We all yearn for our youth, when the only things that worried us were which house party to go to on a Saturday night, or if we had enough pizza to last us while marathoning the entirety of the Rocky franchise. Simpler times, definitely, and joyous times, when bills weren’t a factor, the fridge was always stocked, and rent consisted of the odd hug for mammy. Some of us, like Night in the Woods’ Mae Borowski, don’t want to grow up, and would love to continue our carefree lives, but reality kicks in when you see your friends aren’t refusing to accept the inevitability of adulthood.
Twenty year old Mae’s just dropped out of college and has come home to Possum Springs — a town she knew so well, with people she was surrounded by since birth. Gregg, Bea, Germ, and Angus are all still there, working in places like the video store and the fast food joint, earning their keep in this sleepy, middle-American town. Mae’s mother does her bit in the church during the week, and her father, like clockwork, relaxes every evening by plonking himself on the couch and watching Garbo and Malloy on the TV. The daily grind isn’t something that people necessarily enjoy, but it’s an accepted fact of growing up. Accepted by most but Mae.
Night in the Woods’ characters, while some are surreal, are exceptionally crafted. The human-like traits of these dogs, cats, et al., are wonderfully realised from start to finish. Bea, for instance, is a girl that Mae befriended as a child, and is holding down a job at the local DIY shop, while fast becoming disenfranchised with the world. Gregg and Angus have a flat on Possum Springs’ high street, and even though on the surface they appear to be the model example of love, being the only gay couple in the neighbourhood is taking its toll. Mae’s innocence is relatable, because there’s that stage in most of our lives where you see your friends posting pictures of engagement rings or their babies on Facebook, and all you want to do is see if you can eat three dry cream crackers in less than a minute.
Mae’s inability to soak up the importance of certain responsibilities over smashing up a few florescent light bulbs in the local car park is achingly sad, but heart-warming at the same time. She’s back in this working-class town, and the last time she was here she was doing things like this with her best friend Gregg, but since she left for third-level education Gregg’s grown up, got a job, a boyfriend, a place to call his own.
Without divulging too much information (Night in the Woods is a narrative-heavy game, so don’t want to get too spoilery), Mae’s a troubled soul and her journey is one of discovery, even if her personal revelations centre on the mundanity of life. Her infectious wonder does seep into her friend-group a bit, but they still have to worry about things that Mae doesn’t, like bills. Things change and that’s something we all have to come to terms with as we get more grey hair and more prominent brow lines. Developer Infinite Fall excellently captures that feeling of clinging onto what’s been and gone, through a couple of anthropomorphic animals. Impressive.