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Review: Oregon Trail - Apple Gaming Manifest Destiny

July 29, 2010

The Overview

Been in the American school system in the last 30 years? Then you've played The Oregon Trail at some point. From the Apple II, to the Macintosh, to the iMac and tons of other systems and devices, Oregon - as it was first called - came to the iPhone just over a year ago. Over the US Independence Day weekend, it was turned into a $0.99 app and shot up onto the Top 25 Paid Apps list for weeks. Is it simple nostalgia that drove the sales? Can the iPhone version live up to that nostalgia when so many "remakes" fall flat when trying to bank on people's treasured memories of old games? Let's assume you've never played a previous incarnation of the game. The Oregon Trail, historically, was one of the paths people took westward during the mid-1800s to settle Utah, Oregon and California during the US's spirit of Manifest Destiny. The game has you leaving Independence, Missouri in 1848 with your family of five - you, your wife, and your 3 children of customizable gender and names. You also choose your profession, the type of wagon you wish to buy, and what month you want to start the trail. Once you are on your way, your main choices involve how fast you travel, rest stops, how you deal with emergencies, which cutoffs and alternative routes you take and whether or not you play mini-games. Apart from the game play within the mini-games, The Oregon Trail does sport a lot of finger flicking, button mashing or other gaming elements. It is mostly just those choices listed above that comprise the game. Of course, all along the way you are getting fed tidbits and facts of the trail and supposedly learning about American history. How much do you actually learn? I have no one gave me a pop quiz afterwards. Was the ride fun? Absolutely! Does the nostalgia factor work? Very much so. Play the original Apple II version. Tell me how close the iPhone version is. Graphics, sound, etc. absolutely cannot compete. But the gameplay -the need to keep going and finish the trail, to keep your party alive, to keep your wagon in good repair, etc. - in that there really isn't much difference, in my opinion.

The Features

The Oregon Trail has four levels of play: Easy, Normal, Hard and Extra Hard. Hard and Extra Hard are locked until you complete the game once. You can start your game one of two ways: Instant Play, which starts you right on the trail or a standard game where you customize your traveling party, your wagon and your profession. You also have the option to play Endless Telegraph, which is a mini-game similar to Simon.

The Breakdown

The Good Nostalgia! Even though the game has a lot of differences from past iterations, it still FEELS like you are playing The Oregon Trail from back in the 80s. Lots of mini-games and side quests. And Achievements! There are 51 achievements to get. They range from ridiculously simple, to insanely hard, to completely random (get hit by lightning AND a tornado on the same trip). The Bad Is being LONG bad? No, of course not. But The Oregon Trail is kinda like a Mini-RPG in that you WILL put a lot of time into it to get from Missouri to Oregon. My first time through took about 20 hours. This brings up problem number two: there is only one save slot. If you are only one playing on your device, this is not that big a deal. But if a loved one, a child, or a mischievous friend starts a new game, theirs will overwrite yours. (Yes, they do get prompted to make sure they want to do this....but wouldn't an extra save slot or three have been nice?)

The Verdict

The Oregon Trail is one of the "Granddaddys." Mario, Sonic, Pac-Man, Space Invaders - there are games that have recognizable images, sounds, gameplay, etc. that no matter how simplistic the game is/was, it will always remain iconic in our hearts. Don't think The Oregon Trail is one of those? Google "You have died of dysentry" and see how many versions of that you can get on a T-shirt. The gameplay may not be as action packed and as challenging as some games, but it is solid, it is fun, and it is addictive. My 5 year old son has already made it to Oregon 3 times and is playing through yet again (always playing on Easy, of course).

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