It’s not often that I get to assume the role of “old man gamer.” To comfortably sit on my rocking chair on my wide country porch and tell kids about the “good old days.” Back when games were ‘hard’, and the one game that no one could beat in one sitting was The Oregon Trail. Sure, you think you have it tough because you have Dark Souls, but when your school crush has Dysentery and the only thing separating you from death is the durability of your last wagon wheel, you learn something about sacrifice and survival. The Oregon Trail was our first foray into role-playing games. It’s where we learned about the importance of dice rolls and that choosing the right class is critical when forming a party. It’s why I had to play Gameloft’s version to complete a dream deferred.
Unlike previous mobile versions of The Oregon Trail, Gameloft uses the original material as the foundation for modernization. The green and black color scheme populate the loading screens, characters are still sprites, and you begin the game the same way you did all those years ago, selecting your team and buying supplies at the general store. It’s familiar territory that pulls on the heartstrings of nostalgia. The character designs are old school, but the level design gives an Octopath Traveler vibe. It’s not quite sprites in a 3d diorama, but the updated environmental visuals add to the game’s character.
Gameloft’s improvements are more than skin deep; the company has made quality of life improvements regarding gameplay. The original game was fun, but only for short bursts. Because of the limitation of technology at the time, the only thing you could do is watch your crew walk across the screen with the occasional status message. Of course, we weren’t thinking about gameplay at that age. We mostly jumped from screen to screen, watching our friends’ progression in the game. This time around, the game feels more like a traditional RPG, and it all starts with your party.
Unlike the original game where you could only pick one type of traveler, each party member can belong to a different class. Each class has its strengths and weaknesses, and survival will depend on the makeup of your party. Your wagon also plays a part in your journey as it will degrade over time from wear and tear. Thankfully, you have the option to carry various supplies to help manage the health of your party and the wagon, and there are opportunities to replenish those materials on your journey.
But the game is more than just inventory management. Along the trail, you’ll meet fellow travelers who will give you side quests that unlock new items and party members. The addition of side quests adds some much-needed variety to the game. During my first play-through, I started a side quest to build a brand for a freed slave, raising money to continue his journey west. To find each band member, I had to choose specific paths, even if it meant extra days on the trip.
My first trip to Oregon was as eventual as I remember back in the day. The quality of life improvements transformed what was once an educational tool into a proper video game. My only gripe is that the game is not for sale in the app store. You’re forced to join Apple Arcade to play, which is a shame because this is a game that should be played by anyone who remembers the days of playing the original game in school.