Let me edutainment you: Gold Rush! (1988)


Back in the murky 80's with neon lights and metal bands with members clad in tight tights Sierra was the master of adventure games. Among its titles was also a game, released in 1988,  about California gold rush, imaginatively titled as Gold Rush!

As it was made with the AGI engine it wasn't a spectacle for the eyes nor the ears, as unlike SCI engine that was already used for King's Quest 4 released the same year, AGI didn't support sound cards or higher resolution graphics. So I guess it was kinda fitting that the remake of Gold Rush!, extra titled with Anniversary released in 2014, also looked like a game that would have looked a bit better released over a decade ago.

Ladies and gents, the man himself. The one, the only, Jerrod!
Gold Rush! always was one of those titles which have puzzled me: it wasn't a good game back then and the remake certainly isn't a good game now, but still it has something strangely appealing about it in its both incarnations. The AGI version has a certain amount of charm with its low-resolution graphics and a clumsy tale about a reporter Jerrod Wilson looking for his long lost brother from the gold fields of California. You'd do timed tasks in order to make the best score and the same time you'd learn something about the hardships and ways to travel to California during the gold rush. There even was some random deaths (totally unfair) which were triggered at certain points of the game just to show that yes, malaria or scurvy were a real threat. The only way past those was to restore the game from an earlier point and try again, hoping for a better result.

The remake, on the other hand, has some appeal about in it in the way how it tries to faithfully bring the old game to the modern audiences. The developers have taken the old game and used it as a blueprint for the modern incarnation, but used mouse driven point and click interface instead of the old parser.

Home sweet home. If you sell it the right time, you'll get a bigger wallet and can get the pretty much whatever route to the gold fields you want.

Though it does have an optional parser mode as well. If you play it that way, it will add some more time to the play time, as trying to guess the right words kind of becomes a puzzle of its own, as the parser isn't very smart. Though I need to point out, that if you are looking for an authentic experience the original is also available on Steam.

Luckily the remake, as far I know, has thrown those random deaths away. But unluckily it still is a game that has the same base design. It's been ages I've played the AGI version, but I'd say it's almost 1:1 the same game. The puzzles are the same, the plot is the same, the locations are the same. The difference is, that instead of low-resolution pixel art, it's now all clunky pre-rendered 3D graphics that would have been more at home in the late 90's. And really, I do think that the original graphics are in many ways more appealing.

The same scene now and then. And personally, I think the sea voyage art was among the better done in the remake.  Sadly enough if you want the original graphics, you'll need to buy the original version of the game, as you can't switch between new and old modes directly from the remake.

Other additions to the game are voice acting and brand new music, neither of which are groundbreaking. The music itself is a nice touch, as the original game was pretty silent with only a couple of PC-beeper tunes, the voice acting, however, is at best so-so. It's not the worst voice acting I've heard in games, but even for a budget title, I've heard much better.

While the ending of the story is always the same, you find your brother and strike gold, there are several ways for Jerrod to reach California. He can take two sea routes, either through Panama or Cape Horn or a cheaper coach trip through the states. The trip you can afford to depend on when you manage to solve all the needed puzzles before the timed finding of gold is announced. Though if you already know the game, you can do all things necessary and get the top amount of money as well as the route you like the best a long time before the game announces gold.

Another day at the office.

 After you reach California by any means, you'll get to look for your brother. You'll get to try your luck looking for gold in order to get the means to find him, by either shovelling the ground or washing in the river. Either way, the California part is the more tedious one, ending with a small maze of a gold mine before you can finally find what you were looking for.

In the end though Gold Rush! is one of those nostalgia titles. I can't see it having a lot of appeal towards modern audiences, but I can see how it could have some appeal had you played it when it originally came out. The remake is also technically a bit clunky, having small bugs here and there, which are probably left unfixed, as I doubt the game will be that big of a seller.

In California, looking to solve the clues your brother has left on his trail.

I don't think it ever was among the best sellers of Sierra's pretty vast catalogue, but I do think some people played it in schools and what not. It's one of those obscure titles which would not be made today, especially the way it is built, had Gold Rush! Anniversary not been a remake of an already existing title.

So, be warned: if you want it, get it at your own risk. I won't promise that you'll like it. The Anniversary edition isn't the best value for money and the original is also a bit expensive for what it is. It is an interesting piece of gaming history though and as it is, maybe it could be used as an edutainment title on how not to design games.

Gold Rush! Anniversary
Gold Rush Classic

The tale ends you finding your brother and a huge cavern of gold. Sadly the game really isn't a gold standard itself.

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