The other day I was watching a rerun of G4′s Attack of the Show when the hosts interviewed one of the actors from film director Zack Snyder’s newest excuse to use slow motion: Sucker Punch. Either I didn’t pay full attention to the interview, or the entire interview was just the hosts asking about said actress’s “love” of videogames which amounted to her saying she loves games on her iPhone, like Oregon Trail. This got my attention in the strangest way that I can’t quite possibly expand on. It was already one thing to say you love videogames then name one that’s exhausted its nostalgia factor and is now just another internet meme, but Oregon Trail just sounded so random to me. Then I remembered I actually downloaded Oregon Trail for iOS but never actually played it until yesterday.
Well, of course if you were ever a kid in the ’80s or ’90s you probably played Oregon Trail in computer classes or at a public library. Beyond the “edutainment” label, I wouldn’t know what to call it beyond time management although so many events that go down along the Trail feel random and cheat you out at the same time. Instead of the deliciously ugly visuals on the Apple II, we get a cartoony design worthy of a syndicated comic strip. Many options are stripped down, I noticed. From what I remember, you actually decided how many oxen, sets of clothes, pounds of food, bullets you’d take on the trip depending on your profession. In the iOS take, you basically pick a profession, weigh out the pros and cons, and have everything decided by two meters: food and everything else. You can still buy stuff at the general stores at the many settlements you come across during the journey, but now these items affect how ahead you keep to schedule and how often these supplies will be used on the trip. Bullets seem infinite, and simply tapping on the animals to shoot at them takes away the entire challenge of the arrow keys. Everything has a mini-game attached to it instead of what amounted to rolling a die and seeing how your chances held up. You tap berries as they appear on the bushes to collect them in your basket before they disappear. You fling your fishing line and try and capture X number of pounds of bass and Sharktopus-sized catfish. You hammer nails as they align to the circle for the perfect hit a la many music rhythm games. The strangest one is the Simon-like post office game where you tap on different telegraphs in a pattern for experience points and, I guess, contact people back home?
Some strange additions to this game. Some narrator type yokel makes fun of you for declining to hunt for game. If I’m good on food and I need to keep up to schedule, why would I lose a day to hunt? Screw off! Were eagles snatching children a big problem in the 19th century? To be fair, if you tap the screen at the right time you can bring that sucker down and contribute to the extinction of the American bald eagle. Although they’re just relegated to “snakebites,” why in hell are giant snakes eating children? There doesn’t seem to be any way around that. My personal favorite is the family riding you for picking up an extra passenger who just lies on his ass and doesn’t contribute anything to help ease your journey and you get a measly (well, by 2011 standards) $5 that won’t buy much. At least they had the foresight to design crossing rivers in a way that I won’t die from wading in two feet of water.
Honestly though, I CAN, in fact, recommend this 99-cent app at the App Store, if only because they recognized some of the lunacy of the original games and made it just a little wackier and much more colorful.