Review: The Oregon Trail

“PSYCHO PENGUIN has dysentery. :(“

There are some games that we played as kids that we’ll never forget. Oregon Trail is one of those games for me. What kid who grew up in the 80’s/90’s hasn’t at least seen someone playing this game at school? I spent many a day in elementary school playing this classic. It was educational, but you wouldn’t know it, because this game is just SO much fun to play. I seriously had a blast every time when I fired up Oregon Trail, and it’s a game that requires brain as well as brawn to win. 

The object of the game is to guide your family from one end of the Oregon Trail to another. It’s a lot of fun, but not easy, as you have to survive many hardships, ranging from diseases to crossing rivers without dying. It won’t be an easy journey, so being well equipped and ready for anything is the key to survival in this classic. For instance, you may think you have enough oxen, but then a rascally thief will come in the middle of the night and steal half of them! This is part of what makes Oregon Trail so unbelievable, but also so fun. 

First things first. You start off in town, and you have a choice of what occupation you wish to be. Each occupation has their own strengths and weaknesses, as you may expect. A banker has tons of money to start off with, but is useless once you get into the open road, and if something goes wrong, you can forget about it. Picking a job like a carpenter was something I always did. Then, you get 4 people to join you. Naming the people is half the fun of the game, as you will soon see. 

Once you pick your occupation and name everyone, it’s time to buy some supplies. Everything from oxen to clothes is needed, as you will go on a journey of epic proportions. Buying several of each equipment will be fine for now, as you can soon collect more money. Once you do all this, you set out on trail. Now, here, it’s simple. You move from one area to the next. But, you will encounter many things along the way that you will not expect. How will you cross the river? Do you have enough oxen to get you through the game in case one dies or some are stolen? 

Crossing the river is one of many things that can go wrong. You get three choices as to how you wish to cross a river. You get the statistics of the river, ranging from depth to width, and then you get to choose how you wish to proceed. Choosing the correct answer will get you safely across the river, but choosing the incorrect answer may lead to disaster. If your wagon sinks, you will lose a lot of supplies and may even have some of your family members killed off!

Also, diseases like dysentery were common back in the 1800’s, so expect to have several of these throughout the journey. Resting was the only way to cure your people. However, resting also means losing valuable days, and you might not make it to the destination in time. So, deciding when to rest and when to keep going is another key to victory. I really liked this aspect, as it forced you to use your brain yet again. No one wants to use a wagon in the middle of winter, but you don’t want your son dying of heat stroke, either, so you get to make some crucial decisions. 

These are just a couple of the many ways you can die. Lack of food is another. Usually, you will have plenty of food. However, sometimes there is long stretches of road between one town and the next, and food will go quickly. How will you survive without having food? This is where that ammunition you bought comes into play! At any point in the journey, you can go hunting. Hunting is one of the most fun parts of the game, but it can also be one of the most frustrating, as well. 

You see, your guy moves like a stiff, and is very hard to control. He will stand in the middle of the screen, and then animals will come flocking. For some reason, I always had trouble aiming towards the animals and connecting with all my shots. Maybe it was because of the keyboard, I don’t know. He moved very slowly, that’s all I know. Plus, you could only bring back 2,000 pounds of meat. I always hated seeing ”You killed 7,400 pounds of meat, but you can only bring back 2,000!” Bah, I killed 3 buffalloes for nothing? Oh well, hunting was still a neat idea, but executed a little poorly. 

The game is very educational in these regards, as it forces you to make good plans and strategize ahead of time. I always appreciated games that make you think ahead of time. I am very good at planning my actions before doing them, so this was definitely my kind of game. It also has educational aspects, because you get to learn the history of the Oregon Trail throughout the game. Every time you get to a town or a rest area, you can take a tour and hear a good song and see a picture of the area. It wasn’t exactly Carmen Sandiego levels of information, but I remember learning about some basic history from this game alone. 

Sadly, it’s not exactly the most realistic portrayal of the Oregon Trail. I don’t think dysentery was cured simply by resting for a few days. They don’t take baths. The oxen went extremely fast. I didn’t know one thief could take 5 oxen in the middle of the night from me. Hell, how could a wagon carry 5 oxen anyways? And how could the thief fit those 5 oxen in 2 small boxes? Plus, hunting was kind of dumb and useless somewhat, because you could only take back so much meat, so I felt like I wasted a lot of time I could have spent crossing my fingers while crossing rivers. 

Besides the controls in the hunting mini game, which I felt could have used some touch ups, the game controlled marvelously for a PC game. Maybe because you didn’t have to push much. You could choose menu options by number, and you didn’t have to do much during the game. Hunting was the only thing that required any sort of decent controls, and at least it’s not impossible to play. 

The game looks fairly old, but then again, it IS fairly old, so what do you expect? The backgrounds are passable, the maps and screens look nice, and the characters don’t look terrible. I loved the detail paid to the scenes that you see when you stop at various towns, though. Those were the most important screens of the game, really, in terms of graphics, and they looked extremely nice for an old PC game. Plus, the game actually does look good. I fail to see how anyone could problems with these graphics, unless they just dislike plain graphics. Plain is still better than ugly. 

The music and sound effects aren’t really there. You’ll hear a marching song and other stuff play throughout the towns, but during the game you won’t hear much. None of the music or sound effects will get on your nerves during the game, let me just say that. 

I used to play this game every day as a kid in school. There is something enthralling about leading a team of old schoolers into a wagon and guiding them from one end of the trail to another. I never got sick and tired of it, and probably never will. This game has the magic feeling to it what will make you want to keep playing time and time again. Despite the fact the map is the same, every game will be different, because of the strategies and stuff you employ. There’s no story scenes, just a fun romp down the Oregon Trail, and I for one think it is completely replayable. 

It’s also damn hard. I’ve never seen a kids game with such challenge. I don’t think I got through the trail until my seventh grade year. Which would be four years after I started playing, by the way. The path is long and ardurous, and you will lose guys frequently. It’s very hard to successfully complete the game, due to the fact that every time you cross a river, you could lose 3 people, and medicine wasn’t around much in the 1800’s, so if you get a disease, it’s rest or death. Plus, getting food is a hassle. I think it was part of the game’s unique appeal. 

I loved writing this review, to be honest. It brings me back to the days of naming my people weird stuff and hitching a wagon to take down the Oregon Trail. There’s nothing fancy about this game, and to be quite honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s just a fun trip down a historical lane that proves to be quite challenging and replayable. The graphics are decent, the game forces you to think a little, and it still manages to be damn fun. I think this is the most terrific educational game ever released. 

Oregon Trail doesn’t get a 10/10 from me because I loved it as a kid… it gets a 10/10 because I still love it as an adult. 

God bless games like this.

Score: 10 out of 10


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