Story-based games usually try to make their narratives feel relatable, and Night in the Woods is no exception. Through strong writing and clever use of simple gameplay mechanics, Night in the Woods crafts a heartfelt, grounded story that conveys the struggles experienced while reaching adulthood.
Story: Meet Mae
In Night in the Woods, you play as Mae, a young woman who dropped out of college for reasons unknown and returned to her hometown, Possum Springs. Mae is the definition of a dissociated youth; she lacks motivation and struggles to find her place in the world.
This is the title's central theme. Throughout the narrative, Mae goes throughout a daily routine: wake up, check messages, spend some time with family, head to town, do an activity for the day, come back home and go to sleep. While this seems like a normal thing for a 20 year old to do, this is all Mae does.
This creates a situation where Mae isn't doing anything with her life. Rather, she's just existing, wasting away days by doing random things instead of working towards something.
Past the wall of adolescent sarcasm and attitude she throws up, the good person that Mae is manages to shine through for brief moments, showing that she has more to offer to the world. Despite this, Night in the Woods forces you to watch Mae repeat her aimless cycle whilst her friends tackle adulthood head-on. It's frustrating but also hits home, because in reality this isn't a rare issue that youth face today.
That's what makes this type of story so great. It will resonate with people who were either like this at one point or knew someone that was. It's difficult to watch someone who lacks a real sense of purpose or identity wither away as the world moves forward, but it's a legitimate social issue that more people need to understand.
Gameplay: Explore Possum Springs
To progress Mae's story, you walk around her surroundings and interact with the townsfolk in Possum Springs via simple 2D platforming and occasionally choosing dialogue. In addition, there are also small mini-games in which Mae accomplishes simple tasks, like helping a friend move furniture or grabbing a slice of pizza.
None of this is exactly engaging, but it provides a nice compliment to the narrative being told. To Mae, these simplistic things make up her daily life. The feeling of repetition from going to the same place and doing similar things on a daily basis is the same stagnant monotony represented in Mae's own character.
That isn't to say that it's not without some caveats, though. At some points, my enjoyment of this cycle began to wear thin due to how many times you go through it. On top of that, Possum Springs feels a little too large. Though it bustles with activity in most areas, it feels lifeless and empty in others.
Presentation: An ironic, pleasant aesthetic
Perhaps the strangest thing about Night in the Woods is the choice by the developers to make the people in this world animals instead of humans. Co-creator Scott Benson cited his skills in drawing them compared to real people as a reason in an interview, but I think there was more to it.
In a world that tackles heavy human themes, it's incredibly ironic for the people in it to be dogs, bears and cats. It was a stylistic approach to design that ultimately does a good job of hiding the true colors of this story in a world full of cute creatures and warm, vibrant colors.
Night in the Woods for Xbox One review conclusion
Though some of its gameplay can feel overly repetitive, Night in the Woods soundly delivers a relatable, impactful narrative that will keep players attached for the ride, from start to finish — all held together by beautiful stylized graphics.
- Grounded, well-written story.
- Clever use of simple gameplay.
- Pleasant aesthetic.
- Some overly-repetitive gameplay
Night in the Woods is available now on the Xbox One for $19.99.
This review was conducted on an Xbox One, using a copy provided by the publisher.
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