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Game Pile: Night in the Woods

We’re going to do something a little special here, this time. I try to keep my writings on games honest, and also useful. For most of you, the useful information is does this game do anything really offensive and is this game an interesting or fun experience to play? With that in mind I’m going to provide that information all in one tight little block – and then, after a fold, I’ll go onto the unfortunate category of a complex but extremely negative and unpleasant issue.

It’s not negative or unpleasant in the ‘beware’ way! This is – it’s – it’s disagreement with a message or a value. It’s not the kind of thing I normally do, because it’s as much a study of a character as much as anything else.

The Game, As Purely As Possible

Night in the Woods is an active-movement platform adventure which is built around exploratory setpieces. Set in a slowly dying mountain mining town, full of people who grew up there and don’t know how to do anything else, it’s wrought about with rural town menace as writ by the people who live there, not by the people who think anything outside of the New York Suburbs is a grim forest filled with the Wildlings.

What you get when you play it is this wonderfully sad place, the sort of bubbling form of human civilisation you get in the spaces that an older, crueler but also more wealthy world carved out of the wilderness, as it slowly bleeds to death over the course of days. There are murals to history, symbols and monuments to the town’s own specific culture that live in cupboards where nobody needs them, because nobody cares. It is a grim and sad place full of people defiantly struggling onwards because there is nothing else to do, nowhere else to be, and a person’s way of life is not a thing that changes easily.

It is a place full of people who did not have choices.

Populating this town is a cast of young people living in systems created by other people and doing the best they can care to do. There are your friends, the ever-loving Gregg, his boyfriend Angus, there’s Bea, there’s… other characters… as well… with names… like Mom! And Dad! And yeah anyway.

You play Mae, who has returned home from college at a point that is noteworthy and people remark upon it, and the structure of the game is somewhat akin to a point-and-click adventure game. Rather than carrying around an inventory of things to locations to see what reacts differently, you’re just dragging around Mae and looking at what she reacts to differently, where she guides you onwards next. This is all through a beautifully realised, pretty little town of dilapidated yesterdays.

The game does do sideways things – little mini-games where you play bass guitar or try to find someone missing or shoot crossbow bolts or fight with knives. This breaks things up, which is an interesting need in a game that, for lack of any better term, is mostly about frittering away time doing not much special.

As a pure game, it’s a bit like a really low-budget version of a Naughty Dog Uncharted game. You mostly get to control a character moving around a space with responsive controls trying to work out if any bits of your environment are things you can stand on, will react if you check them out. There are setpieces, sudden shifts where the game says okay, now pay attention to doing things this way, with slightly awkward controls that you quietly hope won’t be used as central to other scenes.

There really isn’t that much like this game out there. It’s an adventure game where your challenges are frittering away an afternoon with a friend, a dating sim but the dates are with friends, and a horror story where you never see the monster. It is an excellent indie game made by people who, by all accounts are Not Awful. 

Verdict

You can get Night in the Woods on Steam, GOG, and Humble. It’s a cheap game and you can probably finish it in an afternoon.

Verdict

Get it if:

  • You like adventure games but don’t like feeling like you’re waiting for characters
  • You like exploring very normal, very mundane spaces
  • You enjoy a feeling of creepy wrongness

Avoid it if:

  • You’re big on achievements
  • You want every part of a game you buy to be good

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Donald Duck, The Dork Deputy Dad

What follows here mentions some themes in the 2017 Ducktales reboot. Not an actual spoiler of details in the series, just a mention of some of the themes that come out in the first two episodes. If you think you need to go in cold to the first episodes of a tv series about talking ducks, well, okay. Just so you know.

Donald Duck’s a dork.

Really, Donald Duck is an older generation of media, the same generational space as Mickey Mouse. I’m sure animation historians will be able to point to the specific gaps in between first appearances, or the evolution of a character over time, but the experience I’ve always had of Donald Duck is that he’s something old. There’s something of an older time, a time when cartoons were about… something else. It wasn’t like he really belonged in Ducktales either, which as a kid, still felt old to me – perhaps because I didn’t see it until it’d already existed for quite a few years, perhaps because it still centered Donald as important. Somewhat. Sort of.

In the new Ducktales reboot, though, they’ve done something magical by leaning in to this dorkiness. Donald Duck is boring, and unimpressive, and not cool. Who else is boring, and unimpressive, and not-cool, to most kids the age of the triplets?

Your parents.

Ducktales touches on a really weird space, a space between the places I’m at: The children are at a point where they don’t like their parent figures, and don’t see them as people. The parents are at a point where they can’t really see the kids as people, either.

Now, Donald isn’t a parent. It’s worse than that. He’s not the kids’ parents: he’s a person those kids have to respect, because their parent told them to, but he doesn’t have the authority despite the hard work he does to provide for and care for the kids. What’s more, Donald has a hard time communicating in the most pure way with the kids. They don’t have to like him – they like each other, they have one another as friends, they can conspire and confide with one another.

I didn’t like Donald Duck. Yet here, as the series seems to set up the idea of these kids discovering that their uncle is a person, a person like themselves, a person who’s done things, tried things, a person who has achieved and adventured and still has plenty of fun left to have in him?

I really am cheering for the guy.