Retro Rated: Pitfall!

Factfile
Developed by: Activision
Released: 1982
Format played: Atari 2600

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What Is It?

There’s a funny story behind my history with this game which, in a break from tradition, I’ll tell you about in next week’s review.

One of the most recognisable franchises from the early console era, Pitfall! Saw you take control of adventurer extraodinaire, Pitfall Harry, as he sets out to hunt down some long lost treasure.

Viewed from the side on, you move stickman Harry from left to right, avoiding obstacles as you go. These range from fairly harmless logs that knock some points off your score, to deadly pools, snapping alligators and snakes amongst others.

He may not look like much but our Harry is a spritely fellow. He can leap over logs as he runs, jump on the heads of crocodiles to traverse a deadly river and even swing across a ravine on a rope, Indiana Jones style.

If things get too tough above ground, you can hop down a ladder and navigate the underground tunnels, although these often end in the dead end of a brick wall leaving you no option but to turn back.

It’s all fairly simple stuff of course but brilliantly executed and, at the time, a real standout. You start with three lives, losing one each time you fall into a pit or get touched by a beastie. On top of that though, you are competing against a 20 minute timer. If it runs out then it’s game over. This is in stark contrast to most other games of the time, focused as they were more on the quick thrills of arcade coin guzzling style gaming. It has an affect on the game too as you try to draw a balance between getting your jump right whilst progressing quickly enough. As with all great games, the rewards come with effort as you find yourself getting a little further with each play through.

Graphically it’s pleasing on the eye. Harry may be just a stick man but you get a good feel for being in the jungle environment. Sound is sparse but it’s a thrill the first time you swing across a river and get a blast of triumphant music for your troubles.

Pitfall! was followed by a sequel in 1983, the imaginatively titled Pitfall! 2: Lost Caverns. The franchise would get a new lease of life in the 32-bit generation when Pitfall 3D: Beyond The Jungle hit the Playstation, with everyone’s favourite b-movie actor Bruce Campbell providing the voice of Pitfall Harry Jr. A further sequel would follow in 2004, Pitfall: The Lost Expedition landing on PS2 and Xbox whilst the original would see a new lease of life on Microsoft’s various platforms as a downloadable title.

And to us long term gamers, it continues to see a spiritual successor with the likes of Temple Run for mobile and tablets. The perspective may have changed from side on to into-the-screen whilst the touch controls and micro transactions hint at a different world. But we’re not fooled. This is the same combination of running, jumping and swinging mechanics that Harry mastered back in the 80s. Pifall! would itself see life in this format, an ‘endless runner’ tribute to the original appearing on Android in 2012.

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Worth Playing?

An absolute classic.

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