Gold Rush! is an adventure game from Sierra, initially released in 1988. The game chronicles the adventures of the main character Jerrod Wilson, a Brooklyn journalist in 1848 who, upon receiving a letter from his long-estranged brother, embarks on an adventure to California, to seek his fortune and reunite with the only family he has left.
Like most adventure games released at the time, Gold Rush! uses a text parser to allow the player to guide Jerrod's actions. Unusually for a Sierra adventure game at the time, the game offered multiple paths to completion, and each path, when fully completed, offered a chance at getting full points. Naturally, the game featured a surprisingly long list of deaths, all of which expounded on your inability to make the hazardous trip from New York to Sacramento, a trip that historically was fraught with incredible danger.
The game doesn't bother too much with historical accuracy (or rather, it doesn't come up very much), but the manual, which was required for the Copy Protection, held a great deal of information on the time surrounding the 1848 gold rush, from the discovery of gold in California, to the eventual abandonment of the boom towns that sprang up after the gold rush ended.
Gold Rush! gathered a few high-profile good reviews, but never sold very well, most likely due to using the outdated AGI engine, when Sierra's new SCI engine was already in use by then. It's a rather drastic departure from other Sierra titles that were vastly more popular at the time, but is still well worth a look today if you want to try something different.
In 2014, 26 years after its original release, a Fan Remake titled Gold Rush! Anniversary was released for Steam with an updated point-and-click user interface, voice acting, and improved graphics. You can purchase the game here.
This game proves examples of:
- Bag of Spilling: An in-game version. Regardless of which path you take, you will eventually shed a large amount of inventory in order to save weight (or appease some cannibals). The only things you will always get to keep are your bible, your gold coin, and your brother's letter.
- Bandit Mook: A group of these will pursue Jerrod if he's carrying gold for too long while prospecting. When they catch up to him—when, not if, as they'll follow him to the next screen—they'll steal all of his gold and warn him not to move while they depart. Any attempt to move while they're leaving, as well as a short time after they're off-screen, will result in them shooting Jerrod dead.
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Upon arriving on Rio de Janeiro, the the you observe the many kinds of ships in port. From brigs, barques, brigantines, schooners, clippers, steamers, whaling, cargo, passenger, and slave ships.
- Captain Obvious: Oh, Room 11 in Green Pasteur's Hotel was next to Room 12? You don't say, Hotel clerk.
- Copy Protection: Of the "X word on Y page" variety. If you fail to enter the correct word, the on-screen prospector says "Gotcha!", and you get treated to a scene of Jerrod being hanged before a rather unceremonious force-quit to DOS prompt. If you enter the correct word, the prospector will instead let you pass to the title screen, stating that he hopes you strike it rich.
- Edutainment Game: The game gives a surprising amount of information about the 1848-49 gold rush. And yes, people really did go through Panama or around Cape horn to get to California.
- Guide Dang It!: It's a Sierra game. Examples include the importance of fresh fruit, the correct path through Panama (which is not the same as the safe path), and exactly what you're supposed to do with that mule you buy, something that's barely even alluded to in the game.
- Have a Nice Death: Examples include: standing in the middle of the road long enough (you'll be trampled to death by a horse and carriage, which will not bother stopping to check on you), dying of cholera (see Luck-Based Mission), and stepping on to the deck of the ship during a storm (you are literally blown off the stern)."It's an utter pity that yer trip to California turned out like this, ain't it?"
- Interface Screw: If you manage to successfully complete the game by finding the Mother Lode, take a look at your inventory before quitting the game. Your total cash will be intentionally glitched, to reflect the fact that you've found more gold than you could ever hope to count.
- Karma Houdini: Jerrod himself. Going to the hardware store or the market in New York will allow you to buy things on credit. However, before you leave, you effectively close your account at the bank, quit your job, and sell your house, meaning those stores will never actually get paid. There are no consequences for this: it's an expected part of the gameplaynote . This is at least partially justified in that the shopkeeper implies that you have the credit to buy it (presumably meaning that the bank will pay for things for you), so the shopkeeper will be fine, but the bank might be out some cash.
- Kleptomaniac Hero: Both played straight and averted: you're encouraged to pick up just about everything, but if you look for gold on someone else's claim, you're off to the gallows.
- Last Lousy Point: There are many things in the game that are not required to finish it, and many more things that will lower your point score if you do them. Solving puzzles is adventure-game-easy. Solving puzzles correctly requires more effort.
- In addition, 50 of the 250 points available must be acquired by finding gold. You get one point every time you find gold. You'll only need to find gold 5 times to complete the game.
- Luck-Based Mission: When you reach the first leg of the Cape Horn path and the Overland path, Jerrod may be inexplicably stricken with cholera, falling over dead after a few minutes. Whether or not this will occur is determined before the scene where it kills you, with no indication given until it's too late, and there's absolutely no way to prevent it from occurring. The game itself tells you "There's nothing you could have done about it" (in those exact words).
