Cherokee Trails

Review by Toger
November 2002

"The Trail Where They Cried"

As darkness falls at the flea market, you and your friends gather around the campfire to hear another of Lynetta's stories. Because she is getting old and has no children, she feels that she must tell the story of how her people, the Cherokee, were forced to leave their enchanted lands in Georgia and move to the Indian territories.

The United States Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. The Cherokee attempted to fight the removal by creating an independent Cherokee Nation and by legally challenging the law in the Supreme Court. In 1832, Justice John Marshall decreed that the Cherokee Nation was sovereign and would have to agree to a treaty in order to be removed from their land. In 1835, a small minority of the divided and despondent Cherokee Nation agreed to the Treaty of New Echota, thus giving President Jackson the authority he needed to begin the removal of the Cherokee to the Indian territories, in what is now present-day Oklahoma.

The Cherokee were given no time to gather their possessions or the provisions necessary to make the long journey. Men, women and children were crowded into makeshift forts, then forced to march 900 miles with minimal supplies. Approximately one-third of the Cherokee making the journey died as a result of the removal. The route they traveled and the journey itself became known as "The Trail of Tears" or, translated directly from Cherokee, "The Trail Where They Cried."

With this story fresh in your mind, your party is magically transported to the past to retrace the steps of those who have passed before you.

Shop 'Til You Drop

Cherokee Trails' in-game mechanics couldn't get any simpler. Classic point-and-click with a difference: No pixel hunting! No squinting of the eyes or scrunching of the nose trying to see objects blended into the background. A left-click anywhere on a screen in the flea market, and you're shopping. Click on a screen where you interact with a person or animal, and you're hearing a story or trading, plus you can save anywhere in the game. Can't get out of the flea market to begin your adventure? There's a walkthrough included on the game CD. The game plays from the CD with only a small game file and your save games going to the hard drive. It played flawlessly on my ancient, wheezing rig: PII 300 MHz, Win95b, 192 MB RAM.

The game begins in the flea market. Here you can browse the eight or ten different shops and stalls to purchase items for your journey. As you visit each shop, click on the proprietor to hear a short speech. With the exception of Lynetta, most shop owners won't say much. They're limited either to greetings or a tiny blurb on what they have to sell. When you meet Lynetta in her shop, she will tell you another Cherokee fable and, perhaps, give you a box.

Clicking anywhere in the shop or on stall contents causes a pop-up box to appear, in which you can purchase various items. Most shops have at least two or three screens of goodies to buy: t-shirts, candy, horse riding equipment, seeds, flowers, souvenirs, fruit, etc. Purchasing from the flea market is simplicity itself. The pop-up screen lists the items on the left with the prices to the right. A drop-down box allows you to adjust the quantity of each item, and a running total is displayed at the lower right. When you're ready to buy, just click the "purchase" button. You'll also see how much money you have left after each purchase.

Left your credit card at home, did you? Not to worry, you'll receive $400 to spend. Of course, if you decide to go hog wild and spend all your money at the flea market, a warning will appear telling you you've spent too much and to save some money for the trading posts. Most, if not all, of the items purchased at the flea market are for trading with people or animals that you meet along the trail. When you've bought all that you think you'll need, it's time to begin the journey. As you leave the flea market, you'll get a message that you won't be able to return once you leave and are you really sure you want to do this. (If you don't leave, you won't have an adventure, will you? Onward!)

Wagons Ho!

Cherokee Trails is presented in the first-person view. The game screens are static photographs with the animation doing its thing on top. The animations within this game are all excellently done. The lip synchronization between the visuals and the audio is superb! I found myself watching the characters' faces and listening, like you do when you're talking to a live person, more than reading the texts provided. The scenery was beautiful. It made me feel as if I was taking a walk in a beautiful wooded area. In areas where you could fish, I wanted to stay forever—if I were really into fishing—as they were peaceful and soothing. At some fishing holes you'll encounter deer, geese, beavers, wolves, snakes and bugs, all going about their own lives as if you didn't exist.

Did I mention the skeletons? You're asking, "What do skeletons have to do with the Trail of Tears?" Well, since you're dealing with spirits on the trail, doesn't it make sense to encounter skeletons manning the trading posts? Each skeleton has its own personality. Among other things, you'll find them playing chess, strumming a guitar, showing off a huge red bow tie and putting a flower in a vase. Half the fun of going to the trading post is seeing what the skeleton will do!

