When Bryan got Civ 5 and became engrossed in that, I returned to my game of Dragon Age: Origins which I last played a few months ago. I'd restarted because about 25% into my original playthrough, I realised that I'd created an avatar with insane, staring eyes and it just looked ludicrous in all the cutscenes, (especially those tender moments with Alistair)! It's just as much fun this second time around; instead of playing a mage, I decided to be a dual-wielding Berserker Champion - although I always love blasting things from a distance, it's nice to be able to take the lead when exploring rather than hanging back cautiously. I've just done the Circle Tower again and it's quite odd how I feel nostalgic about the place because I went through it for the mage origin story. I suppose it's similar to how I used to have dreams where I'd be running around the Ramp Room of the Well map in Quakeworld Team Fortress, it's funny how you can feel like you've been in fictional places if you think about them often and long enough!
I recently spotted Pipe Mania for the DS and as a used copy was only $5, pounced on it. I've enjoyed that game since university, I fed a great many coins into the Pipe Dream arcade machine in my halls of residence, and a few years ago Bioshock's hacking minigame had also reminded me of how much I'd enjoyed that game. This version is not bad, the grid feels a little pokey (yes I know the screen is small) and the characters introduced to give the game a bit of story feel unnecessary to me. I'm looking for a simple Pipe Dream game, not a story-driven epic!
Professor Layton and the Unwound Future - no surprises here, this offers a good selection of puzzles in a beautifully-drawn, gentle setting and the new mini-games are a good diversion from the main game. Not much more to say about this game as it's just as good at its predecessors - no news is good news!
I've been hearing about Oregon Trail for years, the educational game about the pioneers that settled the West, so when I saw it in London Drugs one day, I picked it up. It's in its fifth incarnation, and looking at screenshots of the previous versions, it's been updated nicely. You have a range of starting options, you can choose the year your story starts, the town in the East that you begin in, and your destination city in the West. The previous occupation you specify is a representation of the difficulty level of the game - say, if you were banker, you start out with a great deal more money than if you had been an artist. The different occupations also have zero or more skills associated with them, for example if you have the cooking skill you will gain slightly more nutrition from your food items. Another difficulty factor determines whether you are responsible for only those people in your wagon, or whether you lead the entire wagon train.
At the beginning of the game, if you choose not to buy a standard starter supplies pack, you spend time in town chatting with people, trading with them if you want, or browsing through the stores to stock up your wagon. This was quite fun, and interesting to see all the spices and medicines available at that period of history. I decided instead to just go shopping for myself because it would probably be more interesting to see what kind of predicaments gaps in my buying would create.
The first thing I learned was that it's very important to know how to cross rivers in the absence of a bridge. I lost a great amount of supplies due to all the multiple times my wagon tipped over trying to ford a river. It was also important not to rely on what we were carrying, and make sure that we had hunting equipment, in case we took longer between towns or lost supplies through mishap. At certain points during the journey, there are cut scenes involving the main characters, another chance to learn more about people and places in this period of American history.
Overall, it's definitely a fun and educational game, I'm looking forward to sharing a future version of it with the little man (it'll probably be a fully immersive 3D version with smell-o-vision by that time!) Oh and now I also get the joke with those t-shirt depicting a covered wagon and the caption "You died of dysentery"!