Night in the Woods is a game about many things, but for me, it is all about coming back home. Mae Borowski, college dropout, returns to her hometown of Possum Springs, to find that life has just moved on without her.
The sheer weirdness of this feeling might be familiar to you if you ever experienced something similar. You return and it both feels like everything’s still kind of the same and yet, everyone moved on without you. Your home and friends have changed and hell, so have you. You’re on the outside, looking in.
There is some pain involved in this process. You don’t just drop out of college all of a sudden, and there are allusions to some kind of incident which happened before Mae left town. Just like in real life, bad things happen to people and leave a mark, and many of the game’s characters are struggling with their own issues.
Besides, Possum Springs is certainly not what it once was, ever since the coal mines closed down. And let’s not forget that there is something out there in the woods…
There’s a lighthearted playfulness to the game that lets you forget its dark undertones every so often. Whether you explore Possum Springs by way of its overhead telephone lines, raise a bunch of little rats you found, play a round of Demon Tower (a full game-within-the game!), go to band practice, or talk to that weird homeless guy outside the church grounds – apparently, Night in the Woods captures that midwestern smalltown vibe quite perfectly, and Possum Springs feels like an actual place.
Serious subject matter and obvious silliness exist side by side – and, much to the game’s credit, this doesn’t feel weird at all. Oh hey, and everyone’s an animal for some reason, did I mention that?
The Weird Autumn edition, which is basically a free upgrade, adds some extra scenes and fun stuff to discover, as well as the two “short stories” Longest Night and Lost Constellation, to the game. (You can also play the latter for free here.)
There are so many more things I could rave about: the incredible, naturalistic writing, the wonderfully flawed, loveable characters, the best parents you’ll ever meet in a game, or Alec Holowka’s mindblowingly perfect music. I won’t do that, because that’s for you to discover. In the end, only one thing counts for me: this is it. This weird narrative mystery game about coming home and family and friendship and hardship and crimes is my favorite videogame of the year.
I generally don’t remember most games I’ve played ten years ago. Few videogame characters stand out to me after all this time. And yet, I am sure that in ten years’ time, I’ll still remember Mae, Gregg, Angus, and Bea. Replaying Night in the Woods will always feel a bit like coming home.
You can purchase Night in the Woods from itch.io, GOG, and Steam for $ 19.99. There are also PS4 and Xbox One versions available on their respective marketplaces. For more information, visit the game’s website or follow developers Bethany Hockenberry, Alec Holowka, and Scott Benson on Twitter.