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Pitfall! (Activision)

Posted by DoctorSpuds, 23 April 2019 · 130 views

Pitfall! (Activision)

This is going to be a difficult game to look at since it feels almost blasphemous to do so; the first of something is always sacred. Pitfall (I’m omitting the ‘!’ because Word freaks out and capitalizes everything), is generally referred to as the first side-scrolling platforming game, or at least the first one to do it right. It is one of the best selling games on the 2600 and is considered one of the best games on the console, if not ever for its contributions to gaming as a whole. But, and there’s always a but, how does it hold up? A true sign of a timeless game is that it’s still fun to play all these years later, the Atari and many consoles from that time period have tons of games that could be considered timeless. On the 2600 alone you have games like Missile Command, Centipede/Millipede, Jawbreaker, Worm War I, Frankenstein’s Monster, Combat, Midnight Magic, Ms. Pac-Man, Wizard of Wor, the list will go on for pages and pages if I continue. But does Pitfall make that list of timeless games. Please be aware that I’m looking at Pitfall with my own modern perspective, I wasn’t there in the 80’s so I cannot speak about it in that context, but if it really did spend 64 weeks in the number one spot then I get the feeling  that… Well, I might be getting a new asshole after this one.
 
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The graphics are simple and clean, the graphics are so ubiquitous that non-gamers even know what game they’re from.  The sprite work on Harry and the obstacles he faces are expertly made and definitely hold up, I’d say that the graphics are several years ahead of their time; a game like this probably wasn’t seen again until Jungle Hunt in 1983 or even Montezuma’s Revenge in 1984. I’m still amazed by how smooth everything moves and feels, there is no sprite flickering to be seen, and Harry’s run cycle is extremely well animated and looks uncannily fluid, as do the vine movements. The graphics are perfect, they’re iconic, and that’s the end of that.
 
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The sounds I’m a bit more on the fence about, a good portion of the game is played in silence since Harry makes no sound when he runs, he makes plenty of noise whenever he’s jumping or screaming his head off whilst swinging on a vine, but not when he’s running. There is a small selection of sounds that will play whenever you do something or if something happens to Harry. There is a very squeaky jumping noise, an odd groaning noise whenever you fall down a hole, another strange groaning noise when you make contact with a barrel, the classic Tarzan yell when swinging on a vine, and the classic ‘you are dead’ jingle. There is also a triumphant jingle for when you collect a treasure. Apart from those sounds everything else goes by in silence, the snapping of alligators, the hissing of deadly cobras, the whoosh of a suddenly appearing sinkhole, not even the barrels make a sound as they trundle past you at high speed. I know that David Crane was working with a severely constricted amount of memory, fitting the whole game on a 4K cartridge, and looking at the file size on my hard drive it looks like every byte was used, it would have been impossible for him to have fit more sounds in the game if he’d tried. Now this is where we get to the most important part of any game, the gameplay.
 
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The premise of Pitfall is simple, get from the left of the screen to the right of the screen while avoiding obstacles and collecting treasures, there are 32 treasures in all and you have three lives and twenty minutes to grab them all or you lose the game. The obstacles you’ll face on your quest for wealth include alligators, tar pits, sink holes, cobras, giant scorpions, an ungodly amount of barrels, and gravity itself. There are 255 screens that contain a combination of these obstacles, but the combinations aren’t random, they’re the same every time, and certain combinations won’t happen, like barrels and alligators on the same screen since that would be almost impossible (unless I haven’t gotten to that screen yet). Some screens are ridiculously easy like the sinkhole with a vine over it, or present a good amount of challenge like the three-pack barrels over a sinkhole. Most of your lives will be claimed by the alligators though, you can only stand on the two pixels that are their heads whenever they open their mouths otherwise you’re dead, the collision detection for this part is rather strict. Pitfall is not a game you can rush through, the obstacles simply won’t allow it, if you get the precise timing of each individual obstacle down to a T then you’ll be able to get through the game with some speed, but even that won’t be enough to get all 32 treasures, that is why you must use the underground caves. The caves can be accessed with the ladders that you see dotted across the different screens or if you’re feeling a bit impatient you can just jump down one of the holes. The caves are not without danger, the giant scorpions are particularly difficult to jump over and dead ends are common forcing you to backtrack past the scorpions again but the trade-off is rather worth it since each screen traversed in the caves equates to three screen above ground, you need to use the caves to beat the game. Unfortunately this is where I come in, and frankly I don’t particularly enjoy Pitfall, I’ve probably been spoiled by other newer platformers, but I just find Pitfall, and even its sequel to be rather boring, I find that the flat design present in every screen makes them blend into one another and I just don’t feel any reward or satisfaction when playing. The controls also aren’t quite my cup of tea, I’d really like to be able to control my jumps in midair much like Bobby is Going home, and I find that pressing down to let go of vines to be rather odd but that doesn’t really detract from the game in any way.
 
