A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know Night in the Woods is a downloadable side-scrolling interactive story/adventure about a 20-year-old college dropout named Mae on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The story is presented in cartoonish fashion -- all of the characters are anthropomorphized animals -- but is surprisingly complex, touching on plenty of weighty topics including friendships, family, relationships, financial stress, and personal responsibility. Parents should be aware that Mae drinks alcohol to the point of sickness, one of her friends smokes constantly, and dialogue and certain situations occasionally reference mature themes, including sex and pornography, though they stop well short of anything explicit.
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What's it about?
NIGHT IN THE WOODS is about an anthropomorphized cat named Mae, a college dropout who returns to her hometown of Possum Springs to reconnect with her family and friends. Once home, she tries to settle into her old routine by rejoining the band she and her friends started, settling back into her attic bedroom, and getting into all sorts of mischief around the town. The story is largely about Mae figuring out who she is now that she's dropped out of school. The town isn't how she remembered it, and the people she once knew have moved on with their lives. But there's more going on in Possum Springs. Mae discovers some very suspicious things, not least of which is a severed arm just lying in the street and a couple of kids who seem to have gone missing. Eventually, she and her friends take it upon themselves to begin investigating. Most of the game involves Mae simply chatting with friends and townspeople, but players also will encounter lots of interactive activities, including a rhythm-based music game, a challenge where a pair of friends try to stab each others' hands with knives, and even a complete game within a game -- a retro dungeon crawler -- that Mae can play on her computer in her bedroom.
Is it any good?
Few games choose or succeed at the ambitious challenge of trying to capture the angst, unhappiness, and confusion of young adults entering the real world. This is one of the rare ones that stands out. Don't be fooled by its cartoon animal characters; Night in the Woods tells a coming-of-age story with personalities that are much more authentic and honest than those we normally see in games aiming for photo-realistic graphics. Their conversations, while funny and sarcastic, often also are melancholy and relatable, exploring problems to do with parents, relationships, friendships, mental states, and the future. And Mae's journey, which has her friends and family worried about her physical and mental well-being, is absolutely compelling. She feels like a real, three-dimensional human in feline form. The larger mystery with the severed limb and missing persons, which may or may not involve ghosts, acts as a catalyst to help Mae and her friends deal with their own personal issues.
Narrative adventures often succeed in storytelling but fall down in terms of design as well as keeping players interested and active. Not this one. While there's a bit of repetitive journeying back and forth across the same streets and buildings, the designers have injected a wide variety of interesting activities that help keep Night in the Woods feeling like a game. Most nights, Mae's dreams/nightmares provide creative running-and-jumping puzzles, the band's jam sessions offer a surprisingly challenging rhythm game, and little contextual activities -- like feeding a family of mice living inside an old parade float -- are gradually unlocked all over Possum Springs. The result is a character-driven story that's also a lot of fun to play. There are precious few other games like it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about alcohol, drugs, and smoking. Some of the barely-out-of-high-school protagonists in Night in the Woods drink to excess and smoke heavily, but if your friends drank alcohol and smoked in front of you, would you feel comfortable intervening and saying something? Why, or why not?
Families also can discuss friendship. Do you think Mae's friends help her work through her problems and grow as a person? If so, how do they do this? Have you ever helped your friends get through a hard situation? Have they ever helped you? How did you feel about them afterward?
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