The Oregon Trail is undoubtedly one of the oldest licenses in video games and yet few people know about it. In 2016, Le Time placed it in its list of the 50 most important games in the world. This is probably because its primary role was to inform American youth about the history of the first pioneers. It has thus known many versions on many media since its commercial debut in 1978 on Apple II, until this Switch version which is now arriving in a clearly modernized version. The opportunity for us to see that it is possible to combine knowledge and pleasure.
The little wagon in the meadow
If the original software is the work of Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger, since 2009, Gameloft is pulling the strings with ports on machines ranging from the DS to smartphones. It’s the turn of our Nintendo Switch to know the joys of convoys in a brand new version whose improvements are numerous both in terms of graphics and in terms of content, so much so that it becomes difficult to believe that this game was intended, at the base, for an audience fond, or not, of educational games.
However, the basic principle always remains the same. We lead a group of four colonists with distinct skills and we will have to get them safe and sound from Independence in Missouri to Willamette Valley in Oregon. It all takes place in 1848, a time when the pinnacle of technology was a cart drawn by four oxen. And that’s good, because it is precisely the basis of our equipment, the rest coming from the contributions of the different members of our group.
The first step of our journey is to select four of these settlers. If at first, the number of classes available is quite limited with farmers or church people, with each advance, we will unlock new classes that will allow us to further diversify our group to respond as effectively as possible to the vagaries that occur. are watching us. Note also that each person we choose has four health characteristics as well as eight personality and skill characteristics.
At the start of our adventure, these points will be hidden from us and we will have to get to know the members of this group better, for example by talking during stops or by trying to cast a healing skill, to obtain information on the skill level. of such and such a member of our group. These points range from one to six and depending on this score, we will more or less easily perform actions such as repairing our cart, orienting ourselves in the middle of a storm, charming a bandit to prevent him from taking our food supply.
Once upon a time in the west
Because yes, the world of The Oregon Trail is not, that of care bears and the problems that we will have to face are very numerous, but also very varied. And this is also one of the strengths of Gameloft’s title. It is impossible to know in advance what will happen to our group. We see this advanced in the American plains, we regularly choose our next stage according to the indications that we have been able to glean on the road and we react as we can to the vagaries of the road.
The different paths we are going to take can thus lead us to cross paths with herds of fallow deer or bison, and in the event that one of our members has decent shooting skills, the opportunity to fill the stock of food should not be neglected. But fishing or gathering will not be neglected either. From time to time, we will come across characters launching us into side quests that are always very well written and never Manichaean. Not having the right ingredient in our cart, or not wanting to give it away for free can lead to the death of this character. These quests taking place over a fairly long time, we often had the time to become attached to this NPC and seeing him disappear is never easy.
In addition to these choices of directions and actions, we will also have to manage our cart. This journey lasting more than a hundred days over a distance of more than 2000 miles, inevitably, we will have to take care of it. This is represented in the form of an inventory box, each object that we have will ask to use a certain number of these boxes, it is up to us to manage this placement as well as possible. During our trip, some boxes will be damaged and in the event that we have nothing to repair, we risk losing the precious goods that are there. The management of this cart is therefore an important part of the gameplay and the stress caused by the hazards is in perfect harmony with that experienced by our settlers.
They don’t have an easy life. Between a health likely to deteriorate due to weakening endurance, a drop in morality or poor hygiene, the health glitches that can disturb our wanderings are numerous, not to mention the obvious lack of chances that we fall on the corner of the face without warning. Are we then going to force the pace, even if it means tiring us more, but reducing the time of the journey? Are we going to reduce our rations, even if it means losing morale while limiting fatigue and the consumption of limited food? Many choices available to us and which are always configurable.
These besides what makes the strength of the proposed gameplay. All these mechanics of choosing and managing characters and events complement each other harmoniously and generate permanent stress. However, this is counterbalanced by a gripping narration that never falls into the easy way, capable of surprising us through unexpected encounters and which, above all, confronts us with our choices.
The journeys that form the youth
In terms of content, once the first trip is successful or not, depending on our progress, we unlock other scenarios that will put us in front of very different challenges and situations. Each of these trips explores a part of our basic journey and takes the opportunity to develop the history of these settlers. From the life of Native Americans to the experience of a trapper trapped in the middle of a storm, #leonardodicaprio, each of these additional modes allows us to learn a little more while having fun facing additional constraints , whether these are temporal, related to our situation or our inventory.
In addition to this classic gameplay, regularly we have to face mini games whose success will bring more or less food to our group. The hunting and fishing parties are thus an opportunity to have to take charge of one of our settlers in a simple and short mini game. We will also have to raft down a river. Here again the result is simple, but effective.
We can find these mini games in weekly challenges to which is added a community challenge. In this one we have to choose a side between two railway companies. It is up to us to achieve successes in the game in order to lend our support to this company and go further in setting up the railway. An interesting idea that asks us to adapt our in-game resources to earn tokens. These then unlock new music or graphic variations. Completion enthusiasts will have a blast.
From a graphical point of view. The pixel art set up is of high quality. The sets that we will travel through are teeming with details and an in-game game of pressing Y each time we come across an animal species forces us to always be focused on what is happening on the screen. Our characters are perfectly drawn and animated and the level of their state of health modifies this appearance, constantly reminding us that so and so quickly requires appropriate care.
The difficulty is perfectly calibrated. It is entirely possible to complete the base story with a group of base settlers. Those unlocked later will help us be more efficient in certain aspects, but there is no guarantee that success will be easier to achieve. If it takes an average of five hours to get our settlers to their destination in the main story. The various additional journeys, the abilities to be unlocked and the knowledge to be acquired over this period easily triple this playing time, thus justifying the base price of €30.
- Pixel art graphics are packed with detail
- The animations of each character are neat
- The narration is gripping and never manichean
- Each of our choices has an impact on the rest of the side quests
- Management, strategy and survival mechanics complement each other harmoniously
- Mini games are effective and take up just the right amount of space
- The soundtrack is effective and is renewed regularly
- The handling is impeccable
- Entirely in French
- The successes tell us a little more about this era
- The number of trips available is significant
- A little repetitive once all the hazards are discovered
- The base price is a bit high for a game of this genre