We were doing well coming out of Dallas. We had plenty of scrap to fix our car, a generous surplus of food, and extra wagon wheels- er, I mean tires, batteries and mufflers. I worried about the fuel, but we had more than enough to make a run toward New Mexico and the amount of scavenging we’d done had given us plenty of money. Even if the gas in a zombie apocalypse was overpriced, we could afford it. Ammo had been a problem, but we’d just loaded up in a city where it was cheap.
Then Albuquerque happened.
On the way there, we hit a bump on the road. Ammo flew out the window. Then a fire – more lost ammo. Just get to Albuquerque, I thought. We can fix everything there. Then came the stampede of zombie deer.
We’d been through a boss fight like this before, but this was more relentless. The zombie deer careened into our car. We had to stop on the side of the road to repair for a few hours – with all the delays, we were eating more food than I’d planned. It must be that extra mouth to feed: a baby we’d rescued from his zombie parents in one of the many well-written text adventure minigames “Organ Trail” boasts.
Most riffs of “Oregon Trail” are gimmicks, meant to give you a knowing chuckle as you see how cleverly the developers parodied a game from your childhood. “Organ Trail” is different – it’s both funny and extremely somber. It’s even pretty creepy (the “Talk to Strangers” button reveals some disturbing apocalypse thoughts).
It’s a full game in its own right, inspired by “Oregon Trail” but original enough to take its mechanics and run somewhere very different with them. “Organ Trail” builds on the base mechanics of “Oregon Trail” and expands into terrific new territory.
What other quality “Oregon Trail” riffs are there? I’m glad you asked.
And then there’s “Super Amazing Wagon Adventure.” It’s essentially a satire of “Oregon Trail,” but one made with tough-as-nails bullet hell mechanics and a weird rip-off of the “Neverending Story” theme song. It’ll make you laugh, cheer, and then sit over your friends’ shoulders as you force them to partake in its unique magic.
It won’t last you as a game in its own right the same way “Organ Trail” does, but it will fit a lot of surprises and laughs into a short amount of time.
By today’s standards, “Oregon Trail” was something of a roguelike: the kind of game that demands forward progress through tough conditions, limited resources, and permanent death. “FTL” is one of the best of these.
Like the others, it features combat mechanics and a range of resources you have to manage. Unlike the others, it lets you modify your ship in specific ways, take on crew and let them specialize at navigating, weaponry, shields, or fixing the engines. Though turn-based, there’s more of a time-limit here. A massive fleet is hot on your tail, and choosing whether to take extra turns to investigate a juicy target or to just book it and run becomes one more resource to manage. It’s a finely tuned game where you should expect to rarely, if ever, win.
Here’s another option, a parody of “FTL” and “Star Trek.” It’s a more particular taste – the mechanics aren’t as well refined, but the randomly evolving story offers one of the most varied experiences here. The humor is broad, hitting on genre-wide satire and very specific jokes only fans of certain shows will understand.
If you love this subgenre, “Orion Trail” is worth experiencing.
Those looking for the grimmest stories will be best served by “Tharsis,” although this is as far afield as it gets from “Oregon Trail” before losing the thread completely. “Tharsis” sees your spaceship break down en route to Mars. Your remaining crew members have to make key decisions as the ship falls apart around them:
Do you fix the greenhouse or heal a crewmember who’s about to die? You can’t choose both. Maybe you sacrifice the good of one for the good of the others, Spock style. Food’s short. Do you cannibalize him, putting undue stress on the entire crew, or do you take your chances with a food supply that’s all but disappeared?
“Tharsis” takes the crisis and resource management concepts that “Oregon Trail” made popular so long ago and makes a game of choosing lesser evils in an effort to survive.
The beauty of “Oregon Trail” is that every journey would be just a little bit different from the last. With stories that feature random events, and a heavier stress on choice, the “Oregon Trail” subgenre has been making a quiet resurgence the last few years.