Night School Studios developed something truly ground-breaking back in 2016 with their side scrolling sci-fi horror game Oxenfree. After a successful run on the PS4 the game finally came to the Nintendo Switch in the winter of 2017. The indie adventure follows a group of teenagers as they explore Edwards Island, get drunk on the beach and then accidentally open a ghostly rift to another dimension. As you do.
The group includes Alex, her new stepbrother Jonas, her best friend Ren, his love interest Nona and Nona’s best friend Clarissa. The group is already dysfunctional, with existing rifts and angsty feelings a-plenty. And with no way off the island until morning and paranormal activity on the increase it’s all very much a recipe for disaster.
The story line is completely unique with enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes. The plot quickly turns it’s focus from teen angst to a scenario which is completely unpredictable and consistently frightening. Time loops alter the gameplay immensely and every second of the game feels like it could be a fake out, meaning that you’ll always be uncertain of what exactly is going on. Edwards island is diverse, and you’ll find yourself marvelling at the beautiful, water colour wash art style of the game as your traverse the landscape. The action is well paced with chapters of the game neatly separated into hourly intervals. As well as intense and eerie gameplay within the chapters the player can chose from three options of dialogue, allowing Alex as a character to be formed by the person playing the game. This hugely varied dialogue wheel allows for re-playability meaning that the pull of a new game plus is enticing.
Voice acting in Oxenfree is phenomenal. Real panic, hesitation and wonder is conveyed by all of the superb voice actors. Alex is a wonderful character and even on a 2D scale you can imagine her facial expression as she is pulled into this ghostly adventure. Alex and her friends find themselves frequently lost in time loops. Once suck in these loops subtle background changes will alert the player to the dangerous situation that has suddenly been forced upon the group. The game is impressive in length with the main story lasting anywhere from six to eight hours depending on how much you explore Edwards Island. The story unfolds at the perfect pace, delivering action evenly throughout the chapters until the finale, which is one of the best conclusions to a video game that I’ve seen in a long time.
In comparison to the PS4, the Switch port plays out more impressively. On a larger screen the text bubbles (Alex’s speech wheel) are harder to see, and with them being set on a timer the PS4 version often forced you to pick whichever option catches your eye first, not the one which best relates to the players feelings on the situation. Playing in handheld mode means that the text bubbles look crisp and clean, and therefore the story line is more effective and ultimately scary.
Annoyingly there are still issues on the Switch port of the game in its loading times. Oxenfree action is sublime and the main attraction to the game, these long loading times even when decorated with eerie photos from the game distract the player from the tension. Aside from that the game is flawless. Oxenfree really is a spectacular piece of gaming. With an original concept, an eerie abandoned island as the perfect setting and the power to shape the story as the player sees fit, this game is an phenomenal experience that should not be missed.