“I died of dysentery.” This phrase defines a beloved playing experience of a whole generation of kids who cut their gaming teeth on Oregon Trail, a historic simulation game about traveling west from Missouri to Oregon in wagon train in the 1800s. This edutainment software title was originally published for the Apple IIe in the 1970s and now has been given a spectacular facelift by Gameloft for its debut as an iPhone App.
Oregon Trail recreates the experience of being a pioneering family traveling west by having you join a wagon train and then make all the decisions involved in your passage. You decide how fast to travel, what route to take, what supplies to carry and buy, when to stop to rest, as well as many other day-to-day decisions. Along the way you will meet a myriad of characters which you can choose to talk with or not. Some are even historic figures including the young Custer and Samuel Morse. In addition to managing your trip, you must also successfully play eight minigames which serve as ways for you to acquire food, repair your wagon, cross rivers, send telegrams, and pan for gold.
The traveling part of the game is presented as a 2-D side-scroller where, as you and your wagon roll along, you are helped by the presence and advice of the Wagon Master. You use the touch screen to make decisions, most importantly whether to travel at a slow, medium, or fast speed, with each having their pluses and minuses.
As you ramble or speed along, you have the option of touching the screen when icons appear to explore things along the way. It may be that you are passing a berry patch where you can stop and play a mini-game of touching the ripe berries, while avoiding those that are rotten. Or there may be an opportunity to go hunting, a mini-game of tapping an animal as it appears on the screen to shoot it. If your timing is good, the animal jumps up and its image is replaced with a drumstick that you can walk over and pick up. And sometimes you will meet others along the road who offer you separate quests.
The journey is broken into parts, designated by arriving at destinations which can be towns, rivers, forts, or other locations. Depending on the location, you will have to make a series of decisions by touching the screen to select what you want to do. For example, when you come to a river, you will have to decide whether you want to risk losing supplies during fording it or pay money and lose a day a travel to take a ferry.
There is a lot to like about this version of Oregon Trail, particularly the visual presentation depicted by hand drawn graphics. The ability to pull down submenus from the top for more information makes managing the game easy. Plus there are always new characters popping up that are fun to talk with and who offer additional quests to keep the travel interesting. The integration of the eight minigames also helps to keep the gameplay fresh. Some involve timing your touches to do something like hammering a nail to fix the wagon or shooting an animal. While others involve rotating the device to use the accelerometer to accomplish things like panning for gold.
Oregon Trail has one annoying flaw: long load times. It is also one of the more expensive Apps at $4.99, but it seems worth it because the game offers a lot of depth.
The bottom line is that Oregon Trail is a fabulous game to play on the iPhone or the iPod Touch. This game makes reliving history fun for both kid and adult players.