have experienced these themes first-hand in order to fully appreciate this game. I expect that most people will either love Night in the Woods or find it to be extremely boring, with little in between. While Night in the Woods isn’t without its flaws and its pacing could certainly be improved, if you’re the type of person who thinks they would enjoy this game, you’ll probably consider it to be a borderline-masterpiece. Ryan’s Rating: 4.5/5 Night in the Woods retails for $20 and is available on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. PS: Night in the Woods was also included in the recent Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality so if you grabbed the bundle last week then you already own this game!