In each interaction we see a natural evolution of emotion that threads its way through the entire tale, and succeeds where the sudden mood swings of other narrative games seem to fall short. It’s a method of storytelling that we didn’t know we had a problem with until Night In The Woods came along and fixed it.
Don’t let the anthropomorphised college drop out fool you, Night In The Woods is far from a childish mini-game compilation. In fact it’s the game’s very adoption of these instinctive reactions to visually simple animal characters that gives its ultimate punch such an impact.
It’s easy to see the age-range that Night In The Woods is going to appeal to. The millennial stepping out of college and returning home to confront their lost childhood and face the brewing storm of adulthood will see themselves in protagonist Mae.
A lighthearted visual design and the predominance of some morally questionable mini games compounds the strange balance Night In The Woods holds between desperately holding onto childish whimsy all the while struggling with very adult emotional depth. The story follows that of Mae Borowski, a sophomore college dropout returning to the small mining town she grew up in. Her realisation that her friends have been forced to grow up due to the economic downturn of the town, and her increasingly erratic behaviour in the face of such prospects create a nervous tension throughout the experience that expertly recreates adolescent anxieties. The story takes players on a journey of the notion of change, and the emotional turbulence that often accompanies.
A vast majority of the gameplay centres on the exploration of the town itself, and interaction with its down and out inhabitants. Great mysteries begin to unfold as you discover a severed arm in the middle of the street, civilians begin disappearing, and murmurs of supernatural figures in the woods begin to emerge. The shining narrative star, however, sits far away from these detective narrative mechanics. The stories of the individual inhabitants are gradually teased out through a player’s daily traversal of the town. Interacting with each character yields nuanced differences in outlook and perspective from day to day that correspond with the developments of their personal troubles.
From difficulties being accepted as a member of the LGBTQ community, to struggles with mental health, each character strikes a perfect balance between divulging enough information to keep us interested, but being subtle enough to stay within the realms of realism. In each interaction we see a natural evolution of emotion that threads its way through the entire tale, and succeeds where the sudden mood swings of other narrative games seem to fall short. It’s a method of storytelling that we didn’t know we had a problem with until Night In The Woods came along and fixed it.
Many of the overarching themes of the game are neatly realised in the charming art style and accompanying music. The use of childish graphics to convey a narrative concerned with the separation of childhood and adulthood becomes incredibly powerful in reflecting on the experience.
These traditionally light-hearted, anthropomorphised cartoon characters are imbued with devastating emotional depth and complexity with familiar and relatable nuances of troubles and outlooks. Blocky colours and clear, distinctive line work seduces the player into a false sense of childish security before throwing them into a dark world of economic despair and psychological struggle. The colour palette is even representative of the abandonment of childhood summer and preparation for the oncoming darkness of winter in its autumnal hues and tones.
The restrictive 2D platform design reflects the claustrophobia of being trapped in the microworld of the small town through the very negotiations of screen space. Every design detail is tailored to evoke these emotions in players, and damn do they work.
It would be a crime to discount Night In The Woods according to screenshots of its childish, whimsical art style. Through this, we have a troubling and deeply emotional exploration of the fears of growing up told with nuance and culturally relative issues branching across all age ranges. Through its dialogue, Night In The Woods presents a subtle difference in storytelling technique that brings a devastatingly realistic discussion of issues we face today to the fore in a constructive and artistic manner.