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Published: Thursday, 3/8/2012

Oregon Trail bogs down; NCIS a big yawn


As a child in the 1980s, playing The Oregon Trail on an Apple II computer was my entry into video games. I've never looked back, but never forgotten that glorious game where you pack up your family (or friends) and head west for greener pastures. If a little typhoid came through and took out your annoying little sister, those were the breaks, and you might have gotten a good chuckle from it.

A new version of this pioneering adventure has arrived for the Wii, and it feels stuck in the 16-bit era of its three-decade-old predecessor. Poor visuals, faulty controls, and a severe lack of updating the gameplay mar what should be modern retelling of a classic.

Much of the original game is preserved: You start off in Independence, Mo., stocking up on supplies and venturing forth into the wild unknown. Trials and tribulations occur, from roaming bandits to broken axles. Disease and injury are regular occurrences and there's the chance to hunt for wild game to boost food supplies.

None of this is presented or plays well, however. Hunting and gathering is more luck than skill, while visually the game looks drab and lifeless. In the original it was expected because of the limits of technology; now, it comes across as something scraped together with rock-bottom effort.

In the 1800s, families risked life and fortune for the chance to explore the untamed West. The Oregon Trail feels akin to riding along with the Donner Party instead of celebrating the American spirit of adventure. For a wittier, more modern take on this classic, I suggest searching the Internet for The Organ Trail, a fantastic zombie spoof that delivers much more humor and nostalgic glee.


Having never watched an episode of NCIS, I can't speak to its success or failure as a procedural show about investigating murders and other crimes. As a game critic, however, I can unquestionably deem the video game inspired by the show an unmitigated disaster.

The board game Sorry! delivers more drama. The same repetitive investigation techniques, the same easy-to-spot criminals, and the comatose-inducing presentation are but a selection of the errors running rampant here.

Four mysteries are presented. Populated by characters from the show, each case can be solved in about an hour. There is zero replay value.

Investigating the crime scenes is a chore; moving furniture, taking photos, and other detective-y activities make Carmen Sandiego feel like legit sleuthing. Everything is stiff, like the corpse in the corner. Once you get back to the lab for forensic work, you will need more than just a few chugs of this Caf-Pow drink the Goth tech woman can't seem to get enough of.

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