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Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure (Genesis) artwork

Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure (Genesis) review

"A dense, imposing jungle.... Dangerous snakes, bugs and other creepy-crawlies at every turn... A former hero trying to recapture some past glory one last time.... Ancient relics of the past all over the place.... No, I'm not talking about alarmingly compelling TV crapfest I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!!, but rather the Mega Drive game Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure. A pity in a way, as having Johnny Rotten calling us all by the c-word would definitely have spiced up proceedings somewhat......"

A dense, imposing jungle.... Dangerous snakes, bugs and other creepy-crawlies at every turn... A former hero trying to recapture some past glory one last time.... Ancient relics of the past all over the place.... No, I'm not talking about alarmingly compelling TV crapfest I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!!, but rather the Mega Drive game Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure. A pity in a way, as having Johnny Rotten calling us all by the c-word would definitely have spiced up proceedings somewhat....

The Pitfall series deserves respect. First appearing way back when games had less than a dozen colours on screen at once, it has lasted long enough to have a next-gen outing in the pipeline. However, Pitfall Harry, the legendary adventurer and titular star of the franchise, is getting old. After a series of daring escapades, it's time for our elderly hero to call it a day. Retiring to a life of luxury (no doubt financed by the various ancient treasures he has appropriated in his time), Harry settles down to raise his son - imaginatively named Pitfall Harry Jr. However, as well as inheriting his old man's eyes, Pitfall the Younger has acquired daddy's thirst for the unknown. Before too long Hazza Jr. is setting off on all manner of adventures of his own. Rather than being concerned about the fact that his son is choosing to bez around ancient ruins rather than hanging around the bus shelter, smoking roll-ups and drinking cheap cider from the bottle like an average teenager, Harry Snr. gets all misty eyed at the thought of the experiences the youngster must be having. Before you can say 'The Last Crusade', father and son are off on a quest to find the lost Mayan treasure of Uaxactun.... a treasure said to be guarded by the spirit of Zakelua - a Mayan warrior who was known as the 'Lord of Evil'.... It turns out that the legends were right, naturally, and before too long The Lord of Evil attacks our intrepid heroes. Harry Junior escapes the attack, but his father is captured. Now it's up to the juvenile Jones to live up to the name 'Pitfall Harry', to live up to his father's legend, and to save the day....

As plots go, this is pretty much what you would expect from a platform game of this ilk- it has a token captive to be rescued, a long-lost treasure to uncover, and a suitably nasty villain to defeat. There are really no surprises or plot twists to speak of, but then this isn't really a genre that requires them. The only real disappointment, to be honest, is that after going to pains to establish that this is in fact Harry's son, rather than the original hero, that you play as, nothing is really made of this in the actual game. It would perhaps have been more interesting if Harry Jr. had been a more incompetent character - one who struggled with the more physical side of the adventuring, as opposed to simply being more or less a replica of his father - it could have created a very different gameplay dynamic. As it is, though, there's no real hint that you are not the original Harry other than the fact that it's Harry Snr. that is in need of rescue, and as such it just feels like a gimmick more than anything.

This game does exactly what you'd want a jungle-based platform title to do - while taking a stroll through Mayan territory you can whip the wildlife into extinction. Which is good. You can launch rocks (which are available in regular or fairly cool exploding varieties) at the hapless animals from your slingshot. Which is good. You naturally must complete a series of perilous jumps. Which is good. However, playing this game is very much akin to unknowingly taking out a Taiwan lady-boy on a date - initially everything appears to be all well and good, but there's a nasty surprise lurking just under the surface. While The Mayan Adventure isn't secretly smuggling a penis, the at first favourable gameplay ultimately leads to disappointment due to the fact that it rapidly becomes a rather dull affair. Initially everything feels all well and good - the first half of the game sees you travelling through the jungle, traversing a perilous waterfall, taking on an abandoned mine, and touring some spooky ruins. Everything that you'd want to be able to do in these levels is present - there are vines to swing from and strange bungee-esque plants that can propel you to dizzying heights. The foliage is packed with cobwebs that you can use as trampolines. Mine carts that hurtle towards you must be avoided through some careful jumping, while you can climb on others and take them for a ride through the twisting underground rail networks. The ruins are festooned with spike-related traps and undead Mayan warriors. There are even a few more unorthodox treats in store, such as the ability to whip a snake that is hanging from a branch or platform above you and climb it's comatose body like a rope. It's all rather exciting and enjoyable, and you could be forgiven for thinking that the game you are playing could turn out to be an all time classic.

