Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Choose your own Super Amazing Wagon Adventure

We'd just made it beyond the Great Plains when, as a token and confession of his love, Flynn gave Poopface a flower. Soon after that Flynn got syphilis. Then, in his weakened state, Flynn died. I think he was devoured by a wolf. Anna died too, although—honestly—I don't at all remember what caused her demise. I'd been through so many different versions of this adventure already, it could have been any number of things. But our story didn't end there. Somehow, against the odds, Poopface survived a river raid of sorts and made it to the coast. And I finally completed the Super Amazing Wagon Adventure.

To say this game is a parody on The Oregon Trail would be both obvious and insufficient. Yes, the game has you shooting buffalo (lots of buffalo … sometimes flaming buffalo) and fording rivers (or, if you prefer, jumping them). It's utterly zany, completely hilarious. But Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is also just a really good, well thought-out game.

The game splits between two primary modes of action. There are the wagon driving portions that involve side-scrolling shooting and dodging. And then there are the segments during which one of your party members sets off on foot and the game becomes a dual-stick shooter. Your journey across the wagon trail is broken up into a bunch of semi-random episodes that last no more than about 30 seconds each.

I say semi-random, because the game actually has a really nice structure that gives the adventure some overall grounding and consistency. Each play through—depending on how long your party survives—will involve a trek through the Great Plains, a mountain pass, a couple of rivers, and more. The precise obstacles you encounter along each stage of the journey, however, will vary. A side quest for exploring a cave might trigger a battle with giant bats during one adventure and giant spiders during the next. Or you might not encounter a cave at all.

Devote a little bit of practice to the game and you might start to develop some strategies. Each animal carcass, if picked up, can potentially be traded for extra health and munitions at certain points in the game. But because some weapons, such as the ray gun, decimate a carcass completely, there might be times when you choose to avoid that particular power-up.

I first got a chance to see this game in action during the Seattle Indies Expo on July 29. And I had a brief chat with the game's developer, who goes by the name sparsevector. Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is actually his first game, and the expo was his first chance to observe the experience of first-time players.There were a lot of interesting games on display, many of which were much shinier than this one, but I think Super Amazing Wagon Adventure was my my personal favorite from the show. It had a kind of instant, mass appeal, mostly attributable to its sense of humor.

It was only upon purchasing the game from the Xbox Live indie games channel that I got to appreciate the actual playing experience. I kept dying and retrying, intent on getting through the entire adventure at least once. Pretty soon it was like something out of The Twilight Zone. Here were these three hapless digital versions of myself, my wife, and some stranger named Poopface, caught in an endless procession of inevitable death and destruction. Each journey, while different, was uncannily familiar. I watched and played as all of these facsimile versions of my party met their gruesome end, unable to stop myself until the wagon adventure gods smiled upon that one Poopface who had given Flynn an STD.

I could have been bitter. I could have turned away in disdain. But it was a beautiful moment. Life had found a way. The sperm had fertilized the egg. Also, I got to unlock the game's “shuffle” mode.

Here's my final recommendation. Buy this game if you:

  • Like an old-school video game challenge.
  • Still enjoy doing Mad Libs.
  • Are looking for a new kind of party game to show off to your snarky friends.

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is currently available on Xbox and will soon be out on PC.

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