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Pitfall! - The Atari Times


Swingin' in the wind
by Ryan Genno

January 29, 2007
Pitfall! was one of those landmark games for the Atari 2600. It broke new ground for action and adventure back in the early eighties and it really helped the new company Activision get on the map. Imagine a cross between Nintendo's Donkey Kong and Atari's Adventure and you get David Crane's legendary Pitfall! Although the game was great on the 2600, the 5200 version is surprisingly weak and barely enhanced.

The game play is simple, help the hero Pitfall Harry collect up to 30 plus lost treasures of the unforgiving jungle filled with deadly scorpions, quick sand, rolling logs, and lots more. You earn points by collecting the lost treasures but you can also lose these points every time Harry is hit by a rolling log which you have to be careful of. Since this is the first ever side scrolling 2D platformer of it's kind you have to remember that there is no way to kill your enemies, earn any power ups or anything special like that, but you still need a lot of skill to survive and the fact that you only get three lives and you also have to start with a 20 minute time limit that doesn't help matters much either. You are in for a tough fight for survival in Pitfall! especially when the controls are so bad.

The controls are pretty easy to understand. One of the action buttons makes Harry jump and the joystick is used to move him left or right and up and down for the ladders. It sounds easy enough but it's really hard to get Harry to stop when you want him (making jumping on alligator heads nearly impossible) to and even getting off the vines is difficult.

Harry can either try his luck in the jungles or he can go into the underground caves below to find a safer passage but be careful because there could be deadly enemies or just dead ends waiting for you if you choose to go this route so there is some variety. There are no difficulty options to change the game play neither so what you see is what you get.

Speaking of seeing what you get; the game looks quite pathetic. The game does have a bit of added detail in the background trees and now they have some branches (great freaking deal!) as well. Other than that Harry and the enemies look exactly like what they did on the 2600 plus the ground and caves are as bland as ever! The 5200 version just doesn't measure up to other games on the system.

You can forget about any background music here but if you have an Atari than you know that's a way of life for most of their games! There are some sound effects when Harry jumps there's some sound and when he grabs a vine he does a really poor Tarzan impression and that's pretty much it. Like the graphics they are pretty much untouched.

Pitfall! can also be found in certain other games other than the one for the 5200. When Activision released Pitfall The Mayan Adventure for the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Atari Jaguar, Sega CD, and Sega 32x it also included the original Pitfall! as a secret game. Pitfall 3D for the Sony Playstation also has the 2600 game hidden inside plus you can find it on Activision's Classics and Activision Anthology. Hey, if you're one of those few persons, like me, who has a old system from the earlier eighties then who can find Pitfall! and Pitfall II for the Atari 2600, Intellivision, and more. All these version are better than this edition.

The bottomline is Pitfall! was years ahead of its time in terms of game play but adventure games have come a long way since, especially in terms of options. The 5200 version could have easily added meat to the bones to spice things up but like most of their 5200 games they hardly did anything here. The graphics and sounds are not really upgraded, the game play is still challenging but it isn't any better, and the controls just stink worse then year old milk. Perhaps the worse part about this game is that it won't work on the 2 port Atari 5200 system, but may be this can be seen as a positive since it means you don't have to play it. I don't know how Activision could screw one of their best known games but they taking a fun and Action/Adventure titles and turned it into this turd.


(c) Activision

You want it. You know you do.
This is the only screen I could get.
System: 5200
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Action
Graphics Score: 30%
Sound & Music Score: 20%
Gameplay Score: 40%
Control Score: 30%

Final Score: 32%

Reader Comments for Pitfall!

Not that bad by Gregory D. George on 2007-01-29 08:21:29
I don't think the game itself is all that bad, but using the 5200 controllers makes it very difficult. I've played the identical 8-bit version with a 2600/7800 stick and the game is much better. Sure, the graphics are basically the same, but judging it as a standalone game it's still Pitfall and it's great fun as always.
Activision Ports by Fjord Prefect on 2015-11-30 15:27:03
I had read somewhere that back in the early 8-bit days, Activision specifically tried to keep their game ports all very similar to each other in order to maintain a unified "Activision style" across the many different platforms. The upshot of this was that Pitfall Harry always looked like the same character (more or less) whether you played him on a 2600 or an Apple II, thus strengthening the value and impact of the brand.
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