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Pitfall! - The Atari Times


No (arm)pit of a game here
by Darryl Brundage

September 1, 2003
A guy named Pitfall. Deadly pits that open and close (for some reason unbeknown to science) at will. "Cobra rattlers". Logs that continuously roll for no reason at all. Fires that somehow stay lit when no one's around, and crocodiles that let you jump onto their heads.

If you think about the above elements for a minute -- and being taken out of context -- you might realize how ridiculous it all sounds, not to mention how unlikely it could (somehow) be combined into not only a good video game, but one of the most highly revered classics of video game history as well.

It's nice to be wrong occasionally though. I mean, if you look at the elements of an anal-retentive, whiny robot, another robot who's trashcan-shaped and can plug into and communicate with anything and everything (whereas in real life, just getting IBM to be compatible with Apple has yet to be accomplished, or at least accomplished and have a product that actually gets released to the market), swords that are made out of light, and a bad guy with a really bad asthma problem who's stronghold on the galaxy can be defeated by a simple farm boy (who would later turn out to be his son, of all things), Star Wars sounds like a really ridiculous, bad B-rated movie too. But life can be ironic at times.

But yes, these are the elements of Pitfall!, one of the most astounding games ever made for the 2600, with 255 screens, arguably being the first side scrolling adventure game ever made (I think), having a bit of a puzzle involved (which I'll get to later) and having the difficult task of playing a perfect game all rolled into one.

In this severe classic, you control Pitfall Harry, who's task is to romp around through a jungle in order to collect all the treasures of Enarc (which is game designer's David Crane's last name spelled backwards). This is not an easy task to do, alas, due to hazards left and right, such as falling through open holes (which can cost you points), running into various obstacles that can cost you a life, and running out of time, which you only have 20 minutes in order to make it through all 255 screens.

The majority of Pitfall! takes place on ground level, where most of the action is. Most obstacles you can either run past, jump or swing over, but there's a lot of timing involved in order to get past them. Snakes (called "cobra rattlers"...what the heck?) and still-burning fires (Greenpeace would be irritated) have to be jumped over, since, if you touch either one, you will die. Rolling logs aren't much of a problem, as long as you either keep moving or jump over them, and some screens have swinging vines (I don't know if there's a strong, naturally changing wind that blows these back and forth constantly or something, but there you have it) that will allow you to swing over most problem areas with ease.

Then there's the crocodiles. They open and close their mouths; if you jump and land on the back of their heads (if there's no vine to swing over them with, that is; where's a vine when you need one?), you're fine, but overshoot the jump and their mouths are open...well, there's a pit you won't be returning from.

There's also below-ground action as well, which fits into the puzzle aspect of this game: in several scenes, there's ladders that you can climb down to take shortcuts in order to hopefully collect all of the treasures in the game before your time runs out, which each underground scene equals three above-ground scenes. Unfortunately there's scorpions down there that spin around the instant you jump (again, TIMING is the key), and if you land on them, you die, some tunnels will lead to a brick wall of a dead end (and jumping over scorpions a second time is a pretty nerve- wracking thought, to say the least), and other tunnels will turn out to be useless, since you'll see treasures overhead that you're passing up...oh crap!

Oh yeah, speaking of which, the rewards of the game: treasures! You get money bags, silver and gold bars, and diamond rings (hope you have a girlfriend to impress...) that will rack up your score pretty nicely. Thank God whatever idiot that lit all the fires didn't see these lying in plain sight! (Maybe he fell into a pit and died; serves him right.)

The graphics and sound were decent for the game (the "electronic Tarzan yell" -- as it was dubbed in a magazine I read once -- when you swing on a vine is a cute touch), and the control usually responds decently. On the flip side, I only have a couple of small complaints for this game though, but they're not much: the main one involves when you're being real careful, and then you accidentally bump into a log ONCE, and then you've got a score of ___,999, which is quite ugly to see...it'd be nice if a number would drop from the sky to increase your score back up to an even ___,000, but that's not going to happen (believe me, I've prayed for that...).

Also, the game isn't random, so playing this occasionally over the years (which I still do sometimes) can get old, until you go through several dozen screens and get down to the last five minutes or so. However, if you want a challenge, try heading right, it's much harder that way, due to dying and having to go through a hazard a second time (i. e. when you die, your next life appears on the left side of the screen: when you're heading left and die at a crocodile pond, the next Pitfall Harry will drop down from the left side of the screen, and you can continue heading left and pass it by. But when you're heading right and die, you'll drop back down at the left side of the screen again; argh!).

However, the game's a terrific challenge, especially if you're trying to attain the perfect score of 114,000, which I've yet to do going right, but I've gotten it heading left. Other Pitfall sequels have come out for various platforms on much more powerful systems and all, with usually mixed reviews at best, but the piddling little 4K 2600 machine still has the best one to offer, along with it's 10K sequel of Pitfall 2.

Try finding THAT in the video game jungle of today. :) (Maybe that's where this "cobra rattlers" thing came from, due to David Crane being out in the sun for too long.)


(c) Activision

Maybe the title screen would have looked something like this...
Jumping the gators is the biggest challenge of the game.
Definitely the most fun you'll have in Pitfall! is swinging on the vine! 
Ah! The object of your quest! Riches!
System: 2600
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Adventure
Graphics Score: 90%
Sound & Music Score: 90%
Gameplay Score: 95%
Control Score: 85%

Final Score: 95%

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