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The Oregon Trail

For families traveling the Oregon Trail in the mid-19th century, success and survival depended on preparation, keen wits and a good dose of luck.

For families traveling the Oregon Trail in Gameloft’s iPhone remake of the classic PC title, success and survival depended on how quickly a cartoonish, bearded settler could collect bunches of berries growing from a digital shrub.

Really, the original migrants had no room to complain.

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While historical accuracy may not be the strongest point in the re-imagining of MECC’s educational narration, Gameloft’s mobile take on The Oregon Trail is a clever, engaging and crisply animated iteration of the oft-duplicated classic. Littered with mini games and enough bells and whistles to warrant a few play-throughs, The Oregon Trail is a prime example of an iPhone game done right.

A loose simulation of the American exodus across the lone overland route to the Pacific Northwest, The Oregon Trail minimizes the trudge and drudge of a 2,000+ mile trek and focuses on the more enjoyable aspects of a life-or-death migration: hammering nails, shooting bears and panning for gold.

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While the original Oregon Trail consisted of decisions regarding pacing and the occasional hunt, Gameloft’s renewal is littered with touch-based mini games both on the road and within the various towns scattered between the Missouri River and Willamette Valley. Ranging from timed taps to simulate hunting and wagon repairs, to a Simon Says-esque take on the telegraph The Oregon Trail employs enough variety to keep the touch mechanic from becoming stale.

The mini games break up the remainder of the experience: a family’s carefully calculated trek across plains, plateaus and rivers. Much like the original Oregon Trail, Gameloft’s incarnation gives the player control over aspects of the journey which could make the trip quick and painless, or long and marred by dysentery. Aside from keeping track on food stores and wagon repair, players will have the option to take on hitchhikers, float down or ford rivers, and walk, jog or run a day’s distance. Each choice affects travel time and supplies, and requires tough decisions and can often lead in to dire consequences (i.e., death).

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Although fairly straightforward, the ability to choose between two branching paths or whether to invest money in wagon improvements over better clothing gives The Oregon Trail enough customization to separate it from the quick play apps which congest the iPhone’s game library.

A strong art style and more-than-adequate graphics also give The Oregon Trail an edge over the competition. Bright and colorful with slick animations and fast loading, The Oregon Trail provides visuals akin to those found on Nintendo handhelds, albeit a tad bit simpler. Similarly, the music and sound effects are chipper and catchy, and while the “travel theme” may not be the greatest background music to find its way onto the iPhone it’s definitely memorable and easily distinguishable.

The only real downside to The Oregon Trail is a sense of unrealized potential. The game straddles that fine line between casual and formal, giving players more than a handful of game types and enough choice when it comes to how the adventure plays, but keeps things simple enough where a deleted save file wouldn’t be a big loss. At no point does the trip to Oregon City become a hard-sought goal, but instead exists as a vehicle for the various mini games which would be just as enjoyable without the historical narration.

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Even though it is certainly one of the more enjoyable and well-crafted games in the iPhone store, The Oregon Trail more a pleasant distraction rather than a full-blown adventure but is still worth a couple of play-throughs. Gameloft crafted a worthy bearer of The Oregon Trail moniker: a clever and varied addition to Apple’s mobile market.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2008.

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