Oregon Trail Deluxe
Format: PC, Apple II, Atari, Commodore 64
Year: 1988 (originally released in 1974!)
I am informed by Scott "4.5/5" Bannick that The Oregon Trail is a milestone of pop culture. I had no idea, as I was never given the memo. Personally, I just thought it was something they gave 3rd graders to play around with to avoid actually reading something.
Yet while The Oregon Trail is a piece of edutainment software, it's probably the best example in the genre, even to this day. Most pieces of educational software suck, plain and simple. Either the mechanics of the game have not been developed at all, or there is no game and it's simply a textbook disguised as a game (not that I'm down on learning or anything, just speaking from the kid's point of view). However, The Oregon Trail suckers you in to learning new things while at the same time offers up a fun game to play.
I would say that The Oregon Trail had a profound effect on me and the games that I prefer to play nowadays, because from the very beginning the game offers you different choices. While there were other games before this that offered the user choice (and with more depth, too), this was one of the first I ever played. You need to decide the names of your party of four (for the review, I was travelling with the coolest of the cool - old Nintendo characters - Glass Joe, Wario, Bunny Link, and... Stanley the Bugman), choose your occupation (I'm a SADDLEMAKER, baby!), what month you want to leave (too early, and the grass won't be fertile for your animals, too late and you might freeze to death in the winter), and then purchase your initial supplies from the precious amount of money you have (depending on your occupation, you'll have more or less cash to spend). In my game, I hunkered down with a crap load of food, a dozen oxen, ample spare clothes, and some backup wheels and axels. I only bought one box of bullets, so hopefully there won't be any need to hunt for my food.
The hunting portion is the only time throughout play that you'll be required to take any action (and if you actually want to do it, you'll have to play with DOSbox on slow cycles, because running the program straight-up on an advanced computer means the animals ZIP across the screen before you could even prepare to fire), the rest is simple point and click strategy. You can pick up clues by reading the Guide (no 'don't panic' on the cover, though) or talking to locals. You can use the barter system to trade for new supplies, decide how much or how little of your food you want to eat, and dictate exactly how fast you want to push your oxen.
The fun factor of the game is increased by all the little random things that happen to your party along the way. For instance, Wario immediately got bitten by a snake just five miles along the trail. I was tempted to leave his sorry ass there, but he promised me lots of shiny gold coins! (/greed) So I tied a rope around his arms and just dragged him along behind us... more space for the rest of us in the wagon. Other times, your party can get random illness, such as cholera or the measels. They can break bones, or just get run down if the weather gets too cold, or if you're pushing on too hard. Depending on the game's karma, it's a real challenge to keep your entire party alive and in one piece throughout the game.
At other intervals, you'll be asked if you want to take the longer road in order to restock on supplies at a Fort, or take a shortcut. Other times, you'll be asked if you want to attempt to cross a river with your oxen, or cough up $5.00 to take a ferry. The problem is, once you know the little secrets of the game, you'll know which choices are often better to make. This wouldn't be a problem if the game had more depth, but as it is, it's incredibly short. You reach your goal, are given a final score, and that's it. Still, the random occurances means that you can start again and never have the same game twice, which is a nice feature to have in any game.
As for my party... well, we arrived at our destination on October 29th, 1884, just in time to beat the winter's cold. Unfortunately, Stanley the Bugman suffered a broken leg along the way, got sick, and keeled over dead. Just as well. That's what you get for being a video game character no one has ever heard of, bitch!
Retro Rating: 8/10