07 June 2013

#2LR Too Late Review - "Oregon Trail", for Wii

When I was in fourth grade, I had a rather awesome teacher.  I was already a bit ahead of everyone in math, and instead of making everyone march to the same beat in the math textbook, she'd offer the pretest and final test for each math chapter.  If you passed both with a 90%, you were on to the next chapter of the book.

Under this scheme, I managed to finish fourth-grade math class within about four months.  By January, there were no more tests to take.  In our classroom at the time was an old Apple IIe, mostly gathering dust, until my teacher told me that the IIe would be my new "math teacher" until June.  There were a set of five-and-a-quarter floppy disks to use, which included a time-travel game where you had to guess which event happened last, a plant-growing game where you could adjust the variables, and my final project was programming the turtle in Logo to draw a US flag with a program.  (I did.)

This is also where I first played "Oregon Trail".  Remember a couple weeks ago when I said that the first couple minigames were in the 90s?  I can't believe that I forgot about the "hunting" feature in Oregon Trail.  Kids absolutely loved shooting at the buffalo, and I was no different.  The rest of the game was also fun, though it also was one of the first games that allowed me to curse the Random Number God (dysentary!  Again!)

As new Oregon Trail games were published, I'd pick them up; I have a copy of Oregon Trail 2 as well as Oregon Trail 5 for PC, and I am almost positive that I have at least one (if not both) of 3 and 4 around somewhere too.  So, yeah, I like the game and I am a bit of an Oregon Trail connoissieur.

So, when I found that our local library had a copy of Oregon Trail on Wii, I was instantly interested.  The aspects about the game that I enjoyed more and more as the series went on were the hunting (still), the trail markers, the supplies you had to manage, and having to pick the correct path.  Fighting the Random Number God was also interesting.  One of my most memorable games happened when going to California, getting stuck in the Sierra Nevadas for about six fall/winter/spring months, holding on for dear life... and ultimately not making it to the Sacramento Valley.  It may have been a red line plus text on a screen rather that a picture, but I could see that line just struggle to try to complete the journey, rooting for it to keep going, until all was lost.

Needless to say, I had high hopes for this game.  My childhood demanded nothing less than pure enjoyment.  Considering the actions of the Wii controller, I figured that the minigames would be more interesting and possibly more challenging and fun.

So, we (my wife and I) popped the game into the Wii and started.  Almost off the bat, we found out that there's no reading in this game if you don't want it.  There's a "storyteller" that you have to click on in order to get any background on where you are and why you're there, eminently skippable if you don't care to see.  The storyteller also provides roughly a paragraph or so, there's just not a whole lot of space for info on his little screen even if you do want to learn.

The supplies were also greatly simplified from the "Oregon Trail 5" days, consisting of wagon supplies, clothes, pounds of food, and ammunition.  The complexity is that different guns shoot quicker or more scattershot, and different wagon parts have better strengths or weaknesses.  Contrasting to Oregon Trail 5, in the PC game you could literally buy the clothes piecemeal (bonnet, mitten, etc.), buy casks for water carrying, buy cornmeal/lard for corncakes along the way, even buy a chicken and cow to obtain milk/eggs along the trail (and meat if they die), salt for preserving meat... it was more complex, but far more interesting and engaging to make sure you had fruit/veggies to stay well.

Once you hit the trail, Wii Oregon is far more interactive.  You literally steer the cart with your nunchuk joystick, with the speed going up and down depending on either a forward whip-crack motion or pressing the Z button to stop.  You also now have to avoid the rocks, trees, and rough portions of the trail to keep going.  It does introduce a question to the game... either go slow, lose time, and try to keep your wagon pristine, or go fast, gain time, but break down your oxen and cart, both of which take damage points when hitting these obstacles.  Along the trail though, there are horseshoes or wagon wheels that you can pick up to gain health on your wagon or oxen.  Last note, if you get caught on the trail on 31 October... you lose, outright.  You do get some options to choose your direction, however.

Crossing rivers was always one of the major challenges in the Oregon Trail series.  In Wii Oregon though, there's no choice between floating and fording... you ford every one.  The rivers also have obstacles and rewards in them like the paths do.  (Slight positive: there's no tipping of wagons in rivers!)

Hunting is more active, though it is limited to pointing the Wiimote at the screen and pressing the A button when the animal is in the crosshairs.  There's no "holding the Wiimote like a gun" here.  Fishing is also present, where you need to throw your line and when a fish hits, you have to spin the directional stick on the nunchuk.  Too fast and the fish is lost.

Random encounters still happen on the trail, you run into both good people and bad.  Some steal food, others trade, etc.  Towns will still sell food along the way too.  There's very little geography involved... in the PC version, you know where you stop every time (Chimney Rock!  Independence Rock!  Soda Springs!)  Here, unless you click on that storyteller, you're at Checkpoint Whatever... though the forts are named, for what it's worth.

Of course, we've left out the Random Number God until now.  I played one game of Wii Oregon, and one game was enough.  In order to repair the wagon or heal the oxen or recover from illness, you must rest.  In this game, resting causes your wagon to CATCH ON FIRE.  (I wish I was joking.)  We lost a ton and a half of food this way, as it would destroy more than 25 pounds almost every time.  Even resting within the walls of a fort wouldn't help.

I did not figure out whether it was the just the RNG being an absolute bear, or a flaw in the game, but my people would catch sick and get sicker when resting too.  I understand that bad things happened while on the trail, but seriously?  To keep catching sick while resting rather than in the wagon?  During summertime in the Great Plains?

Of course, I didn't really cover how *easy* it was to steer the landyacht.  It isn't.  Since the trail twists and turns, the computer will force you to stay on it, and your reference will be messed up as the trail turns... it forces you to the same relative position on the trail (say, ten feet from the left) while cornering and will end up forcing you into obstacles as you go around curves.  And the 31 October time limit is extremely restrictive... if you go slow, be prepared to lose.

In summation... the Wii game is not the Oregon Trail that I grew up with, and is not even close.  I will grant that I had a very small sample size, but when I complete the first level by pulling into Oregon on October 30, having had someone die THREE STEPS before, and knowing that resting will KILL me more, and I didn't even learn any new anythings about the Oregon Trail I just travelled... that's it, I'm done.  Nostalgia is over.

Final Rating: 0.4 -- fishing was fun, I guess, though the Random Number God couldn't even be bothered to send ONE BUFFALO our way either.

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