19th Oct2017

Digital Shorts: ‘Oxenfree’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Matthew Smail

In DIGITAL SHORTS we review some of the latest video games that are only available digitally (at least in the UK), in a short-form review format. In this edition we take a look at Oxenfree, which has recently made its debut on the Nintendo Switch.

oxenfree-header

It’s rare for me to become emotionally attached to games, but I do love it when I do. This is almost always the result of strong characters, a good script and an immersive world filled with interesting interactions. Oxenfree doesn’t nail all of these things one hundred percent of the time, but it certainly did enough to make me stop and think about what was going on.

Not only is the story excellent and the script strong, the dialogue is completely natural. Characters talk over each other like real people do and when the player has an option to interact, it is usually only available for as long as it remains relevant in the context of what was said before. Relatively few conversations are forced, so the whole experience feels organic to play and although there is a bit of contrived teenage angst in the mix, the script is generally good.

On that note, Oxenfree is a game about a group of teenagers who find themselves on an almost abandoned military island for a sleepover party. One thing leads to another until naturally, a rift to the spirit dimension is mistakenly opened up. Players control Alex, a feisty teenager who is able to communicate with ghosts and manipulate the world using a radio intended to provide an interactive guide.

Oxenfree is played in 2.5D, with the camera fixed in a similar way to that of most point and click adventures. Movement is mostly from left to right with occasional ups, downs and transitions between the front and rear portions of the screen. The game has an incredibly distinctive and highly attractive art style that is unmistakably Oxenfree – once you see it, you’ll never mistake it for another game.

Most of the gameplay involves exploring the world, talking to the various characters (both living and dead) and solving environmental puzzles. The radio is used to great effect here, with Alex tuning to different frequencies in order to get hints which she can then use to change things. I particularly like how time mechanics are used in puzzle solving, as some of the changes Alex makes will have an immediate effect, whilst others are much more far reaching.

Whilst Oxenfree is never what I would call overly challenging, it does present more opportunities to stretch your brain matter than most narrative adventures. The main reasons to keep playing are the compelling story and the exceptional dialogue, plus the more you play, the more you’ll care about the fragile and human cast of teenagers and the unusual situation they find themselves in. The Switch version doesn’t include any extra content, but it does use the HD rumble feature and supports both traditional and touch controls.

In summary, those who haven’t already experienced Oxenfree and own a Switch are likely to benefit from the portability, but if you already own it (as I do on Xbox One) there isn’t anything new to make it worth paying again for. Nonetheless, judged in isolation, Oxenfree is an excellent adventure game that is both familiar and unique in all the right ways.

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