Both Oxenfree and Night in the Woods are indie adventure games which blend themes like mystery and coming of age into an interactive narrative.
I am not going beat around the bush: Night in the Woods was a joy to play whereas Oxenfree was a very mixed bag where unfortunately I too often found myself either bored or straight up annoyed.
What I really enjoyed about Night in the Woods is the charm and the gameplay loop that the game offers. Each day you can explore Mae's old home town that she came back to visit after a long time and choose the activities you want to pursue, e.g. which one of your old friends you want to hang out with. Over time the town opens up more and more and the plot thickens. The game has gorgeous art and good writing which really carries the experience and had me genuinely involved and interested in everything that was happening to our protagonist Mae, her friends and the town in general. Gameplay wise it's a 2D adventure game with some light plattforming and a lot of simple but funny "minigames" if you can call them that. For example depending on your choices you might encounter a shoplifting mini game or a guitar hero type mini game.
All in all Night in the Woods had a surpisingly touching and deep narrative. Paired with fun gameplay and beautiful art I would highly recommend this game to anyone looking for a narrative driven and a little bit quirky experience.
Oxenfree on the other hand is tough for me to recommend. Easily the most interesting part of the game is the supernatural stuff and uncovering the mystery of the island. However there were a lot of other elements to the game that for me personally didn't work at all. Let's start with the more technical and "objectice" criticisms:
- controlling the main character feels super clunky. Alex moves slow and often gets stuck.
- the game world is divided into subsections that each require a loading screen to access. What's particularly bad about this is how ridiculously long the loading times on my plattform of choice, the Nintendo Switch, were. There's just no way a big game like Monster Hunter or Zelda loads in 20 seconds and somehow Oxenfree loads almost a minute for each tiny subsection of the island.
Moving on to the more subjective problems which mainly has to do with the writing:
- already within the first few minuted of playing something felt off about the dialoge. Not sure if it's stilted writing or stilted voice acting but it definitely didn't sit right with me.
- this becomes even worse due to the fact that all of the characters just don't stop talking. In order to even get a word in you have to constantly interrupt other characters. I mostly just remained silent because honestly most of the dialoge felt like filler that I didn't even care responding to. This is a terrible dialoge system in my opinion and unfortunately it's an extremely prominent part of the game.
- and finally I felt like the mystery and the main underlying gameplay system (the radio) were cut short and deserved to be more fleshed out.
Overall Oxenfree simply failed to grab me. Maybe I would have liked the story and characters more if the actual gameplay experience (exploration, dialoge, etc.) had been better. But it is how it is and as such I would actually probably have dropped the game if it hadn't been so short (maybe 4 hours) anyway.
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