Night in the Woods is an indie adventure game where you play as Mae Borowski, a zoomorphic cat, as she returns to her hometown after dropping out of college. The game tells a somber, yet relatable story about mental illness, economic struggles, and other hardships in life.
Pro The simplistic gameplay is surprisingly fun
Running around the side-scrolling town as Mae day in and day out is more enjoyable than it sounds at first. It's mundane, but there's a lot of meaning to find around the town if you're willing to look for it.
You go wherever you want, finding out stories about the townspeople and the town itself, or hanging out with friends for scripted story moments. Poking around all over town to find out the history is pretty cool, like the underground diner that Mae used to steal from back in the day, or the old shopping mall that barely gets any customers anymore. When you're not talking to people or going somewhere, you can play around with the rhythm mini-game as you practice with Mae's bass either in her room or in her old band with her group of friends.
You can fall into a nice habit of checking in with the NPCs and locations you care about most, almost like in real life where you prioritize the people and places you spend the most time around.
Pro Great coming-of-age story
The coming-of-age story in Night in the Woods is unconventional for a video game, making it more unique and intriguing. After dropping out of college, the main character, Mae, struggles with her own disillusionment in life and refusal to grow up, all the while her old friends find success and move on without her.
You join in on that struggle as you live as Mae: aimlessly going around town talking to everyone and listening to their worries, browsing your laptop when you're supposed to be doing other important things, and even pressing a button to wake up in bed every morning as a reminder of how mundane life can be. You see all the ways she doesn't necessarily want to grow up, wishing she could stay a kid forever, but then she talks to an old acquaintance who thinks she's washed up now, making her feel anxious about her failings as a young adult. This type of story is familiar for anyone who has also had a hard time with similar problems, and eye-opening for anyone who hasn't.
Pro Tragic, realistic setting and NPCs
Night in the Woods is set in Possum Springs, once a booming mine town but now a forgotten speck on the map, rife with poverty and decay. Its history is based on several real Adirondack towns, and its portrayal of rural decline is painfully accurate. The townspeople you talk to lament about having to close down their businesses, or wonder out loud how they'll make ends meet. Everyone's economic hardships feel real and relevant to anyone who's gone through the same thing or knows someone else who has.
Pro Well-written side characters
Every character feels like they have a history and realistic personal motivations, even when they're left unexplained.
Mae's friends are all different yet interesting in their own ways, like Gregg who's always happy to see her and helps Mae feel like someone truly cares, and Bea with her biting sarcasm and apathy that seem to cover up her more complex issues. The residents of the town also talk about things in ways that are true-to-life, like how they gossip about their neighbors as you listen in, or just flat-out tell you sometimes to leave them alone. Every character in the game feels like a real person, whether they're central to the story or just one of the NPCs you see sitting on their porch all the time.
Con The main character is insufferable at first
It's hard to like Mae from the start for a few reasons. She's extremely self-centered, she likes to steal for the thrills, and she has no interest whatsoever in fixing her shortcomings. Her life seems to be one awkward moment after another where you can't help but cringe in embarrassment, like in one early scene where she gets drunk at a party and blabs away about her personal problems after spending hours telling herself she wouldn't. As you get to know her, Mae might grow on you, but if you're the type to lose your patience with people who are immature, then you probably won't like her all that much.
Con Some pacing issues with the story
The story slogs through the premise of Mae's anxieties and disillusionment for a long time until it suddenly switches somewhere in the middle. There are a few hints here and there about how and why the plot becomes a murder mystery, but these things seem inconsequential and not as important as Mae's personal issues. It ends up feeling strange to change things up partway through to something unrelated to the original premise. While the murder mystery isn't necessarily bad, it would have been nice to see a more focused insight and resolution to Mae's young adult troubles.