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The Oregon Trail - One of the fondest memories I have from my days in elementary school was playing a simple little game that was all about taking some settlers and their wagon on a 2000-mile voyage from one end of the country to the other. If that rings a bell to you, get excited because this is that game — the one that introduced many folks to gaming.
Gameloft, premier mobile game developer extraordinaire, is the developer that has boldly stepped up to the plate to remake The Oregon Trail. Though The Oregon Trail has received several facelifts and iterations over the years, seeing how this port would utilize the iPhone’s platform and inherent hardware attributes was something I was interested in checking out.
If you’re unfamiliar with The Oregon Trail lore and back story, I’ll break it down quickly. The Oregon Trail was an edutainment computer game that was developed to teach children about life as a pioneer in the 1800s. You assume the role as a leader of settlers and direct the group from Missouri to Oregon during the height of the western expansion. In the game, you encounter several of the factual predicaments that folks ran into back in those times. Money management, wagon upkeep, hunting for food, and avoiding illness were some of the primary things you had to manage in the original Apple II game. Upon beating the game, you were awarded points on how well you managed to juggle all of the aforementioned predicaments. The sticky aspect of The Oregon Trail was coming back to try to beat previous high scores on the scoreboards. Now that you know the skinny on The Oregon Trail, the question is how good is this port?
Your first impression when you play The Oregon Trail on the iPhone will undoubtedly be related to its graphics. Gameloft has taken the 2D side scrolling perspective (same as the original title) and layered it with with some gorgeous hand drawn art and animations. The journey to Oregon has never looked this good, and it’s clear that Gameloft wanted to give The Oregon Trail a true iPhone facelift. The one consequence of the stellar visuals is that they have introduced an annoying increase in load time. Virtually clicking on any option to enter a town or start a mini game triggers PSP like loading times. Here’s hoping an update can address these loading issues.
Gameplay is straightforward in The Oregon Trail. The majority of your time will be spent watching your party travel west. Changing the speed of your oxen/wagon is done by pressing one of three illustrated icons — slow, medium, fast. Your choice will affect your journey. Going too slow can put you behind schedule, while going too fast can cause injury to your party or cause some breakage on your wagon. When the opportunity presents itself to hunt for food or opt-in on a side mission, a call to action pops up to tap the screen to trigger the interaction/mini game. As you run into towns, you can buy supplies, oxen, or food to prepare for the leg in your journey.
One thing that’s worthy of note is that The Oregon Trail crashes often. I’ve put in several hours playing, and I’ve seen about six crashes in my total playtime. The overall campaign lasts somewhere between 2-3 hours (much longer than the original game), and the alternative approaches to the journey adds replay value.
Gameloft has done an admirable job in using the iPhone’s hardware smartly and efficiently. Most actions only require a quick tap of on screen buttons, and the response is great. The eight mini games — hunting, fishing, river crossing, rafting, wagon repairing, telegraphing, berry picking, and gold panning — are easy to manage using simple tap controls and the accelerometer. In fact, the controls may work a little too good as I found it easy to get perfect scores consistently.
Though I have some small issues with the loading times, crashes, and overall easiness of The Oregon Trail; it’s a great port of the classic computer game. Big kudos to Gameloft for delivering a game that feels fresh while providing several proverbial nods to the old school fans like myself.