All of the voice work was very well done. There were lots of different voices and personalities. Who knew that bears, wolves and birds had that kind of personality? All speech is subtitled, except when talking to the flea market vendors. There isn't a lot of dialogue in the game à la The Longest Journey; when you meet up with a spirit or animal, clicking on it initiates a short speech about things it saw or heard as the Cherokee passed through. The animals usually have a fable and/or wisdom to impart instead of a memory. Once its speech is finished, you click on that character again in order to trade with it. And you'll want to trade with most people or animals as that's how you'll acquire the ointments, unguents and herbs you'll need to heal the sick or injured.

There isn't a lot of music during the game. During the beginning cutscene when Lynetta is telling her story, you'll hear Cherokee chanting and singing, along with drum sounds. Ambient sounds in the game include geese, deer drinking water, fish splashing and frogs jumping from rock to rock. Music for the rest of the game consists of a jaunty little fiddle tune that plays when you're outside a trading post and, for the balance of the game, a short, upbeat melody. During times of disaster, you'll hear a crash of music for emphasis.

Are We There Yet?

You'll hear that emphatic disaster or hardship music at just about every turn, too! There are wolf and bear attacks, snake bites, drowning, exposure to the elements, pneumonia, frostbite, severe cases of poison ivy/oak, cholera and hunger. The horses can take ill. The wagon can overturn in a river crossing and dump most of your supplies. Snow and thunderstorms will slow your progress or stop it all together.

When one of your party has met with disaster, you'll be given the chance to cure him. There are varying degrees of cures ranging from just keeping the person warm all the way up to curing her with various herbs, rubs or ointments—if you have them. The game will keep track of what you have and offer only those options that apply to your situation. For instance, if you don't have cayenne pepper to cure frostbite, then you can only choose between two different methods of warming the afflicted person's feet. You can check the status of your companions at any time during the game.

Hungry? You'll need to eat on this long arduous journey, and there are no McDonalds along the way! Feeding the hungry horde in your wagon becomes an all-consuming task. Keeping a reserve of fish is important. If you don't fish at every opportunity, the horde will eat all of the stores purchased from the trading posts—and the trading posts are few and far between. Once the trading post stores are gone, people will have to forage for food and that will slow you down, if it doesn't stop you completely. By checking your inventory you'll be able to see your game reserves, remaining trading post items, traded items and flea market finds.

On top of all that, there is the all-important time element. Yes, Virginia, the entire game is timed, albeit in a very unobtrusive manner. Little white dots will steadily march across the top of the screen. If they reach the end of the bar before you've reached Oklahoma, the spell is broken and everyone comes home. Game over. If anyone dies, it's game over as well. On the up side regarding the possibility of dying, you can save anywhere. So if you're not sure what option to choose when crossing the Big Muddy, save before you make a decision.

I can tell that you want to ask about the replay value of Cherokee Trails. This is a great game to replay! Not only will you experience things that you hadn't in previous games, you'll also be able to try to improve upon your previous score. (Oh yes, you're scored in this game as well. Feeling pressured?) I've played this game three times, once with another twisted adult and twice by myself. The first time, we made it into Arkansas before we ran out of time. The second time, I was so overwhelmed by disasters that I only made it 25 days into the journey before someone died. (I only scored 5 points for that game!) The third time, I ran out of time at the Oklahoma/Arkansas border.

Is That Your Final Answer?

Is this an edutainment title? Yes. Will you have fun with the game? Absolutely!

The purpose of the game is to teach you about the tribulations that the Cherokee faced on this not-so-fun cross-country walk, and it does that marvelously. On the other hand, you will be entertained by the presentation of the story itself, the animation, the trading post skeletons and listening to the bizarre little stories that the animals have to tell. You will be amazed at the lip-synching and dance to the jaunty little tunes. Aaand you'll tear your hair out trying to keep your friends alive long enough to reach your final destination. The fact that I became obsessed with keeping that horde of locusts in my wagon alive is enough to garner a star from me! (Don't feel too badly if you want to offload said locusts by the side of the road after they've been bitten by wolves three times, gotten frostbite four times and eaten all the food. I won't tell.)

Now if you'll excuse me ... I have a wagon party to lead to Oklahoma and this time I'm gonna make it! The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Pharos Games
Publisher: Pharos Games
Release Date: October 4, 2002

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 95/98/ME/XP/2000
Pentium II or equivalent
800x600 screen resolution
MP3-capable soundcard

Where to Find It

Pharos Games 15.00 alone or 24.95 with four other games

Prices/links current as of 11/12/02
Links provided for informational purposes only. FFC makes no warranty with regard to any transaction entered into by any party(ies).

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No reproduction in whole or in part without express written permission.