Oxenfree originally came out in the beginning of 2016 on pretty much every system, to high acclaim and a whole lot of awards and nominations. Just last week, Oxenfree was launched on the Nintendo Switch, bringing it to a whole new audience. As one of those new people, I am thrilled to have been given a chance to experience Night School Studio’s debut work. A tale of choice, friendship, communication, and what we do if we’re given a chance to alter events… Oxenfree is a narrative masterpiece. This is our Oxenfree Switch review.
Oxenfree is the story of five friends, but ultimately it’s the narrative of Alex, whom the player controls that drives the events of the game. I hesitate to give too much spoiler material here, as a narrative adventure is only as good as its tale and the choices players make influence so much. But suffice it to say, Alex, her new step-brother Jonas, her best friend Ren, his crush Nona, and Alex’s deceased brother’s girlfriend Clarissa all make a trip to the creepy nearby Edward Island. It’s a regular meet-up place for parties, underage drinking, and other such high school adventures. But it also happens to be a pretty abandoned old island with a mysterious military past and plenty of heartbreak.
The game’s art style is reminiscent of Scott Pilgrim comics, but with a more painterly appeal and some breathtaking scenery. If you’ve seen Irish films such as Song of the Sea, that’s the sort of background painting that Oxenfree evokes, flat but with incredible detail and style. Its soundtrack is altogether stunning, too – able to convey horror, dread, and camaraderie and relief with ease. The composer, sctfc, is one to follow for sure.
Oxenfree doesn’t have any game over or “losing” outcomes. Rather, the choices you make drive what happens to Alex and her friends. There’s a New Game+ after you complete the first playthrough as well, and while it would be a spoiler to explain the mechanic that lets this happen, let’s just say it’s the perfect way to replay the rather short game with a whole new pair of eyes.
Oxenfree follows in the footsteps of the Telltale narrative games, but where you’re often locked in place in that studio’s games, Night School lets you roam freely, engage with parts of the setting, all while taking part in the game’s various conversations. If there’s anything I felt was cumbersome while playing, it’s that the map wasn’t easily traversable, and sometimes if you spend too much time to go the wrong way it can be a real slow and boring chore to hoof it back to get to the right location. Additionally, there’s no way to make Alex run and ergo, sometimes it feels that the pacing is forced upon the player. Oxenfree is a short 3-5 hour affair, so it’s not like they needed to artificially drag things out. It’s meant to be a movie-like experience.
But these are small quibbles with an otherwise extraordinary debut game. Night School Studio’s second project was the Mr. Robot game for the iPhone, something I now must try out even without having seen the show. Oxenfree is a delightfully tense, touching, heartwarming and heartbreaking, uplifting and retrospective adventure. If you’re in the mood for a quick and beautiful story – go play Oxenfree now.
Over Score: 9/10
- Incredible art, sound, and score
- Superb story
- Ingenious delivery
- Slow pacing in spots
- Somewhat stilted dialog