If you’re like me, you were one of many, many kids who got to play the edutainment game Oregon Trail at school originally published by MECC in 1977 with various updated releases since then. In case you’re not familiar with it, the game follows a family setting out on the Oregon Trail in the 1850s to settle in the west. You have money, food, bullets, sets of clothes for your family, and you have to try to keep everyone alive on the trail. Your characters can die from starvation, various diseases, from exposure, from drowning if you fail a river crossing, probably some other things that I’ve forgotten. Part of the appeal of the game, at least to me, was that you could name your family members–so typically you’d name them after your classmates and then could shout out in study hall “Hey Paul, you just died from cholera!” And you could also leave gravestones with custom epitaphs where your last party member died so other players would see them as they pass in future playthroughs.
Now, imagine that someone went back in time and interviewed every kid who was enjoying playing through this game and asked each of them one simple question: “If you could add one thing to make this game more awesome, what would it be?” And then that someone made a game that incorporate all of the answers without the slightest regard to historical accuracy. That someone would be Sparsevector, and that game would be Super Amazing Wagon Adventure, released in October 2013.
The game starts off with a brief hunting trip. At full speed from your wagon, picking up the carcasses without stopping, and while avoiding skunks. You know, how most hunting trips go. Then bandits attack. Then bandits with machine guns attack. Then you see a unicorn–it seems to want you to follow it. You could kill it and add it to your spoils, but you decide to follow it…into a unicorn ambush! Fierce unicorns charging at you in herds! You have to protect your family! Phew, made it through that, now you’ve reached a river. Would you like to float your wagon across or would you like to jump your wagon across it. Well, obviously you’re going to jump it, but whoops, a gust of wind caught your wagon in midair and tossed you up into low orbit. Incoming meteors!!
That’s the kind of story you’ll go through in the game, but there are quite a few different variations and the scenes are randomly chosen. Next time instead of the unicorn, you might encounter zombies, or ghosts, or whatever else. Most of the game takes place in one of two formats. In the first, you’re driving your ox-driven wagon, with the ground scrolling from left to right. You can move around the screen and pressing Spacebar shoots your current weapon to the right. Your health consists of the remaining health of your family members–you’ll generally start with twelve hearts, four for each of your three family members, and any time your wagon runs into something, you’ll lose a heart. There are some opportunities to heal your characters, but if one dies they’re gone forever. Other levels are done on foot, where you can fire in any of the four cardinal directions with the arrow keys, but you only have the hearts of one person instead of three. The game’s over when all your family members die.
Your standard weapon is a pistol, but you can pick up random weapon drops to help you out from the expected like shotguns and rifles, to the less expected like flame throwers, swords, missile launchers, and even air strikes.
The game is hard, but also super fun, and entertaining. When one of your family members die, a horrifically funny explanation of their death shows on the screen. By unlocking certain achievements, you can unlock special wagons that have their own special weapons or other attributes. My favorite is the wagon that comes with a falcon as a weapon–that falcon is badass–not only beating up enemies, but carries back any animal carcasses (which can be used as currency if you run into fur traders).
Besides the main story option, there’s also survival modes with their own challenges to keep you busy.
Old school low res pixel art, but perfect for the whole setup and tone of the game.
Likewise, nothing modern by any means, but perfect for this game. I particular liked the low quality synthesized voice exclamations.
This game is super hard in a way appropriate for games of its era. Hard in a fun way. I’ve only made it through the game a couple of times, and have failed to make it through probably ten times more than that. Great challenge, and the random ordering of the scenes both keeps you on your toes, and so that even if there’s one scene you can never get past, you still have a chance.
Haha, um, well, things definitely happen. Crazy, anachronistic fun stuff. Good for a silly laugh
You’ll want to make sure you have a bit of a stretch of a time to play, because you can’t save in progress. Then again, you’ll probably die before too long anyway, so…
Easy to learn, hard to master. WASD for movement. Spacebar to fire your weapon when you’re in the wagon. Arrow keys to fire in four directions.
Lots of potential for replay. The levels are randomized, and the occasional branching choice lets you split the possibility. Not only that, but new wagons can be unlocked by getting certain achievements, which have their own unique weapons or movement.
Extremely original, taking a classic game that everybody loved and expanding all the good parts to a ridiculous degree. Everything is pitch perfect, starting with the absolutely perfect title.
It took me 2-3 hours to get all the way through the game the first time, after many tries–and even that was only by unlocking the amazing falcon wagon which made the game much easier. If you’re inclined to unlock all the different wagons and try to beat all the different scenes, you’ve got many, many hours of gameplay ahead of you.
The list price on Steam is $3. If you played Oregon Trail, or if the game sounds at all appealing from this description, it’s an easy buy that will provide much more entertainment than the price tag suggests. An easy buy, and you won’t regret it.