The Oregon Trail Review

Oregon Trail brought a lot of happiness to my childhood and I can recall always fighting to get into the computer lab in time to be able to play it. Times have changed, though, and playing the original game (good luck finding hardware to run it) seems more of a time sink than anything else. All of a sudden the iPhone and iPod Touch make an appearance with their fancy AppStore and lo and behold: Oregon Trail is rereleased with some nice bells and whistles, cool touch controls, and some fun little mini-games. Let us not forget that this is all for the sake of learning (and maybe some fun)!

The new Oregon Trail definitely recaptures my childhood experiences of romping around the Wild West in an attempt to settle a plot of land with my family. The usual dangers ranging from tornadoes to dysentery are still present and make themselves shown in a wide variety of “humorous” instances (I use the term lightly). So, how has the game matured over time? Is it still as good as I remembered it? We will unravel these mysteries in my review of The Oregon Trail.

Hardware: iPhone 3G.

The two dimensional graphics of yesteryear have received a tremendous facelift to go with the hardware’s superior CPU and GPU. Everything has this Saturday morning cartoon vibe about it with the player in charge of where the story goes. If you check out some of the screenshots and then compare them to the original, the graphics that are capable on even a smartphone outdo what computers could do back in the 70s.

Overall the game flows smoothly and I don’t see any odd graphical distortion in the game. A lot of the textures are reused throughout the trip, but this might just be a limitation in having to keep the file size small. It could also mean that someone is too lazy to code unique textures. That is my only real nitpick with the game’s graphics.

If you could think of the one instrument that would personify the expansion through the Wild West, what instrument would that be? If you guess the banjo, you are correct! This instrument makes itself heard throughout the games soundtrack but is at home with the subject matter that is present in the game. Even the little voice bites that pop up during certain areas in the game have a southern accent to them. Both the music and the voice overs definitely add more character to the game are are right at home in the game.

With the iPod Touch and the iPhone using a capacitive touchscreen, all commands to the game are given through the screen itself. The buttons you have to click are relatively large and respond rapidly to the player’s touch. All of the different mini games are very responsive to the touch input and the only real complaint I have is with the hunting game where you might be pressing on the actual target yet it still registers as a miss. Hopefully a small fix will be brought down via the app store.

The goal in Oregon is pretty simple: You pretty much travel from the East to the West, overcoming a plethora of obstacles and events, and then you get to set up shop in Oregon on your own precious piece of land. This does sound kind of boring when it is mentioned here in writing, but trust me, the game has kept its charm and there is a lot of action involved. At the beginning of your massive journey west, you will have a wife, three children (You are allowed to choose the children’s gender), a wagon, two oxen, and full reserves of food and other supplies to keep your going. Take a guess what happens next?

If you guessed that the journey begins in earnest, you deserver a nice slab of bacon (or whatever Wild West food you can think of). Once you roll out of the safety of the Independence, you will see that you have the option of taking your time at a turtle pace, walking normally, or roughing your way across the wilderness as if devils were at your heels. The faster you go, the quicker your health drops, and the more you have to rest. During my trip through, I was lucky to have stayed ahead of schedule the whole way but towards the end, my family looked worse for wear. Health can be recovered by just bringing your cart to a halt and choosing the rest option.

If you take a look at the map, you will notice that at the beginning of the journey, there really is only one path to follow and you don’t really have much of a choice in the matter. Once you get further in the journey west, you will have the option to take different routes that can speed up your voyage or put a serious damper in the movement west.

During your journey, your supplies and food will slowly be drained away as your family (and you) consume everything that isn’t nailed down. I can only imagine how much those three little kids can consume. To replenish your stocks, there are a plethora of mini-games you can partake in that can refill your food and supply stocks. Everything from hunting to fishing allows you to refill your food. The fishing mini-game even gives you the opportunity to refill some of your supplies. Sadly, there are also a bunch of negative events (everything from eagle attacks to tornadoes) that can cause you to get lost and lose time, get sick, or even cause a fatality among your family. Luckily, as long as you have the money and/or the supplies, you can bound over any obstacle that good ol’ mother nature might throw your way.

During your travels, you will visit forts that allow you to replenish stocks and purchase some better gear. The question that will more than likely come up in your mind more than likely deals with how you you are going to fund all of these luxuries. Well, during your travels, certain quests are available that end with a cash reward. Also, trips down the river allow the player to attempt to gather as much gold as possible while the wagon is careening down the rapids. The forts also have a morse code station that, through another mini-game, allow you to become richer.

All of these mini-games and the journey west add up to The Oregon Trail. A fun game from eons (well, maybe not eons) past that, since it has now been rereleased, fills a gap in my heart.

Once you reach Oregon with your family, you wouldn’t think there are many other incentives to do the journey again. Well, there is! Try a different starting character (go with the farmer for a definitive challenge) and try going with three boys instead of a mix mash of kids. It is your choice. For only $5.99, this game allows you to sit down for small spurts of time and relive your childhood fantasies. The game sure allowed me to look back into the past and enjoy a jewel from days long gone.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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