The original version of the Oregon Trail was released in 1981 for the Apple II. Twenty years ago, at the ripe old age of five, I first played this classic on the Macintosh; it remains among the first video games I ever played, according to my memory. It seems only fitting then, that twenty years later I am playing The Oregon Trail on what is arguably the current pinnacle of Apple platforms: the iPhone.
If you aren’t yet familiar, The Oregon Trail is a game where you take up the role of a traveler leading your family across the country on the — you guessed it — Oregon trail. The end goal is to settle in Oregon, but you’ll have to protect your family from the harsh elements, treacherous terrain and dysentery along the way. Push onward past the break to find out more about this retro game update.
When you launch the game, you’ll have to sit through a series of screens giving you a rundown on how to play. But don’t get nervous, for you aren’t without help.
Prior to setting out, your captain will instruct you on the basics of the game’s various systems, including the store, bartering and mini-games, as well as how quests and objectives work (more on all of those later).
As with the original game, you’ll want to make preparations for your journey based on how you intend to play the game. If, like me, you’ll charge ahead at full speed and ford rivers with reckless abandon, you’ll probably want to stock up on extra wagon parts, oxen and medical supplies for your inevitably ill family members. However, if you think slow and steady wins the race, and you’ll purchase a ferry to cross every puddle of water you come to, then saving up your cash might be the better option.
On The Trail
Once prepared, it’s time to hit the trail. This is where the game gets fun.
The most obvious part of journeying is choosing a speed. The game keeps track of your schedule and how far ahead or behind you are, so if you suffer a series of hold ups, you may need to pick up the pace in order to stay on time. Be aware though, faster speeds mean less caution, and expose you and your family to higher chances of misfortune.
Along the trail, you’ll have to participate in various types of mini-games, though most of the different types serve the same purpose of acquiring a stockpile of food for your (oh so needy) family. Hunting, fishing and berry-picking mini-games, while redundant, help to add levels of depth to The Oregon Trail, because it’ll be a long journey without something fun to do. Some mini-games serve other purposes, like repairing broken wagon parts.
Along the road, you’ll encounter various historical figures such as Samuel Morse or James W. Marshall. These figures will likely impart a quest on you, which I found to usually consist of meeting them in a town further down the road. To complete these quests, you’ll have to check the map and make sure that you take the right routes.
There are many towns along the Oregon Trail. Arriving in one gives you a chance to rest, mingle, and restock on supplies. You’ll be able to walk around and meet people who can give you quests and missions, as well as visit the shops the town has to offer.
While you can shop and barter anywhere along the trail, doing so in towns is considerably cheaper.
The shopping system, in my opinion, is the biggest downfall of The Oregon Trail for iPhone. The system is comprised of two types of currency: gold and dollars. Gold is the currency that you get for selling items in-game or completing quests. Dollars, on the other hand, are a type of currency that you can only acquire through in-app purchases involving real-world money.
Now, I’m not denigrating in-app purchases in general. But some of the items in the shop can only be purchased with dollars, and they’re intermixed with the items that can be purchased using the in-game currency. Furthermore, some of the items purchasable with dollars are almost essential, making the in-app purchasing system feel less like “functionality added” and more like Mass Effect 3 DLC.
I found Oregon Trail to be a mostly faithful reproduction of the classic game that I grew up on. I am generally in favor of in-app purchases in iOS apps, because I think that it’s a good way to add functionality to your software for those who are willing to spend the extra cash. However, the implementation of in-app purchases in The Oregon Trail feels a little bit too much like the developers trying to strong-arm the user into spending more money, which proved to be more than just a minor frustration. And interestingly, a quick browse through the iTunes review suggests that this is among the very few problems that the rest of the userbase has with the app as well.
If you can get past all of that, The Oregon Trail is fun to play and easy to navigate, and certainly instills that heartwarming feeling of nostalgia associated with any modernized classic.