Updated: Sep 4
The Oregon Trail has forded the river and trekked into the 21st century, appearing on store shelves in a miniaturized form. If you enjoyed this classic DOS title on your IBM-compatible back in the day, you can thank Basic Fun for this handheld game, brilliantly presented in a casing reminiscent of a retro computer. Pushing the floppy disk acts as the game's power button, which I think is the coolest feature of this reissue. Basic Fun has also released Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? in the same old-school PC presentation. The Oregon Trail makes a pretense of being educational while it forces the player to watch innocent migrants suffer and die. It's a great game.
I picked up this little gem in the Richlands, North Carolina Wal-Mart, during our vintage RV-powered move to Arizona. There have definitely been some Oregon Trail-worthy parallels on our journey, including a tire blowout on the car dolly and a breakdown 115 miles from Roswell, New Mexico. (I think the government was trying to keep our hard-hitting journalism at bay.)
Our hygiene has been on the decline, and we've been foraging for food. This review is coming to you from a Dairy Queen in Plains, Texas, while we're waiting for the rig to be repaired. People down here are awesome: Shout out to State Trooper Tyson for the midnight rope tow, and the DQ crew for letting us hang out at their store during our stranding. They even gave me a temp job!
I've got nerd street cred to spare, so I'll risk losing some: Until I'd played this handheld, I'd never gotten to experience The Oregon Trail, which some consider a life metaphor. (I didn't play PC games until the late '90s.) This cult classic doesn't skimp on the hardship: Burning wagons, faulty gear, sick cattle, nocturnal thievery, bad weather, rivers to cross, diseases of various urgency, ever-present hunger and more (!) threaten to thwart even the most intrepid sojourner. It's incredible the west coast ever got populated. As we're pushing through our real-life cross-country attempt, I'm inclined to believe my wife: Surviving The Oregon Trail is more luck than preparation. This game should make you appreciate your wi-fi and latte.
You begin The Oregon Trail by choosing between the professions of banker, carpenter or farmer. The job which directly influences your game experience: The cushier your gig, the more money you'll have for the trip; the harder your profession, the more points you'll get. Pick what month you want to depart, buy supplies which will likely be wiped out, and name the peeps in your party. For my inaugural game, my crew received period-accurate monikers: Abraham, Ezekia, Roberta and Hezekia were lead to their doom by an ill-appointed Phineas. It's possible to be super-juvenile with the names, but I'm totally above that.
The in-game text has been modified to match the custom controls, which eliminate the need for a full keyboard, and the unit's clunky grey buttons are a nice nod to '80s PC aesthetics. Hunting for food is accomplished with the directional pad. Don't waste your ammo, though, because you can carry only 100 pounds of carcass back to your wagon. (You'd think that if you shot a buffalo, you'd make multiple trips! I guess the threat of the kids getting cholera expedites things.) There's a volume control button which ranges from mute to ear splitting, depending on how open you are to hearing “Jimmy Crack Corn,” and you can save your game for later punishment.