February 11, 2023Night in the Woods Review (2023 Game Review)

Night in the Woods is a game where—although everything seems confusing and complex—everything comes into place in the end. You’ll experience a plethora of emotions: frustration toward our main protagonist and even sympathy for the group of teens who are just trying to pave their way in the harsh reality of the world. These emotions are brought on by both little and big moments that you, as Mae, the main protagonist, will have to go through.

Despite playing the game, I’m still not exactly sure how to explain Night in the Woods. It’s a game that has a lot going on. Looking at the game, you’d think that Night in the Woods would be relatively easy, seeing as it’s a story-driven platformer. However, that’s not entirely true. The game’s game instructions may be easy, but the plotline is an entirely different story. As I’ve said, Night in the Woods has a lot going on.

Night in the Woods tackles pacing issues that we experience in the real world, making the game much more relatable. It’s jam-packed with moments and scenarios that a lot of us may have struggled with or are still struggling with, which rattled my brain. What you thought was a simple coming-of-age story will go much deeper than what you would expect from a cartoony platformer game.

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Photo Credits to Steam

Release Date: February 21, 2017
Developer/Publisher: Infinite Fall/Finji
Genre: Adventure, Platformer Game
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS
Metacritic Score: 88%
Steam Review: Very Positive
  • Seamus McNally Grand Prize: Independent Games Festival 2018
  • Narrative: BAFTA Games Awards 2018
  • Excellence in Narrative: Independent Games Festival 2018
  • Golden Cube: Unity Awards 2017
  • Best 2D Visuals: Unity Awards 2017

The game circles around our main cat-cartoon protagonist, Mae Borowski, a 20-year-old college dropout student who went back to her hometown, Possum Springs. Mae ran away from college and took the bus back to Possum Springs, back to her parent’s place, as a way to “start over.”

While Mae stumbles at the start of the game due to her parent’s failure to pick her up from the bus station, Night in the Woods will throw you around its story and encourage you to go explore your hometown. As Mae starts over, you will get to reconnect with the people and places at Possum Springs.

The gameplay of Night in the Woods is a great setup that will allow you to create your own routine over this 10-hour journey to find yourself, reconnect with old friends, and visit different places. The game will let you go about your day, talking to people you want to talk to and checking what you’ve missed since you went away for school. From there, you’ll realize how Possum Springs started to deteriorate. Many businesses around the town are closing down or going bankrupt. Despite that, there are still many places you can explore.

Mae’s daily routine is always similar to the day before, but not entirely the same. Wake up in the afternoon, greet your mom, and go around town talking to different people. Although it can get repetitive, how routine your changes are will depend on who you talk to, how you respond, and where you go. Moreover, Night in the Woods features little mini-games that add different hilarious and fun interactions with other characters; you can beat old cars, play in your band, and even shoplift just for the fun of it.

Known as a troublemaker, Mae’s embarrassing history is often brought up as she re-acquaints herself with the people of Possum Springs. Your encounters with the people of the town become quite entertaining. Going around town will allow you to meet and reconnect with the people of your past. Friends you haven’t talked to, a teacher who liked you despite your awful attitude, and even neighbors who are quite passive-aggressive because of said attitude. Your responses can alter the character’s responses and how the game will progress. But Night in the Woods makes the game more interesting with conversations that allow you to build your own backstory. These conversations are interesting because you get to fill in the blanks of Mae’s past, making the players play a bigger part in the game’s storytelling. Night in the Woods is mostly a character-driven game, which makes the game even more realistic because of the way it gives relatable personalities to its different characters through these little details.

Night in the Woods delves into the inner lives of its characters as Mae rekindles her friendships with her old pals over her nightly hangout sessions with them. Gregg, Bea, and Angus—all Mae’s friends—will have a larger role in it. These nightly get-togethers will demonstrate how each of you is in a very different stage of life, which is accurate to the realities of the actual world. Even though the old friends are still close, several of these character-driven moments reveal how much Mae’s friends have changed since she left. Each story gives the characters more depth and complexity, frequently at the cost of highlighting how naive and immature Mae’s perspective on the world is. During my playthrough, I almost couldn’t continue the game due to how I was so frustrated at Mae. It was a bold move for Infinite Fall, the developers of Night in the Woods, to make the most frustrating (and kind of unlikable) character the main protagonist. However, this move was also smart because it showcased the realities of the world we live in since some people are quite like Mae. And despite Mae’s frustrating personality and views on the world, the game will give Mae room to grow as a person (or cat) as the game progresses.

Aside from Mae’s character development, the game is also capable of shocking us with its comedic cartoonish characters and scenes. The genuine portrayal of human insecurity in Night in the Woods, particularly the unavoidable fear of adulthood and the struggle of living in a sad and frustrating world, is a startling sadness that I didn’t fully expect in a game like Night in the Woods. The game runs deeper than what it really shows.

Night in the Woods’ way of developing a game that handles the struggles of hardship and desperation of the working-middle class so eloquently in a video game is something I rarely get to experience in a cute, funny, cartoon game with animals as characters.

Final Verdict

All of these distinctive elements that compose Night in the Woods serve as a reminder of the game’s vagueness. Night in the Woods is ultimately subject to personal interpretation from start to finish. Night in the Woods doesn’t just tell a story. It depicts the complicated reality more eloquently, which is frequently marked by uncomfortable emotions and experiences that we go through in the real world. It is both highly personal and universally relatable.

Moreover, what makes the game stand out is that how you respond to the dialogue of the different characters is going to be based on your personal experiences. It also stands out because it emphasizes feeling rather than providing a straightforward story. Thanks to its creators’ profound comprehension of the world’s problems (more so those of a struggling young adult), Night in the Woods manages to depict the worries and fears that accompany being a young adult with remarkable realism while also taking them into new and intriguing territory.

That’s a wrap! If you want to try out a similar game to Night in the Woods that tackles deeper meanings about struggle and desperation, you might want to try Disco Elysium.

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