Review by Retro
Reviewed: 04/04/01 | Updated: 09/07/03
A revolutionary stepping stone for the video game industry
Very few people know and even fewer seem to care that Pitfall! is considered to be the first true 2D platforming adventure and one of the most revolutionary video games of all time; some even say it's the most revolutionary game ever made. Pitfall Harry is on a mission to find all the treasure he can in the eternity of 20 minutes; I guess you could call it a get rich quick scheme of the early 80's. Not only is Harry searching for lost riches, he's searching for it in the wild jungle of all places.
These worthy treasures are in the form of cheap money bags, glistening silver bars, bright as sunshine gold bars, and luxurious rings in over a hundred different screens. A money bag is worth 2000 points, silver bars give you 3000 smackers, gold bars earn you 4000 points, and rings equal a whopping 5000 points.
Since Harry is a treasure hunter in the lush jungle, he will have a few dangerous enemies and obstacles to deal with. There are deadly animals such as stationary snakes, scorpions that relentlessly chase you, and small lakes full of hungry crocodiles. On top of that, there are also tumbling and stationary logs lurking around seemingly every corner, water and quicksand traps that disappear and reappear constantly, and other hazards such as falling into a steep hole in the ground.
Most of you are probably familiar with famous 2D side scrollers such as the Super Mario Bros. series, Super Metroid, the chain of Mega Man games, the Castlevania series, Sonic The Hedgehog, and many others. Well, Pitfall! was the first true 2D side scroller (at least that's what many have said), so it paved the way for the legendary side scrollers that were to come in later years. I'm all for giving Pitfall! all the props it can get, but it's not a side scroller! When you reach the end of one screen, the next one just pops up; there's not a bit of scrolling to be seen.
Not only was Pitfall! revolutionary, but it was also a fun and enticing title in many ways. For a game that was made in 1982, it had spectacular graphics with detailed enemies (the scorpion was amazing for its time), forests in the background, and a well animated main character. Along with looking good, the game sounded nice as well. With a charming springy sound to accompany your every jump, a perfect, cheerful effect for collecting a treasure, and the classic ''music'' you hear when hopping on a vine for a ride over to the less troublesome side, how can you go wrong on the Atari 2600? Oh yeah, and the controls are right on target; you shouldn't have any problems using the joystick to control Pitfall Harry's every move, except for the fact that you have to pull back (down) on the stick to tell Harry to get off of a vine.
The gameplay is what's really amazing though. All you have to do is run left or right (your choice!) through the eternity of screens while making your way past all the perils. Along with 20 minutes on the clock, Pitfall Harry only has 3 lives, so you have to be careful. How the heck can you get past a lake that houses three alligators?? Seeing that they're not too keen on swimming or moving anything but their jaws, wait until they close their mouths in unison and jump onto their heads as stepping stones! When bodies of water and quicksand traps are in sight, you can either use a swinging vine (if there is one) or run across the area right after it disappears from the screen (don't take long cause it'll be back!) Snakes and campfires, like logs and holes in the ground, must simply be jumped over. It's easy to judge distances in Pitfall!, so you shouldn't fall into too many pits!
Speaking of pits, Pitfall!'s stages are sort of split in half to make it even better. For instance, everything I explained above was the top part of the levels. If you ever fall in a hole or make your way down one of the ladders, you'll find yourself in the lower half. These bottom halves of the temperate jungle can serve as a great way of cooling off, for one thing. Even better, though, strategy can come into play down here. By avoiding the deadly albino scorpion and running through the bottom screens, you can quickly skip several screens (in the top part of the levels). If you ever hope to actually complete Pitfall! before time runs out, this is the only way you could do it, but it's not all it's cracked up to be. You see, there are many brick walls that serve as blockades to your underground journey, and there's no way to bust through it.
Pitfall! is a classic game because there was nothing else like it at the time of its release, and it's all the more fun and addicting. Swinging across vines like a monkey, coming into contact with more crocodiles than the Crocodile Hunter, and collecting treasures with the greediest of them all never gets old. It's real entertaining to try and collect as much treasure as you can before time runs out, to see if you can make it through all the screens and complete the game, and challenging yourself to make it across the pond of crocodiles without stopping are just a few of the fun things to try out in Pitfall!. Trying to find and utilize the underground shortcuts, attempting to keep from hitting a single log, and taking both the left and right directions, from the start, to see which way is better, are just a few of the things that keep Pitfall!'s replay value high up in the atmosphere.
It may be old and gray by now, but Pitfall! will always be a nice gem for anybody who appreciates old games to check out. It's one of those few titles that never seems to rust or become tainted in what it has to offer. In many people's mind, it's the best Atari 2600 game of all. I'm the type that doesn't like to choose an absolute favorite from a humongous group of classics, but Pitfall! is without a doubt one of the very best Atari 2600 games that have ever been made. Now I can't wait to own Pitfall II one of these days!
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