- On the Cape Horn route, while traversing the Horn itself, there is a random chance to hit an iceberg. You cannot do anything to prevent this, and like the disease, it is determined before the scene actually occurs.
- Fortunately, though the game isn't maliciously cruel about it: you'll eventually be able to figure out that, if you can't skip the scene, it's because you're dead. It's still cruel, though, in that you can save before the end comes.
- The Main Characters Do Everything: On the overland route: Need animals? Send Jerrod to get them. Need to know when to leave? Get Jerrod to do it. Need to prepare the animals to descend down a hill to drink after traveling through a desert? Get Jerrod to do it. Justified in that the first thing you do on the Overland Route is to give all of your (substantial) cash to the company leader, who responds by making you his second in command as a reward.
- Multiple Endings: Or rather, one true ending, multiple ways to get there. The easiest way to get to California is also the longest, traveling around the Cape Horn (in other words, from Brooklyn, around the southernmost tip of South America, and back up to California). The fastest way is Panama, but that also requires a lot of skill or Save Scumming to survive the hazards of the untamed jungle. The cheapest way is the Overland route, which requires a precise list of tools and very specific timing. Depending on the route you choose, gold will either be relatively easy or extremely difficult to find (the longer you take, the more people have arrived in California before you, making gold more rare).
- Point of No Return: Once you leave Brooklyn, you can't go back (the journey progresses until you die or reach Sacramento). Once you drop down the outhouse to get to your brother's secret mine, you can't go back up either.
- Poison Mushroom: On the Cape Horn route, while traveling north again, food starts to run low, resulting in the slaughter of the pig brought along just in case. However, talking to the cook reveals that he may have left the corpse alone for too long before cooking it, resulting in fatal contamination; he's honestly not sure, and it smells okay. Eating the pig meat kills you immediately, but it is useful for something...
- Red Herring: In the Brooklyn section of the game, you can visit a hardware store and buy a variety of different tools that would prove very useful for finding gold in California. Unfortunately, those tools never make it (see Bag Of Spilling above).
- Shout-Out: In the Brooklyn Cemetery, on one of the graves, the deceased is described as a friend to the friendless and an enemy to those who have no enemies. This is a reference to the opening narration on the "Boston Blackie" radio show.
- Shown Their Work: The game is full of historical references and information, particularly during the journey from New York to California. The manual is also an accurate reference in regards to the gold rush of 1848, including information about the journey, daily life, and various tidbits that don't directly impact the game. This actually makes it an Edutainment Game.
- Super Drowning Skills: Falling into the ocean of Brooklyn Harbor kills you instantly. This can be done in less than a minute after starting the game.
- Timed Mission: Several varieties, even. At the beginning of the game, in Brooklyn, you have exactly 15 minutes to choose a method of traveling to California. After time is up, the announcement that gold has been discovered is broadcast, and all the travel prices increase dramatically (locking you out of all but one method). In addition, on the Overland route, if you instruct the wagon master to leave too early or too late, the journey is doomed to failure (and you might not know until much later).
- There are also several shorter timed missions, usually measured in seconds. For example, during the Overland route, you will come to a point while crossing a desert in which you have literally just a few seconds to reach a water and food source on the screennote . Other timed missions are only slightly more lenient.
- Unwinnable by Design: Surprisingly averted for a large number of puzzles (but sadly played straight for the rest). If you've forgotten to bring a particular item, there's generally another way to solve the puzzle. You can navigate a dark cave by bringing a lantern, or by feeling along the walls in the darkness (the latter being much more likely to result in death, however).
- Of course, study of the manual is required, in order to understand exactly why and how you've failed. Otherwise, you might end up forgetting a crucial piece of equipment, or missing a particular deadline that only results in failure many turns later. And even then, there are still random events such as diseases and broken bridges that could kill you instantly without warning. It's meant to simulate the danger of a cross-country trip, but it only serves to punish the player with Fake Difficulty.
- One particularly terrible version of this is extremely easy to run into unless you're used to looking everywhere. In Brooklyn, if you look carefully, you can find a single gold coin. If you don't find it, or fail to grab it (and there is zero on-screen indication of the coin's existence), you can play through more than two-thirds of the game and actually get to Sutter's Fort, only to find out that you have nothing with which to buy any of the tools that will get you gold. If you took the Panama route and found the hidden gold disk, you can trade that, but that will cost points, as it's worth far more than a single coin.
- If you take the Cape Horn route, you have to get the fruit before the Gold Rush announcement. Otherwise, the store will close and you will die of scurvy.
- You Shouldn't Know This Already: You get a message to this effect if you read the Psalm before arriving in California.