XBLIndie review: Super Amazing Wagon Adventure

You’re the first character, of course. Who else would you be? You give him your name and face, then name the two others. Maybe they’re your best friends, maybe your girlfriend, maybe her cat. You’re travelling westward. Manifest destiny and stuff. Covered wagons, bonnets, oxen.

Things will go wrong. That’s the nature of your journey. Bandits roam the trail. Wolves. Snakes. Bears.

Unicorns.

Your three settlers have a hard road ahead. Sometime between your mom stumbling drunk into a campfire and your best friend dying of bee stings, something extraordinary happens. Maybe you decide that leaping a river is smarter than fording it, and a strong wind carries your wagon into orbit. Maybe your shooting causes a prairie fire, turning buffalo herds into raging fireballs. Maybe you find love.

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure strips Oregon Trail of everything but hunting and randomized perils, leaving in its wake an awfully intelligent shooter with vicious storytelling potential.

The story succeeds largely because it’s so personal. Faux-Atari visuals abstract the travellers enough to convincingly replicate friends and family, and the clinical yet sardonic narration elicits laughter and twinges of unease as they die horribly. The peril’s fun to watch, and spectators will root for their character, cheering heroics and mourning deaths. Personal stakes are involved. Fake real people are dying.

Everything else is dying too, often en masse. Machinegun massacred scores of squirrels pop into ponds of red pixels. Incinerated aliens leave blackened bodies and scattered ash. Bandits take revolver shots, falling dead off their horses, which are then also shot. The animals are skinned, the bandits forgotten.

The hyperviolence doesn’t feel sleazy, though. The throwback graphics, gallows humor, and electrotune soundtrack coalesce into energetic self-awareness. Fusing Oregon Trail with classic shooter action makes it the sort of ur-game that idealizes fun for fun’s sake, apolitical and inoffensive despite the legions of dead everything. Super Amazing Wagon Adventure just wants you to smile.

The one real shame is that the story soon begins to feel prescribed. Every game starts and ends the same way, with many of the same story beats. What’s genuinely surprising the first few games soon becomes formulaic.

With more variety, Super Amazing Wagon Adventure would be a storytelling powerhouse, endlessly replayable and exciting. Instead, there are just enough silly, shocking, and sentimental moments to make this a stand-out. When your long journey’s through and you gaze over that endless shoreline, you’ll always remember the people you loved and how they got speared to death by narwhals.

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