Review: The Oregon Trail Handheld (Basic Fun, 2018)
As one of the most popular educational computer games of all-time – heck, one of the most popular computer games of all-time – it’s not surprising that The Oregon Trail has popped up again as memes, tchotkes, and hip card games. But a full-featured, stand-alone, mass market handheld game? In 2018?
Although seeming like an early April Fool’s joke, this Target-exclusive handheld from Basic Fun is quite real. Retailing for just $24.99, it falls strictly into the classic plug and play impulse buy territory.
Although the physical design of this handheld brings to mind a classic Macintosh – The Oregon Trail – which started life in 1971 on an HP 2100 minicomputer, became legendary in the 1980s on the Apple II via MECC, with countless school children vying to stop their wagon-bound avatars from dying of dysentery and finally settle in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Although it’s still unknown as of me writing this review whether this is some type of modified emulation or a new creation (I’m leaning towards the latter), it’s pretty clear that the assets at least are either from or inspired by the 1990 PC DOS version.
The handheld itself is about 5.5″ high, 3.5″ wide, and 1.5″ deep. The full color screen is 2.5″ diagonal. Although this may be a bit small for older eyes, the low resolution visuals should keep things readable for most.
Interestingly, while the physical design says classic Macintosh, the feel of the buttons do bring to mind both mainframes and other classic computers like the aforementioned Apple II. This is definitely a nice, if somewhat intentionally vague, shot of nostalgia.
Besides the screen, the handheld’s other front facing elements include a power button (mock floppy disk), speaker, volume control button, status button (wagon icon), Enter button, Y button, N button, and unusual directional controls. This directional control consists of a four direction, triangular d-pad style control that’s flanked by four discrete diagonal buttons. This setup works well for most in-game situations, save for the hunting screens, where it can prove clumsy.
Surprisingly for this price point, the required three AAA batteries are included and pre-installed. You just need to pull the tab limiter from the back of the handheld and you’re ready to go.
To power on, you press – or “insert” – the mock floppy disk. You’re then shortly greeted by the classic The Oregon Trail options screen, where you can play the game, learn about the game, or see the top scores. Fortunately, this handheld retains the classic game’s full feature-set. In fact, you can even save your progress right from the menu screen, power down, and pick up right where you left off when you return.
There are reports of some players feeling the game is easier than the original (well, the many originals) and that it crashes on occasion, but you always expect some concessions with these cheap plug and play toys. These are obviously not designed, and certainly not sold as, premium experiences. Nevertheless, I’d say this particular product fares better overall than many similar products in the sub-$25 category. I’ve certainly encountered few problems and have minimal complaints, with my nostalgia itch suitably scratched.
- Clever design
- Authentic experience
- Great value
- Includes batteries
- No headphone jack
- Control pad not suitable for every in-game situation
- The control pad and an alphabet menu are the only way to enter extended text
- Might be a bit easier than the original (or maybe we’re just older and smarter?)
- Smaller screen might be a bit tough on older eyes
This handheld does a fantastic job of recreating the classic The Oregon Trail experience.