By Jaime Skelton (MissyS), Editor-in-Chief
The Oregon Trail has always held a special charm for many aged gamers (a group I reluctantly include myself in), many of whom played their first computer games in black and green. In fact, my first gaming memory is sitting around a small, monochrome, portable TV with my parents, trekking down the trail and shooting buffalo as only a toddler can. And so it is that the lure of the deadly open road has always called me in each inspired video game iteration.
Death Road to Canada is not a new game, having debuted on PC in 2016 and having sat on my Steam Wishlist for nearly as long. When I heard its announcement for console – particularly the Switch – I was thrilled for the local (and mobile) couch co-op potential. While DRTC as a whole has been extremely satisfying, the greatest hope I had for the Switch edition left me slightly disappointed.
I am the destroyer.
Death Road to Canada is a modern take on The Oregon Trail, similar in vein to Organ Trail. The player(s) control a party of one to four characters, who travel northward from Florida toward Canada to flee the zombie apocalypse. Along the way, the party must scavenge for and manage supplies, endure sieges, trade at markets, and improve their skills in order to cross the snowy border.
Unlike its predecessors, DRTC supports both randomly generated characters and custom characters. You can create up to 80 custom characters, each with their own appearance, perk, and trait. While these will still appear in game with some randomized attributes, their core settings will remain the same. Making custom characters is more important than simply creating your family for giggles; some perks and traits will only appear on characters if they have been custom created. The game also features rare special characters which have their own unique boosts or equipment.
Definitely not copyrighted. Definitely a parody.
Multiple game modes are available to play and unlock. The basic modes are a standard 15-day trip to Canada, featuring random characters, custom characters only, or rare characters only. Additional modes build on this with increased difficulty and varying trip lengths, unlocked through completing previous modes. One ultimate mode, K*E*P*A, lays for the truly hardcore challengers.
One key feature throughout gameplay is the Zombo Point, found and unlocked randomly through events and scavenging missions. These offer a level of meta progression, and can be spent through the game’s main menu on unlocking and upgrading perks, traits, and additional bonuses in future games. DRTC also offers you an easy way to erase your custom characters, your earned bonuses, or both – if you really want to reset.
Tryin’ to play like, Unomey.
The end result is a fun-strating (you know, frustrating while still being fun? fun-strating) romp that’s good in short bursts or in long binges, full of memes, parodies, and creeps. With the wide variety of perks and traits, there’s no “best” character, and with the wide variety of game modes, there’s always a new challenge to try. Plus there’s nothing like the exultation felt when you cross that Mounty-line, especially as a swift Shiba Inu barreling through zombies just to win. Wow. Such snow. Much moose.
Bringing a Switch-blade to a Zed-Fight
As stated, Death Road to Canada is not a new game, but its presence on the Switch is. Small indie titles thrive on the Nintendo console which, while it has its share of new releases, truly thrives on making great titles from PC and console available on a more portable and flexible game console. So how does DRTC find its place in the virtual title amusement park?
Nothing like a shopping trip at Y’all Mart with Octo-Dad. I mean, Recruit.
Quite fabulously, if there was any doubt. The retro-styled graphics render beautifully on the Switch’s built in screen, but also translate well onto a connected TV. The game’s controls are simple enough to learn quickly and don’t require elaborate button presses (by default, even the shoulder buttons go unused). And, outside of one technical hitch I encountered, caused by the Switch’s sleep mode (fixed in the latest patch), DRTC runs effortlessly without a second of lag time.
There is one place where the Switch port fell short, however: co-op controls. While they are fully functional, they are a bundle of small shortcomings that make the experience less than perfect. To start with, the split Joy-Con mode (using each half of the Switch Controller as individual controllers) is simply awkward for sideways, standard-controller play. This is the console’s short comings: one player will suffer the awkwardness of their buttons being in the middle of the controller, while the other must deal with similar discomfort with the D-pad being in the center.
Actual couch-conversations here.
However, Ukiyo Publishing could have looked to address other issues with local co-op in DRTC. One of these is the fact that there is no “priority” player or voting system on decisions; the game will simply accept a decision from the first person to make it. Not only can this lead to some awkward moments trying to manage inventory before a siege, it also means that a player can monopolize choices and grief other players by preventing them from making decisions. The second player’s cursor selection also disappears off screen when their controller is not actively in use, which, while reducing screen clutter, also led to some confusion as to whether a second player was still “in the game.”
The last thing I must emphasis with DRTC‘s co-op mode is that it simply is unwelcoming on the Switch’s built-in screen. On a TV or large-screen, there’s plenty of room to relax. But two players crowding close around a six-inch screen, trying to find their character in a hoard of zombies, led to a lot of literal head-butting. It’s a great game on the go, but only if you’re solo.
I know that you wanna be Canadian…
Final Verdict: 4.5/5 (Great)
There’s no argument that Death Road to Canada is a fantastic “road trip simulator,” and its availability on the Switch has not diminished its quality. DRTC features remarkable replayability, worth sinking dozens or even hundreds of hours into. The Switch is a perfect platform for the game, and brings a new level of portability and flexibility to the experience. Only a few small flaws in the design of the multiplayer experience, most notably the unfortunate ability for anyone to hog the controls and decisions, mar this zed-smashing experience.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.
Death Road to Canada (Switch Version) Screenshots