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Review CornerSoftware
The Oregon Trail 5th Edition
Rating: Rating
The Bottom Line
This educational simulation software invites children to step back in time and embark on a journey along the Oregon Trail. As they manage their wagon party and supplies and make decisions in the face of obstacles, they develop research, planning, and deductive reasoning skills.
 Award of Excellence
Ages: 9-up   Subject: History/Thinking Skills  Brand: The Learning Company/Riverdeep
Review Sections: Product Overview  Technically Speaking  Skills Covered  Educational Value  Entertainment Value  Design  Replayability  Dollar Value
Oregon Trail 5th Edition Product Overview
This update of a classic history simulation boasts some new additions to an already excellent educational tool. The Oregon Trail 5th Edition puts children in the role of emigrants on a westward journey in history. Decision-making is the key to success along the trail, and key history facts are learned throughout the adventure.

Through cartoon vignettes and diary entries, children are introduced to the Montgomery children (Cassie, Parker, and Jimmy), who are heading west to join their Pa in Oregon City. Children can jump right into their own journey by selecting "Quick Start", which auto-selects players' traveling companions, supplies, starting point (for example, Independence), destination (for example, Sacramento River Valley), type of wagon train, and more. Alternatively, players can invest some time into creating their own character profile and setting up their wagon party. There are three difficulty levels to choose from -- Greenhorn, the easiest level, assigns the major decisions to a captain, while children take on the captain's responsibilities in the Adventurer level. The most difficult level, Trail Guide, is extremely challenging and best attempted once players have completed their trek on lower levels.

Players refer to a guidebook for helpful advice and their itinerary. They are able to keep their own record of their adventure in the program's diary feature. They can adjust things like their travel pace (either 8, 10, or 12+ hours per day), and rations (bare bones, meager, filling).

Children are faced with assorted challenges in their journey along the trail, including problems like extreme heat, a tipped wagon, and wagon party members falling ill. When Mildred's injuries have become infected, for example, players are given a list of possible courses of action. Should they continue as usual, increase rations, or clean and dress the wound? People they meet along the way give them advice, such as "don't be too hard on your animals" (or else they won't carry you the full distance), and "take small doses of camomile tea". Players engage in hunting, gathering, and fishing simulations along the trail, stop at major landmarks, and encounter various hazards (in the form of bad weather, disease, and other setbacks).

In order to succeed in their journey, players must pay close attention to their wagon party's health status and the supplies they have on hand. Decisions players make almost always involve trade-offs. For example, selecting meager rations means food supplies will last longer, but it can compromise the health and morale of the wagon party. Decisions regarding how to cross rivers and hills will depend on the conditions of these physical obstacles (for example, the steepness of the hill), in addition to players' own budget and schedule. Players automatically stop at these obstacles, as well as at major landmarks. They have the option to stop at towns and forts to purchase more supplies, make trades, or simply to have a look around.

New to this edition is the introduction of the Montgomery family characters. Children watch the children's journey westward unfold through a series of cartoon movies. Journal entries and stories around the campfire are engaging. At the same time, this story line adds richness to the program's educational value and offers children more insight into the challenges that faced real-life people in history.

This program is challenging and engrossing. This is not a typical game in that children will need to be very involved and have persistence in order to make it to the end. Real-life hardships are depicted in the game, and deaths of wagon party members do happen.

Technically Speaking
Minimum system requirements are Windows 95/98/Me/2000, Pentium-class 266 MHz, 32 MB of RAM, 8X CD-ROM, and 28 MB of hard drive space.

Skills Covered
Children develop thinking, problem-solving, deductive reasoning, and strategic thinking skills as they absorb history facts and learn about major landmarks.

Educational Value
As children challenge their strategic thinking and problem-solving skills, they learn about the trials that faced the real-life emigrants. This program is a rich educational tool because it immerses children in a simulation that demands much thought and involvement. Children are also required to do quite a bit of reading and researching in order to accomplish the program's goals.

Entertainment Value
The addition of the unfolding story of the Montgomery children's journey helps boost the appeal of the program. The graphics in the actual simulation leave something to be desired, however. Children looking for a program that is more entertaining than educational will be disappointed.

The interface is generally easy to understand and navigation is clear.

Accomplishing the goals of the program requires quite a bit of effort and will take some time for those children who maintain interest in following through to the end. For some children, the program's three difficulty levels help extend the life of the program -- the game can be played at a higher difficulty level once a lower level has been mastered. Because the program is a simulation, every new game offers new challenges, and the possibilities are endless.

Dollar Value
The suggested retail price for this program is approximately $25 US.

Released: 2002
Reviewed: May 2002