Here’s another game that I picked up in the dollar section of a Super Target store (along with one of every other software title on offer since, hey, they were only a dollar each and none of them are in MobyGames– thus, they shall all be highlighted here eventually). The box copy promises “A wild rainforest adventure that builds real-life skills” and proceeds to name those skills. I could plagiarize the list here, or I could let you figure them out as this review continues. The title seemed somewhat familiar and indeed, the game is the spiritual successor of The Oregon Trail. I remember being enthralled by that game when I had the brief opportunity to watch some friend’s brother play it on that family’s Apple ][ computer. Though I think my fascination was borne more out of a longing to experience some video game — any video game — at my young age vs. any particular gameplay strengths along that game’s eponymous trail.
Enough of the past, let’s see what’s on tap for the future, where future is roughly circa 1998, which I believe is when this game was first published. When Amazon Trail kicks off, there is a rapid FMV sequence where you enter into a museum and some Amazon artifact with a jaguar head comes to life. The jaguar head implores you to go explore the Amazon, its regional flora and fauna, as well as its indigenous peoples — both good and evil. During a nicely-rendered flyover of the river, the jag also mentions that I will seek out the ancient people and that they will have a message for me to deliver to the world about the Amazon. 100-to-1 says that it’s a message about rainforest preservation. Here’s the intro video:
So after this museum-induced trip, you wind up in Belém, port city at the mouth of the Amazon river. I find myself looking at a storekeeper and a ragtag selection of 4 Amazon guides. Why do I need a guide at all? Because I don’t even know how I made it to Belém in the first place. And, as each guide is quick to point out, the storekeeper will refuse to sell me supplies unless I have taken on a guide. I smell some shady business dealings here but the game doesn’t allow me to lodge a complaint with the Belém Better Business Bureau, so I proceed along the expected path and interview each candidate. It’s painful to watch and listen to any of them act as if they belong here. But I am convinced that they are supposed to emphasize unique characteristics within the game and I select the guy who looks like he could actually survive in the Amazon. Now the storekeeper will give me the time of day. Fortunately, there’s not much picking to do– there are 4 supply package deals that, if I were a guessing man, appear to be tailored to the advice of each of the 4 guides. I take my guide’s advice on the matter and I’m off.
The above screenshot showcases the main canoe screen, where you might spend entirely too much time if you don’t find other diversions. One such diversion is the book icon. That leads to a mini multimedia encyclopedia of Amazon-related knowledge. Birds, bugs, beasts, plants, people, first aid tips– each with pictures and pronunciation tips. I immediately develop more interest in this vs. the actual game — or most games in this experiment, for that matter. There is also a journal for writing. Ugh. This all makes it sound a little too academic even though I already know it’s supposed to be an educational game. I hope there won’t be a test on this stuff later.
Here’s another activity you can select from the canoe– exploring:
You are thrust into a patch of rainforest. Creatures prance back and forth (including a jaguar– should that be cause for concern?) and there are plants that just sort of hang there. You can take pictures and the game asks if you would like to file them in your photo gallery. Before it will do so, you must first correctly identify what you just snapped. A-ha! So there will be a test! It’s a good thing I just read that a banana is also called a plantain as the game allowed me to pick the bunch and add them to my fruit storage. Though it turns out this can also be gamed– you are always presented the correct answer along with 3 random wrong choices, so on the second chance try to remember which option you also saw on the previous round.
Back in the canoe, things are pretty slow-going. I keep checking the micro- and macro-level maps and it doesn’t seem like we’re even moving. Ostensibly, though, we are, and I even manually up the pace. Nothing much seems to be happening. I ask for a status report from the guide. What?! We’ve been at this for 20 days? We’ve already burned through half of our 100 lbs of fish? I don’t even like fish that much. And why are they measuring using lbs in Brazil, anyway? Well, let’s check out this fishing screen:
This is probably the most action-oriented segment that I saw. You use a harpoon from the supply lot to spear one of those aquatic silhouettes. Caught me a 2.7-pounder, I did. 2.7 lbs of fish-based nourishment for the expedition’s supply pile, that is.
So, I’m not sure exactly where the game is supposed to proceed from here. There is something about proceeding down the river, learning more about the culture and environment, avoiding snakebites, and also trading for more supplies. I wondered exactly what I’m supposed to trade with. My food for more food? Actually, it seems that one of the items in the general supply package was a quantity of something called “trading packets”. Novel.
I set the game on the easiest level available as is my custom for this experiment. I’m not doing this for challenge. I am doing it for a quick investigation and to gather data suitable for MobyGames, however, and to that end, I captured screenshots of all the credit screens. This sequence perhaps inadvertantly outlines the entire game as it credits the actors, their characters and at which junctures they appear in the game. Teddy Roosevelt shows up along the Madeira River.
Major spoiler: Yep, I called it. I found the ending FMV sequence and the spirits of the ancients descend to tell you to tell everyone else to, pretty please, not cut down the rainforests.