The Oregon Trail Hands-On

Circle the wagons, people! We’ve got exclusive hands-on footage of Gameloft’s The Oregon Trail for iPhone, as well as all the juicy details that come with it. Hope you’re in a pioneering mood!

Gameloft’s edition of The Oregon Trail is based on the original MECC/Learning Company license, but it’s changed pretty dramatically from the game you may remember playing on early PCs in the mid-1980s. The presentation has received a complete overhaul, obviously–no legacy graphics or sounds here–and the gameplay has been both simplified and modernized, so that it now looks and plays like a state-of-the-art casual game from 2009.

Before you set off into the West in The Oregon Trail, you choose a difficulty level for your game. Hard is about as challenging as the original, meaning that there are no continues, while Normal and Easy allow you to restart at the last checkpoint if your party is wiped out.

You also get your choice of three occupations and three “wagon packages.” Bankers start with more money, Carpenters are better at keeping their wagons maintained, and Farmers are used to starving, so they don’t eat as much.

The three wagons available are the Basic model, the Prarie Schooner (which carries more supplies), and the sturdy, armored Conestoga; the last two cost more cash than the first. Thankfully, you no longer have to worry about how many sets of clothing or wagon axles you’re carrying, as all of these materials have been combined into a single Supplies value.

Finally, you can set off in March, April, or May. The earlier you go, the better your chances of making it to Oregon before winter sets in… but the harder you’ll find the journey along the way.

Gameloft’s given fledgling pioneers a tutorial in the form of the Wagon Master, a lantern-jawed hombre who shows up every once in a while to offer trail tips. He’s one of many people you’ll encounter on the journey–some of whom students of U.S. history are certain to recognize. George Donner, Samuel Morse, and Wyatt Earp all make appearances to offer you side quests, like ferrying them to the next fort. We even ran into pre-Presidential Abraham Lincoln at one point.

The original Oregon Trail had one minigame that we can remember–hunting–which happened to be the best minigame in the history of video games (mostly because you got to play it in class)! In the update, hunting has been joined by seven other activities that offer a light skill-based break from the trail. For instance, the Telegraph game plays a bit like Simon, Berry Picking is Whack-a-Mole, and Repair is a simple rhythm game where you try to hammer down nails.

According to The Oregon Trail’s producer, a full playthrough takes between an hour and a half and two hours, with 50 different locations to visit and multiple routes to traverse. From what we’ve played so far, this game sports the very polished play experience that we’ve come to expect from Gameloft… and it’s got some killer bluegrass music, too.

The Oregon Trail is expected out sometime next week for $5.99.

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