"#Night in the Woods", a point-and-click adventure game released on Steam earlier this year, is at first glance a game with cute cartoon animals ghost hunting. Yet there is more to this game than meets the eye. (Minor spoilers ahead!)

Our protagonist, Mae Borowski, has just dropped out of college and returned to her hometown to reunite with her friends. However, things are different than she remembers them. The objective of the game is to speak to her old friends - Gregg, Angus, and Bea, among others - and progress the story. As you play, it takes a lot of sharp turns to get into a much deeper plot and more moving story.

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The characters

Each and every one of the characters is so unbelievably lovable and iconic, and have such a range of emotions and specific reactions to the events in the game that make them all very real. They are also all cartoon animals (Mae is a cat, and her friends are Bea the alligator, Angus the bear, and Gregg the fox, and her neighborhood includes penguins and raccoons, among others). There’s even a character that just tells you a short (and somewhat weak) poem every day and has no other real significance but to tell you this poem. (He tries, okay?)

One of the most amazing things is the casual #LGBT representation. It's one thing to make a game about a gay character and revolve the plot around it, but it's another thing entirely to include it without really pointing at it at all. Mae is canonically pansexual, which is only revealed in passing, and is best friends with a gay couple, Gregg and Angus, that have very lifelike relationship problems (which have nothing to do with being gay).

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The protagonist continually refers to God as “they,” and though that may be controversial to some, it's a new perspective.

Game design

The script for the game is beautiful and compelling, with an enticing plot, good comedy at no one’s expense, and lots and lots of fantastic one-liners. The plot is simultaneously about a cult of ghosts and a dissociative disorder, but more on this later. Without giving away too much, the characters have a few talks that are accurate to life - emotions, relationships, beliefs, abuse, #mental health, it’s all there and it’s all important. The comic relief is timed perfectly, yet it is so easy to tear up through multiple chapters of the game. I’d just like to appreciate how smoothly the plot progresses despite how quickly it descends into very deep topics.

Though I have only played once, I have heard that there are multiple endings depending on the choices the player makes in the game and by choosing different dialogue options.

A fantastic art style ties the game together.

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Fantastic graphics, fantastic game mechanics (can you say platforming? There really are no limits. You can walk on the sidewalk or on top of cars or along a powerline, whatever you want. No real reason other than to make it more fun and allow more free reign). It utilizes color to set mood and determine setting (or state of consciousness, considering the playable dream sequences left up to interpretation) and even converts to silhouettes in some places where it’s most chilling to do so. They use the eyes of the characters to show most of their emotions.

The music that was chosen for this game is perfectly placed to get the most out of the storyline, accenting the most important scenes with a soundtrack that sets the mood.

Messages

Mae has a sort of nihilistic view of the world, going through a bit of existential dread. This is part of the power of the game, but could trigger some dissociation in players who are more sensitive to those topics.

It is a long game with a lot of story, but it's just long enough to be satisfying. Despite complications in the plot as the story continues, it’s very easy to follow. Anything that doesn’t make sense is intentionally confusing to highlight the mindset of the protagonist, and that’s the point.

There is also a lot that they don’t explain, a lot to reveal through theorizing only. We could think about it forever and not come up with every theory to be pulled from this. But one of the topics they keep coming back to is the assumed mental illnesses of the different characters, even Mae - I only say “assumed” because they never directly say that the characters have any mental health issues, but the way they talk about their fears and the way they view reality points toward very well-portrayed and lifelike mental illnesses, mainly dissociative and anxiety disorders.

In the end, there are multiple solid "morals" to take from the story, and they're not even eye-roll corny like similar games might be. It's all in the genius of the script.

I want to play!

The game is about $20 on Steam Gaming. Though if you are interested but can't afford it (or prefer to watch games rather than play them), there are plenty of YouTubers out there like jacksepticeye, Yogscast Kim, and Jesse Cox, among others, who have recorded their own playthroughs, lending their voices to the characters and adding their own commentary to the story.