The Oregon Trail Review (Switch)

The Oregon Trail Review: Onward and Westward


oregon trail

80’s and 90’s kids of a certain age grew up with an absolute staple: The Oregon Trail on the ol’ green-screen Macintosh computers. There was something absurdly satisfying about putting that ridiculously big floppy disk into the drive and ka-chunking down that oversized lock and booting up the library’s sole (for my school, at least) computer and watching the game come to life. I honestly couldn’t even begin to tell you the number of hours I spent on that game, eyes burning from hyper-focusing on that grainy screen for way, way too long. And as a native Oregonian, playing the game is a rite of passage of sorts; you don’t really get your Oregonian badge until you’ve played The Oregon Trail in some form or another. So when Gameloft’s version came to the Switch, it’s not an understatement to say that I practically squealed with glee at the opportunity to give it a go.


A Whole Wagonful of Nostalgia


oregon trail

For those of you (inexplicably/inexcusably) unfamiliar with the story of The Oregon Trail, it follows the trials and tribulations of an intrepid group of settlers eager to make their way to Oregon and start a new life. While the thought of sending pioneers across the country in covered wagons might not sound exciting on its face, you get surprisingly invested in and attached to your pixelated pioneers. While there’s not really a lot of individual character development, I found myself loving my little cross-country team, fretting and fussing when they’d get injured, sick, or bitten by snakes. That being said, don’t expect a narrative-heavy experience. The story is in the journey, which by its nature will be different with every playthrough.

The original Oregon Trail game was, at times, less-than-sensitive (to put it lightly), something the developers managed to correct in this newest version quite nicely. With a pleasantly diverse character pool to draw from to form your pioneering party, and updates to many of the events and locations you can visit (particularly in regards to Native Americans), the latest iteration is definitely more tactful than its original predecessor. The addition of playable characters of color was a good choice as well, especially considering the dark, racist history of the founding of Oregon.



Hope For the Best, Constantly Plan for the Worst


oregon trail

All the gameplay mechanics from the original Oregon Trail are still present, but expanded and polished to a greater degree. At the start of each journey, you’ll pick a party of four, with each preset character having their own personality type, skills, and abilities. For example, some people are good hunters, while others are more skilled at carpentry (particularly handy for repairing your wagon on the trail). A well-balanced party may very well be what separates you from success and failure on your adventure. After selecting your party, you’ll also need to pick your wagon, and as you progress through the game, different wagons will become available – provided you can earn enough money to purchase them. This was one of my favorite updated mechanics, as some of the wagons are… delightfully ridiculous, to say the least.

Once you’ve loaded up with food and supplies, you’ll set out to travel westward in search of the Willamette Valley. You can set the pace of your adventure to three different speeds – essentially slow, medium, and fast, which will dictate how many miles you can travel each day. Additionally, you can determine how much food to ration out to your party, measured in pounds per day. You’ll need to balance just how grueling you want your pace to be with how well you feed your party, as meters gauge four important metrics for each member of your team: Health, Morale, Stamina, and Cleanliness. As these decrease, your risk of injury, illness, and more increases.


You Have Died of Dysentery. Or Starvation. Or a Snakebite. Or…


oregon trail

Along the Oregon Trail, you’ll be frequently faced with difficult decisions. Should you ford a river, wait for conditions to improve, or pay the ferry to take you safely across? When flour is running low, will you make hardtack, which will last longer, but decrease your morale? Choices abound, and there’s never a “correct” option. It involves as much luck as careful planning, but an unfortunate snakebite, injury, or case of dysentery can derail even the most careful traveler. And since space in your wagon is quite limited (and becomes more limited should your wagon become damaged, which can happen just through normal wear and tear), you may not always have the item on hand needed to help out in every situation.

Thankfully, there are stops along your journey that will allow you to fish, hunt, and forage for medicinal herbs, though they are at times few and far between. The hunting minigame still has the classic feel to it, requiring you to be stocked up with bullets, and animals will run across the screen, requiring you to time your shots (though it’s not particularly difficult, truth be told). Don’t waste too much ammo, though, as your stamina dictates how much you can actually haul back to your wagon. You can also skin the game you collect, and sell the pelts later on to earn some money (which is quite difficult to come by in this game).


Challenging, Yet Charming


oregon trail

Random events will be a constant bane and/or boon, cropping up when you least expect or need them to. Wild animals will stop you in your tracks, your wagon may get damaged, storms or terrain may make you more prone to getting dirty, which in turn makes you more likely to get sick. Sometimes you’ll bump into fellow travelers down on their luck, and you’ll have the option of helping them – or leaving them. Many of these pleas for help end up being multi-part quests along your trail, which I found to be a very welcome addition.

Aesthetically, The Oregon Trail manages to capture much of the charm and magic of the original, but with some lovely, modern polish to smooth it all out. While your characters and wagon remain delightfully pixelated, they’re now quite colorful, and the environments are frequently gorgeous. Somehow the game manages to blend the modern environments with the classic look of the characters and your wagon quite seamlessly, each one complementing the other. The soundtrack is frequently repetitive, but the game doesn’t suffer from it, as the music is quite charming and relaxing.


A Near-Perfect Blending of Classic and Modern


With a game like The Oregon Trail, there’s always the concern that it’s simply a cash-grab banking on nostalgia of Millennials and Gen Xers. I’m quite happy to report that isn’t the case here. While there’s clearly a lot of nostalgia to be found, this iteration of The Oregon Trail proudly stands on its own. With one foot in the past and one in the present, it brings together all the best aspects of the original, and adds modern flourishes to give us a near-perfect game. Add in infinite replayability, as well as several different play modes, and this game is an absolute must-have for anybody who grew up with the original.

Final Verdict: 4.5/5

Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC; Publisher: Gameloft; Developer: Gameloft; Players: 1; Released: November 14th, 2022; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $29.99

Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.

Daymon Trapold
Once upon a time, he wrote for oprainfall. Now, he's scraping off the rust to get back into writing about the games he loves. From his humble origins of playing the Atari and Commodore 64, he now dabbles in just about every console there is. Although he has a particular love of hardcore dungeon-crawlers, roguelikes, and niche JRPGs, some of his favorite games include Earthbound, Persona 3, Eternal Sonata, Bravely Default, Tales of the Abyss, and Fate/Extra. If his geek cred wasn't good enough, he's also a bassoonist.

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