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Pitfall! (Atari 2600) artwork

Pitfall! (Atari 2600) review


"Most screens have some combination of hazards for you to contend with: perhaps you'll have to swing across water on a vine while making sure you don't land on a barrel. Or that pond might contain a trio of alligators. You'll have to jump from one head to the next, making sure you're not on their mouth when it opens. Some ponds and quicksand pits are, I guess, magical and will appear and disappear. When they vanish, you can run across the screen safely, but if they return and you're in their part of the screen, you die."



There are two ways to "beat" the Atari 2600's Pitfall! -- the true way and the Rob Hamilton way. To truly beat the game, you have to collect all of the game's treasures within a 20-minute time limit. If the time runs out, the game simply ends. The Rob Hamilton way is admitting you won't collect everything and simply progressing through the game and surviving for that duration of time. It takes some practice, but isn't the most difficult thing I've ever done in an old-as-dirt video game.

Pitfall! could be the pinnacle of Activision's Atari efforts. Hell, you could argue that it's one of the best (if not the best) game made for the 2600. You start on one of 250-some screens and choose to run left or right while avoiding obstacles that either will kill you or subtract from your point total. If you choose to go left to right, you'll constantly be jumping rolling barrels while handling the other obstacles. Start by running the other way and, as long as you keep up a good pace, those things will be following you and, therefore, be far less of a problem.

But barrels are the most innocent of the game's hazards, as running into them only costs you points. Falling into ponds or quicksand (which looks like a black pond) is lethal. As is running into things like snakes and scorpions. Most screens have some combination of hazards for you to contend with: perhaps you'll have to swing across water on a vine while making sure you don't land on a barrel. Or that pond might contain a trio of alligators. You'll have to jump from one head to the next, making sure you're not on their mouth when it opens. Some ponds and quicksand pits are, I guess, magical and will appear and disappear. When they vanish, you can run across the screen safely, but if they return and you're in their part of the screen, you die.

There are a lot of fun challenges scattered throughout the game's many screens, which make those 20 minutes go by quickly. But simply staying above ground will not help you truly finish the game, as there isn't enough time to find all the treasure. To accomplish this, you have to head beneath the surface. Each screen is divided into two parts. The above ground area, where you'll find all the treasure, contains all the barrels, quicksand and alligators. There also are a number of ladders taking you down to an underground corridor (as well as pits, which will take you there at the cost of points). Being down there is a good news/bad news situation. On the good side, each screen you travel underground counts as three above-ground ones, which can make it possible to cover all of the game's world. The bad news is twofold.

First, you will have to draw maps or have good memorization abilities. There are brick walls underground that create dead ends and with a time limit, having to unnecessarily backtrack is not good. A lot of trial-and-error will be necessary in order to find the perfect path that gets you wherever you need to be as quickly as possible. Second, there are scorpions. Good god, the scorpions. They are the lethal obstacle for this region of the game and they were the one thing I never could master. While they move slowly, they are large enough that there isn't much margin for error in leaping over them. Compounding the difficulty, they were programmed to follow you. When you enter a screen, they will slowly be walking in your direction. As you jump them, they will turn around and start moving in the direction you're going. If you're a tiny bit too late in your jump, you'll clip them going up; if you make your move a tiny bit too early, you'll land on its pinchers. Both of those mistakes leads to death.

The end result of this was that I was perfectly happy to test my ability to see how many screens I could cover while staying alive for 20 minutes. There were benefits to this. I was able to get some Pitfall Harry patch from Activision for sending a picture of my recording a score over 20,000. And I had a ton of fun playing the game. While I never reached the ultimate reward of a true victory due to my issues with scorpion-jumping, I found more than enough fun in that Pitfall! cartridge to keep me playing it for years after most of my Atari games were relegated to a box.

Rating: 9/10

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (June 30, 2011)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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pickhut posted July 02, 2011:

Admittedly, I've never spent a great deal of time with Pitfall!, so I don't really have a solid view of the game. However, you do a good job of making the game sound like it has depth, and making me consider giving Pitfall! another go. Good review!
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JoeTheDestroyer posted July 02, 2011:

DISCLAIMER: Pitfall Harry denies having any involvement with Super Pitfall on the NES. It was an imposter.

Baha. I've never played Super Pitfall, but I've seen the AVGN on it. It looks awful enough that kinda want to play it and tear it to bits.
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overdrive posted July 03, 2011:

Funny thing is that yesterday, I was messing around with my 360 and for the hell of it, downloaded the arcade ap (whatever it's called) and downloaded (not bought) a good chunk of the games, so I could dick around with the demos. Pitfall! is one of the games you can get. I don't know how well it'd work with the 360 controller, as I messed with the Atari 2600's primitive Video Pinball (which I remember liking when I was in elementary school) and couldn't seem to get any real force using the flippers.
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Masters posted July 04, 2011:

Good retro review.

Here's a strange suggestion:

Most screens have some combination of hazards for you to contend with. Perhaps you'll have to swing across water on a vine while making sure you don't land on a barrel.

I think that following "with" with a colon would make that sequence stronger. As it is, the "Most screens..." sentence is a pretty nothing statement. It's the most minor of nitpicking--feel free to ignore.
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overdrive posted July 04, 2011:

I like that advice. Therefore, I took it.
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Masters posted July 04, 2011:

Wonderful! =D

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