This strong sense of variety is reinforced by the mini-games that can be uncovered during the course of the action. While the rhythm-inspired game that sees you memorising an increasingly long sequence of buttons to press in order to gain various items is diverting enough, the absolute jewel in the mini-game crown must be the fact that you can uncover and play the original Pitfall game. This is a fantastic option, and while the extremely basic gameplay and graphics, and the slow pace, may put off some of the less retro-friendly gamers, it's still a treat to see where it all started, and it must be said that while the game looks far less advanced than it's 16-bit descendant, it actually plays in very much the same way - there are vines to swing from, there are crocodile-infested pools and such. It's a real gift for Pitfall fans, and a welcome chance to see what games used to be like way-back-when. Little extras like this only seem to confirm that The Mayan Adventure is a highly polished and worthwhile package. But then it all goes a little bit crap.

The problem comes when you reach the second half of the adventure, and are faced with levels that see you moving from another jungle, to another abandoned mine, through to another set of ruins.... The sense of deja vu is inescapable, and this is a crushing letdown after such a strong start. You are left with a real feeling that you aren't being rewarded for progressing through the game, but rather being forced to do the same sort of thing over again. While the level design does differ to that seen in the earlier levels, it still feels as if the developers got lazy when thinking up the surroundings in the game, and as such your motivation is likely to drop at an alarming rate once you pass the halfway mark. This is not helped by the fact that the previously well structured learning curve appears to make an emergency stop in the later levels of the game. While the final boss is still a challenge, in all other respects things seem to fizzle out a little, and you'll likely wind up playing through the last couple of stages on total auto pilot. It's a pity that things go so wrong, really, as what starts out as a very fresh feeling experience simply winds up feeling more stale than an original Mayan loaf of bread.

Graphically, though, this game really does stand out. The colours are bright and bold, and there is a very 'busy' look to the stages - in the jungle levels, for example, bugs skit about, all manner of very detailed foliage litters the immediate background, and the distant background shows off some impressive vistas that really give the impression that you are in the middle of nowhere, actually exploring. What is truly remarkable, though, is that for all the impressive visuals on the screen, the frame rate doesn't suffer once. Quite the opposite, in fact: this game boasts some silky-smooth animation that is amongst the most detailed on the system. From the way in which Harry Jr.'s coat flaps behind him as he zip-lines down a vine, to the Terminator 2 parody as he cheerfully sticks up his thumb while sinking in quicksand, every aspect of your sprite's on-screen realisation appears very fine-tuned, and as such this ranks as one of the more graphically distinct titles on the system.

The music isn't quite as impressive, though, to be honest. The developers opted for a 'tribal drum' style for The Mayan Adventure, which works reasonably well in it's own right, but after a few stages the music style starts to become very bland, and the tunes all start to roll into one in your head. However repetitive they may be, though, it must be said that the tunes do create an imposing and tense atmosphere - the relentless slow pace of the drums coupled with the fact that most of the music is made up from some rather low notes creates a rather accomplished sense of malice. This does jar somewhat with the rather cheerful and bright graphics, though, lessening the effect a great deal.

Ultimately, the poor second half of the game drags down a promising game, which really is a great disappointment. While this game starts strongly, and looks fantastic throughout, the fact that it gets so uninspiring as you progress means that it effectively fails to do enough to rise above any of the other mediocre Mega Drive platform games out there. It's still worth a look if it's going cheap and you feel that your collection really needs another action / platform escapade, but be warned:- this rumble in the jungle will have you KO'd before you can be bothered to finish it.

tomclark's avatar
Community review by tomclark (March 06, 2004)

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