Oregon Trail (Apple II) review
"You’re less than a day out of Independence, Missouri, and you’ve already got a problem. Less than a hundred feet away from you, a massive river separates you from the vast expanse of the American frontier. The midmorning sun is reflecting off the frothy waves, a vision of the beauty and natural splendor that awaits you on your journey. Despite such appearances, however, this river can spell your utter doom. You’ve got a few options. You can try to ford the river, forcing the few wagons in your p..."
You’re less than a day out of Independence, Missouri, and you’ve already got a problem. Less than a hundred feet away from you, a massive river separates you from the vast expanse of the American frontier. The midmorning sun is reflecting off the frothy waves, a vision of the beauty and natural splendor that awaits you on your journey. Despite such appearances, however, this river can spell your utter doom. You’ve got a few options. You can try to ford the river, forcing the few wagons in your party through the churning undercurrent and risking the lives of your family and the likelihood of a broken wheel. Or you could caulk the wagons and float across, but do you have enough faith in your carpentry abilities to put everything on the line? Then there’s that oh-so tempting choice of turning the entire wagon train around and head back to Independence, your dreams of success and future prospects dashed upon the ground. Just standing at the riverbank and weighing your options won’t get you anywhere.
What do you do?
As the headmaster of the group, this scenario is one of a handful that you’ll have to face during your trip on The Oregon Trail. Before you can make your epic journey across the American wilderness, you’ll be deluged with options with regards to your character. You can be a banker and have enough spare cash for supplies, a carpenter with mad repairman skills but with middle-class earnings, or a farmer that has almost no cash but can give you a decent bonus multiplier for your high score at the end of the game. Once you’ve chosen your profession, you’ll get to browse among the meager selection of supplies at the general store. With a bunch of oxen hitched to your ride, some spare wagon parts tucked safely into the back, and enough food to last for a little while, it’s time to venture forth into the into the wilderness and somehow end up in Oregon.
That’s assuming you even make it through your first week, that is.
The Oregon Trail was designed to be an educational game for elementary school students, but it doesn’t hold much back from its intended audience. You’ll have to face the trials and tribulations of a wagon traveler. There’s always the speed to consider; if you don’t push your oxen hard enough, you’ll never make it past the Sierra Nevada Mountains before Winter starts up (assuming that you were smart enough to start your trip early in the year). But if you push your animals too hard, you’ll run the risk of killing them from exhaustion or breaking your wheels. You’ll also come across Native Americans that will either give you stuff or rob you blind. On top of all that, any given party member can succumb to a decent variety of ailments. There’s nothing more cringe-inducing (yet morbidly fascinating) than watching poor little Amy waste away from a random bout of typhoid fever, or young James suddenly keeling over from an apparent outbreak of dysentery. With quite a distance between each fort and supply store along the way, you’d better pray that at least some of your family survives.
Once you’ve finished burying your dead (complete with a fully customized tombstone inscriptions!), there’s only one thing that could possibly help with the bereavement process: hunting. Instead of spilling your tears over a campfire or any of that emotional crap, you can grab a gun, venture off into the forest, and release your pent-up frustration on the defenseless wildlife. In this addictive mini-game, you’ll be able to blast through rabbits, deer, bears, and even buffalo! The creatures’ speed and agility are balanced out with the amount of meat they provide; rabbits will give you only five pounds of food, but a dead bear can offer hundreds of pounds of raw meat. Sure, brutally slaughtering all these lesser creatures will lead to the scarcity of other animals later on. Sure, the game limits how much meat you can carry back to the wagon. But you know what? Nobody gives a ****. It may be mindless bloodshed, but hunting is one of the few aspects of The Oregon Trail that makes the game truly fun.
It’s not like you’ll see your prey’s blood dripping out of their carcasses, or watch their brains splatter everywhere. Considering the graphical capabilities of the Apple II, you’re lucky that you get to see anything at all. Much of the journey takes place on an over-simplified vision of the United States frontier, complete with flat expanses of bright green grass, disproportioned trees, a blank sky, and some squiggly mountains looming in the distance. At least the oxen and wagon are portrayed well, right down to the beasts’ pixilated horns and all-too flimsy wooden panels of the vehicle. Nearly half the screen is dominated by your travel data, practically shoving the date, weather, health, food, distance to the next outpost, and overall miles traveled down your throat. But hey, at least you’ll always know when your beloved family member dies of some random onslaught of measles.
I have no idea what kinds of games are being used in elementary school curriculums. Maybe they’ve ditched educational games completely in favor of learning spreadsheets, web page design, and PowerPoint presentations. But I’d like to think that somewhere out there, a kid is sitting in front of an Apple II with a copy of The Oregon Trail humming quietly in the CD drive. There are still wagon parts to be bought and broken, thieves to avoid, rivers to ford or float across, and more than enough imaginary family members that still need to bite the dust. The hunting aspects can appeal to all the sadists out there as well. So the game is pretty bland and the randomness seems unfair. Who cares? This title may not hold a candle to the countless other computer titles out there right now, but it serves well as an educational game for the fifth grader in us all.
Community review by disco (July 23, 2007)
Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.
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