The Oregon Trail Brings a Classic Game to the iPhone

In a time where the remakes of old games and films have received a great deal of limelight, the folks over at Gameloft have jumped on board with the reimagining of one of gaming’s oldest titles, The Oregon Trail… for the iPhone. More likely than not, most people have played, or at least heard of this game: In it, players lead their party of pixelated family members across one of America’s most treacherous journeys. Of course, the original game was in a floppy disk format and produced in decades ago… so this new version has seen quite the face lift, most notably via mini-games and Facebook Connect integration.

The Oregon Trail was originally developed as an educational tool intended to educate children about pioneer life in the 19th century. The MECC (Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium) published title has been hailed as one of the best-selling educational games of all time. So does this remake live up to its predecessor’s reputation?

Players start out with a basic tutorial as they make their way to the Kansas River. On the way there, they learn the ropes of pioneer life through random events and critical decisions. Throughout the trip, they are tasked with monitoring their party’s health, wagon durability, schedule, funds, and food supply. As they make their way westward, the touchscreen is used to set the pacing (fast, steady, or slow) with the faster settings becoming more hazardous to one’s health.

While traveling, the children and wife in the party tend to make quarky comments to lighten the mood, which, mixed with the cartoonish art style, really seem to fit in well. Of course, that doesn’t help much when someone dies of dysentery. Regardless, when someone isn’t sick, the time is passed by playing mini-games.

The primary mini-game is still hunting, where players move about a top-down view shooting animals that dart on and off screen. As with the original, anything you kill is used as food for your party. Furthermore, this isn’t the only mini-game either as players will also have the opportunity to fish, cross rivers, raft, repair the wagon, and more; all of which is done with touch control. Obviously, this is much more than the original game, and, frankly, it’s for the better as they do add a good deal of extra fun to this mobile title.

Despite the new mini-games, however, the core of The Oregon Trail is still, easily, decision-making. As you travel, you are constantly greeted with random events that could have either fantastic positive results or horrid negative ones. Is that drifter on the side of the road really a banker offering $20 or something worse? Do you pay for the ferry and lose time off your schedule  or risk forging the river? Everything has a risk to it, and there is never any knowing what a poor decision could mean.

Unfortunately, this is where one of the major complaints come into play. A lot of what happens is due to completely unstoppable random events. Perhaps the most obnoxious is the eagle that keeps getting the children…. Thankfully, version 1.6.5 of the iPhone has the option to shoot the stupid thing.

Luckily, the game does somewhat make up for this short-coming though its Facebook Connect integration. While it may not seem like much, it is pretty cool to be able to post your progress to your Facebook feed and share just how far along the trail you are. In addition to this you can also post achievements or send messages directly via email, and if you are playing at the same time as a friend, it is most amusing to boast when you pass them on the way west.

Overall, The Oregon Trail is a refreshing revisit to this classic game. The app is a ton of fun and the new mini-games add a great deal of enjoyment to the title. It could, perhaps, benefit from more of the educational element, but as a game, it does what it is supposed to: Entertain. Unfortunately, as fun as it is, it doesn’t quite feel like it is worth the $5 price tag unless you’re really nostalgic. Maybe it will see a price drop in the future? In the meantime, there’s the pared-down free version. See you on the trail!

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