Oxenfree is like a pie. Take a big bowl of King’s Quest, some Goonies, a bit of Doctor Who, and add in the conversation system from Mass Effect, a dash of Stranger Things (I know, Oxenfree initially released first, just go with it), combine and bake until the crust is nice and creepy.
Initially released to a number of platforms in 2016, its arrival on the Switch eShop is welcome. It’s a great fit for a handheld device. We tried it in both docked and handheld, and definitely preferred the portable option, even at home. This game really draws you in, and your proximity to the screen accentuates the immersion in the events unfolding on the island.
This graphical adventure game, harkening back to the golden age of Sierra and LucasArts titles for the PC, exactly hits every mark for the genre. Beyond that core, the modern additions the developers made greatly improve the gameplay and overall experience. We aren’t going to go much into the plot in this review, as experiencing that is really the point of the game, but it is excellent!
From a control standpoint, Oxenfree is very straightforward. You walk around, interacting with objects and the environment (and other, stranger things) and that works well. You can occasionally jump and climb as required by the landscape, but you can’t fall, since these actions are really experiential accents rather than traditional platforming challenges.
There’s another interesting mechanic worth noting. Your main method of interacting with non-physical objects (I know, right?) in the game is via a radio. It adds a very unique and interesting spin to the gameplay that really helps give Oxenfree its distinct aesthetic.
The standout aspect of the control scheme is the conversation system. Your interaction and conversation choices push the story down different paths, and it’s extremely rewarding to have an active role in the tale. This really is the main focus of the game, and it’s executed beautifully. You’re constantly prompted to engage in the discussions and arguments and always provided with at least two responses. Sometimes your character, Alex, will interject her opinion, while at other times she will wait for the current speaker to finish before replying with your selection.
This system really drew me into the story, to the point where I got frustrated a few times when accidentally interrupting something interesting. This was initially vexing, but as the game progressed, it was evident the developers intended for this game to be played through multiple times, allowing the player to have wildly different experiences based on their choices.
GRAPHICS AND DESIGN
Oxenfree is overtly a love letter to the best of the best of the Sierra school of game design. The puzzles are challenging, the game gives you a hard time if you take too long to solve something, and you feel a real sense of accomplishment when you figure out how to overcome each obstacle set in your way. It’s great to see this style of game revisited with such care.
The game also looks fantastic. The art has a very definitive style, and each character, though tiny, has a very distinct and identifiable look. The game does employ jump scares often, among other atmospheric graphical effects, so don’t play this while you’re holding, say a cup of hot coffee.
There are a great variety of environments to explore, from caves to old communications towers to abandoned buildings, each bringing its own slice of unsettling and foreboding to the atmosphere. Often “simple” isn’t a bad word in art, and this game definitely makes that case here. The developers made everything just detailed enough while still keeping the look very clean and easy to absorb.
SOUND DESIGN (MUSIC)
We mentioned the conversation system? The characters in Oxenfree are teenagers, and like most teens, they talk… a lot. But that’s a good thing! The voice acting showcased here is some of the best we’ve ever heard in any game, with each character revealing a personality and backstory through multiple engagements over the course of the plot. It is absolutely the standout feature of this game.
That brings us to our one criticism about the Switch version. All of that great audio needs to load, and the times sitting on the loading screen averaged 20-30 seconds each. This isn’t a deal breaker by any means, but it does feel a little out of place given the visual presentation.
The music oscillates between amazing instrumental pieces and atmospheric sound design. We definitely recommend headphones for this one, both to appreciate the score and ensure you don’t miss any of the frequent gameplay audio cues. The soundtrack is a wonderful combination between vintage orchestral pieces and modern synth work, fitting exactly with the visual setting. We also recommend activating the subtitles. The audio and conversation get a bit intense, especially during certain recurring events and actions that happen in the story, and it can be easy to get disoriented during critical moments without the subtitles.
From a story perspective, Oxenfree is one of the most engaging games we’ve played in a long time. It has everything you’d want out of a great graphical adventure. Puzzles, mystery, atmosphere, challenge, and reward; they’re all here, in spades. October is the month of creepy and spooky, so grab this game today and get ready for Halloween! For the price and the experience, this is one of the best NintenDeals on the eShop, hands down.
Platform – Nintendo Switch eShop Download
Publisher – Night School
Price – $19.99
Genre – Adventure