Alibi V.26 No.25 • June 22-28, 2017 

Steam Genius

Night in the Woods

These are your 20s, and they’re slipping away. You dropped out of college, and are doing your best to not paint yourself as a failure. You moved back home, you live with your parents. You’re unemployed, and no one is hiring. You’re practicing in a band which will never play a real gig. You have your friends, but not much else. You’re basically a teenager all over again, except it isn’t cute any longer, and the real adults in your life expect more. Welcome to Possum Springs, where small town courtesy is all you’ve got.

Taking the role of college dropout (and anthropomorphic cat) Mae, Night in the Woods tasks the player with putting their life together, while dealing with depression. Along the way, the player meets a diverse cast of characters, cracks self-deprecating jokes and plays a slew of surprisingly well-crafted mini-games. There are light puzzle elements, along with some basic platforming, but the real fun comes from your dad’s horrific puns, late night conversations with friends and, of course, pizza.

The game is limitlessly funny, with a baseline dry wit emerging from every text bubble. The player is treated in every conversation with branching dialogue choices, full of humor and heart. In stark contrast to the game’s colorful tone, Night in the Woods also offers up the dark and macabre, with heart-wrenching moments of sorrow and embarrassment. In one section of the early game, I found myself eating pizza and poking a severed arm with a stick, all within the same 10 minutes. Its ability to balance light and dark makes its themes of isolation and exploration of the experience of the working poor ring true, with poignant, true-to-life scenarios.

As a fresh drop-out, Mae constantly runs into the problem of employment in her small town of Possum Springs. While the player is not on a job hunt, many of the people in Mae’s life are. Those whom you graduated high school with are now gainfully employed at the local Snack Falcon. Your dad lost his job, so he’s currently working at the nearby Ham Panther. Hilarious naming conventions aside, these imaginary mega-chains reflect the real life corporate cycle of small business swallowed up by the mighty, and people left without jobs as a result.

The characters often reminisce over what used to be. The player influences these memories, painting a portrait of Possum Springs unique to each game. As I decided which disaster occurred and what was lost, I found myself reflecting on memories of my own hometown, occasionally implanting a familiar memory as the game progressed. It’s a touching experience, surprisingly joyful in its occasional drear. The game’s examination of grief in particular I found to be moving and a powerful point in the game’s narrative. Everyone has lost something, and if you take the time to ask, most of your friends are ready to offer up the skeletons in their closets.

While Night in the Woods fills a tall order, with its puzzle/platformer/social-simulation genre tags, it succeeds as a touchstone of the modern indie game. The vision of the project shines through, never bogged down by the many clever mini-games or its own heap of emotional drama. It’s truly a game worth experiencing, with only minor pacing problems present in its back half to distract from the emotional roller-coaster of your own 20s. With that said, I have to issue a fair warning: If you’re on the hunt for a job, or you feel like business decisions bigger than you are robbing the city of its heart, be prepared to find yourself painfully at home in Possum Springs.