It has been over two decades since I have played the game Oregon Trail or anything like it for that matter. I absolutely loved the idea of surviving a long and treacherous journey while maintaining my food, water, items and friends. I always felt that there should be another game like this. Death Road to Canada tests this idea in a modern time and adds zombies… lots and lots of zombies.
Death Road to Canada, now ported to the Nintendo Switch, was originally released on PC, Mac and Linux back in July of 2016. Skip ahead two years later and of course we see it on one of the best portable consoles of this generation. What game doesn’t come out for this platform? It really is becoming impressive.
This game is a 2D RPG, action and micro-management type experience where you find yourself, and a few friends along the way, trying to get from one side of the United States all the way up to Canada. You must stop at various locations littered with zombies to collect food, gas, ammo, medicine and many other items to ensure you survive the journey.
There are multiple modes to play out of the gate but your obvious choice is the basic normal story mode. The other modes include Familiar Characters mode (running into your custom-created characters more often), Rare Character mode (running into silly/funny characters more often), Short Trip to Heck mode (less time to get to Canada, which means less time to prepare), Long-Winding Road mode (more time) and other unlockable modes that we will leave you to discover.
Let’s get this out of the way. You will die and you will die a lot. It is just a given with this type of game. Some items are hard to come by and you find yourself running around panicked that you can’t find a specific item. Your hesitation is enough to cause death. You are responsible for not only yourself but also the other people, or animals, you pick up along the trek. Yes, you can switch between players and control whomever you want but we will just stick with saying you as in the player.
The RPG element of this game is simple. You can upgrade medical, mechanical, and strength among other such skill sets. The more skill points you give a character, the easier time they have of doing a specific task giving you a better chance of survival.
The cast of characters you encounter are, for the most part, forgettable. You end up just allowing people to tag along without thinking twice about their skill set. Yes this can hurt you in the end but I continuously just wanted all the animals to come with me. Save the animals, save the world. Sometimes you can pick up a stranger that is actually toxic to your group and you will regret your choice immediately. There are even vendors along your travels that you can speak to and trade items with. All that looting ends up paying off if you need more of something specific.
As satisfying as it is to constantly kill everything in sight it is actually more strategic to avoid a lot of the enemies and stick to collecting while running away. Most of the time your group will do the attacking for you so focus on loot and only attack when necessary. This conserves your ammo and helps you get what you need as fast as you can. Sometimes you won’t have this option because of “Seige” events, which pit you and your group against an incoming onslaught of zombies that you must survive, but those don’t happen too often.
You also have a vehicle that you must maintain. This vehicle can run out of gas, which means you have to leave it on the side of the road and walk until you find another car. The vehicles come in many different types such as grubby cars to big vans to hilarious Hot Dog vendors. It is your job to try and find gas for the vehicle and have it repaired when needed or else you will be left walking. Walking takes longer and means you encounter more zombies and sleepless nights. These can all drain your group of morale so that is also something to keep track of just in case there wasn’t enough. If you don’t have high morale then group members can act out and become a problem.
Death Road to Canada has a lot of reading. You will be bombarded with text boxes of dialogue and story trees, which you must choose a resolution much like a choose-your-own adventure title. Make the wrong choice and you could end up killing your entire group. The dialogue becomes cheesy at points and you will probably end up skipping through a lot of it without much thought but it does give some context to who these people are and why they exist.
The audio is great. The classic upbeat music will instantly put you in a good mood and make the zombie killing sprees that much more satisfying. I have a love for 2D music choices and this game doesn’t disappoint.
Last but not least the game features a much-needed cooperative mode. Have another set of controllers? Fight some zombies and loot some buildings with a friend. This game is double the amount of fun with someone to enjoy the experience with. You can actually put more thought into the survival of a character when it is someone you actually know in real life controlling them. I definitely recommend doing this.
Death Road to Canada brings the good and the bad to the Nintendo Switch. Once again we see a 2D title that has great music with fun and engaging gameplay. On the other hand we get screwed by RNG on a near-perfect run and lose the want to play another round. Depends on how you look at it. If you are even remotely interested in Oregon Trail and want to try your hand at another round of surviving the elements, this game is for you.