Grab your supplies and tools for the road, because today we set out to conquer the American West.
I don't know how old you are, but I must admit that in my case I had to do some research to find out what I had in my hands. It was 1974 when the Minnesota Computer Education Consortium decided to produce a game for young people to learn about American history. And it worked. Since then, The Oregon Trail has gone through almost twenty versions and re-releases, with better or worse results.
In 2021 this version was released for Apple Arcade and we tested it on Switch. We found a good facelift of the original, in which the game systems that made it popular (such as fishing, hunting, etc.) had been respected along with an increase in features that make it a perfect roguelite. A change of format that brings it closer to a large audience and makes it a perfect platform for those who don't want to depend on their mobile phone to play.
We find ourselves in the middle of the 19th century, in the midst of the colonising expansion of American emigrants on their way to California. Our mission: choose four brave pioneers and take them safely to the state of Oregon. The task will not be easy, inclement weather, raids, diseases and all sorts of adventures will come between us and our precious goal. The game begins in the town of Independence, where we will have to select the four members of the group with whom we will leave with our wagon. The options are very diverse and we will have to be very careful to have as many skills as possible to cover the needs that may arise. Farmers, bankers, adventurers, nuns... each profession offers certain advantages, but also disadvantages. In addition to professions, each character has their own personalities: paranoid, kind, lazy... everything counts when faced with a real problem on the road.
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Once on the move, there are many things to keep in mind. Characters have health, hygiene, happiness and energy bars and we can't lose track of them for a moment. In addition, we have a Resident Evil-style inventory whose management will be essential if we are to survive our entire journey. The Oregon Trail is a roguelite, which means that we can't give up if we don't manage to reach Oregon on the first attempt. What's more, on each of our journeys we unlock new routes and benefits that we can take advantage of on our next attempt. Replayability is assured.
If there is one aspect that must be highlighted in The Oregon Trail, it is its good taste when it comes to adapting the stories of the old West. This new edition draws directly from the great classics of American literature and cinema, which also extends to the interpretation of American history itself and the very special context in which the lands of Oregon were settled. Throughout our journey we will enjoy different scenarios in which all the landscapes that the old pioneers crossed on their journey to the West are depicted: from dry deserts to snowy mountains.
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Another of the most immersive features of The Oregon Trail is its soundtrack. Whether we are moving between menus or crossing half of the United States, the music of this classic is an absolute marvel, paying homage at all times to the best compositions of John Ford or Ennio Morricone's films. This music is the perfect complement to the many stories and characters that we encounter throughout our journey. The game lacks a storyline or plot per se, and instead weaves a gigantic spider's web in which each thread is the story of a secondary character that intertwines with others. Each traveller tells a story, which connects throughout the experience.
I will miss you, dear NPC
The Oregon Trail is a good example of how to execute side quests that lengthen and enliven our gaming experience. In many of our attempts we have different encounters with characters who will ask us for help in their own undertakings. It is important to appreciate that if we use our precious resources to help them, they in turn can make our lives easier on future journeys. For example, a scientist who asks for our help in developing better wagons may offer us a better model to start with on our next attempt. Solidarity at the frontier is rewarded. Of course, this also applies to our bad deeds. The difficulties of our adventure will not only affect our health or hygiene, but also aspects such as aiming or mechanics. These skills can also be lost if our team becomes depressed or ill. You have no idea how fond you can become of one of your characters after winning twenty negotiations in a row, only to be taken down by fever or an animal attack. And you'll have to say goodbye to them, or even bury them in a grave.
The performance on Nintendo Switch is perfectly smooth and we barely see any loading screens throughout our adventure. Add in the gorgeous setting and sound, and The Oregon Trail is one of the simplest roguelites we've ever played, and very accessible too. For 90% of the adventure, we hardly need anything more than the movement buttons and the accept button, which is more than enough to provide us with utter fun.
8 / 10
An enjoyable roguelite with smooth progression. Plenty of stories and side quests.
Very linear. Same NPC encounters. Scenery and character designs are repetitive.