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Platforms: MS-DOS/Amiga
Genre: Adventure Game
Developer and Publisher: Sierra On-Line
Release Date: December 23, 1988
ESRB Rating: N/A (ESRB did not exist until 1995)

Warning: This writeup contains some spoilers. Spoilers for a 16-year-old game, to be sure, but spoilers nonetheless.

Gold Rush! has the rather dubious distinction of being one of the last Sierra games to use the Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI), the same game engine originally created for King's Quest's debut on the IBM PCjr in 1984. It was created by Doug and Ken MacNeil (best known for their work on the early King's Quest games), and a large part of the graphical work was done by Robert Heitman, who worked in some capacity on nearly every major Sierra release from 1984 to 1992 (including Quest For Glory I and II, the Laura Bow games, and every King's Quest, Police Quest, Space Quest, and Leisure Suit Larry game from that period). It was released on five 5 1/4" floppy disks and three 3 1/2" disks. (There was only a single boxed version of the game, and it contained both disk sets for whatever reason.) In the game box was also a copy of a 100-page book entitled California Gold by Phyllis and Lou Zauner. This had the dual function of both educating people about the California Gold Rush (which figures heavily into the plot of the game, hence the title) and providing copy protection - before the game started, an old prospector would ask you a "fill in the blank" question which required you to go to such and such page and read a certain paragraph. (If you got it wrong, there was a semi-gruesome scene where you moved your character up to the gallows and he got hanged for stealing.) If you think about it, this was really a bright move; buying a bunch of copies of this book wholesale from the small press that published it probably wasn't any more costly to Sierra than printing a large manual, and it probably deterred people who would otherwise photocopy the manual or transcribe it and propagate it on BBSes and such.

Anyway--

For those not in the know, let me explain briefly what games in the AGI engine were like. The graphics were limited to 16 colors (EGA), and extremely blocky. (I've been told that the PCjr had a different resolution on which the graphics looked a lot better, but this is all secondhand knowledge, and it may be incorrect.) The sound was limited entirely to the PC Speaker, with the possible exception of King's Quest 4. (The much more prevalent SCI version of KQ4 utilized sound cards; I'm not sure if the AGI version did, but if it did it would have had to use a significantly altered AGI engine.) The character was moved around with the arrow keys, and you inputed commands through a real-time text parser. ("Real-time", as in while game action was going on. Sierra eventually realized this was a stupid idea, and later games using text parsers - like Quest For Glory II and the King's Quest I and LSL 1 remakes - paused game action while you typed.) Basically, if you've played Peasant's Quest (the King's Quest parody by the fellows behind Homestar Runner), you should have an idea what this was like; their game mimics it perfectly, at least externally. (I'm sure their text parser is a lot less robust than Sierra's was.)

The game starts in the late 1840s - 1848, to be precise. You play a young Brooklynite named Jerrod Wilson, a reporter for a local newspaper. Disappointingly, you don't do any actual reporting in the game. What you do do is pretty standard fare for Sierra adventure games. You walk around town, looking for objects to pick up, people to talk to, etc. You also find out that your brother was run out of the city years back, accused of a murder he didn't commit. When you receive a letter from him slyly hinting at the fact that "there's gold in dem dere hills", you have to gather up money and equipment as quickly as possible in order to find a way to California - to find both fortune and your brother.

This is where the game really starts to get interesting. Unlike most games of this genre, Gold Rush! gave you several distinct routes you could go, each one with different hardships and puzzles. You could go over land, straight across from Brooklyn to Sacramento; you could take a ship all the way around South America, past Cape Horn, and back up again; or you could take a ship to Panama, travel across the isthmus (remember, there's no Panama Canal in the 1840s), and take another ship up. Each way is fraught with its own perils (which means that no matter which you pick, your first time playing you always think, "Why didn't I pick one of the other two?")

Unfortunately, Gold Rush! suffers from a lot of the same problems as other adventure games, especially those made by Sierra. Chiefest among these is the rather backwards causality that occurs: A normal person would get an object if or when they knew they needed it. A character in an adventure game gets things for no reason, and then finds out they needed it all along. Granted, some of them make sense - if I was planning on strolling through the Central American jungle, I would certainly pick up a mosquito net; but why (for instance) would one carry about an obsolete gold coin? Then too, the parser is often very picky about how you say things. I personally was never able to beat the game (partially because I couldn't figure out what you're supposed to do to get your brother to recognize you), and it took me forever to get the precise wording necessary to beat a certain area in the Cape Horn portion.

All that said, if you enjoy these kind of adventure games, Gold Rush! is worth looking for. Unfortunately, at this point, it's rather hard to find. Most secondhand stores that sell old computer games rarely carry any titles that weren't released on compact disc, and I don't believe there were a helluva lot of copies sold anyway (certainly not up to the number for games like King's Quest). Even less-than-legal channels are not very useful; Vivendi Universal (which now owns all Sierra IP) is part of an anti-piracy compact, and they make no distinction between abandonware and pirating supported software, so many sites that offer such games for download do not have it available. The only place I can recall ever seeing it was on an adventure game newsgroup. Your best bet is probably eBay or similar sites.



Release info and credits are from MobyGames.com; everything else is my own.

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