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All in all Pitfall is legendary, it’s iconic, and I just don’t like it. As you all know I have very unconventional tastes when it comes to games, so this honestly doesn’t come as a surprise. Personally I’m not a particularly big fan of most platform games in general, I couldn’t give two shits about Mario or Donkey Kong and I only like Sonic 2 because of the music and Sonic Spinball because it’s pinball, actually the two platform games I DO like are both on the 2600, Keystone Kapers and Frankenstein’s Monster are both excellent platforming games and I’d readily play them over Pitfall any day. Unfortunately Pitfall’s prices don’t reflect its commonality; you’ll probably find loads of overpriced copies in the wild and online. The cheapest loose copy on Ebay sitting at $7.90 free shipping which is ridiculous for a game that’s as common as 3D Tic-Tac-Toe or Amidar, the latter of which you can usually find in-box for 10 dollars or less, and speaking of in-box… The cheapest boxed copy of Pitfall currently on Ebay is sitting at 52.99$ I think I paid that much or a little bit more for Jawbreaker CIB, or Frankenstein’s Monster CIB, or any of the Mystique titles I own CIB. It’s worth 15 maybe 20 dollars in the box and maybe 3 dollars loose so don’t buy anything that’s on Ebay unless it’s in those price ranges, but you’ll probably find one in the wild that’s cheaper than that, I hope. I won’t send Pitfall to the Collector’s Zone, I can’t, I may not like it but I cannot deny it’s heritage and impact on gaming as a whole, it’s possible that without Pitfall we wouldn’t have Mario or Sonic (or Bubsy) or any modern or classic platforming games. It may not be the best but it was the first, so well… I gotta love it for that.






Harry makes no sound when he runs

 

You know... I never even noticed that before. That would've made a nice addition. Especially using different sounds for running, jumping, climbing ladders, and caverns (an echo would've been cool).

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You know... I never even noticed that before. That would've made a nice addition. Especially using different sounds for running, jumping, climbing ladders, and caverns (an echo would've been cool).

 

Perhaps somebody will come out with Pitfall!+ or Pitfall Advanced where new sounds are added, or new obstacles, maybe even a controllable jump, its possible...

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I used to listen to Live 105... The FM station in the Bay Area circa 1994, and play this game. It was retro even then.

I liked how the game was mostly silent. Noise happened when important things happened. (You could listen to pop.)

That was good. I could hear the music of the day. "Alt Rock". And play Pitfall. It was already out-of-style... And it was fun reinterpreting it with a background of "Our Love is like water..." by Live (the band, not the station, which was on the Live 105 FM station...).

"That's the part that is confusing."
-Pirate Girls 9, They Might Be Giants.
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The modern criticism of this game is completely fair. There absolutely ARE many 2600 games that are more fun to play now than this one. But the game really was a revelation to those of us who played it in 1982. Up until this point, the 2600 had generally been giving us good (If rarely great) copies of games and play styles we’d already experienced via arcade games, board games, card games, etc. But it hadn’t yet given us something new we hadn’t yet tried elsewhere. But with Pitfall! we now had something we hadn’t played before... a graphically excellent action adventure game across a huge environment. Yes, in a real way, Adventure had done something similar earlier, and I would never want to take anything away from that outstanding achievement. But instead of icons that mostly only vaguely looked like what they should, nearly everything in Pitfall! was actually easily identifiable and animated. Pitfall Harry himself was amazingly well represented compared to previous game characters, and unlike Adventure’s square, he could run, jump, climb and swing on vines - yawn-inducing now perhaps, but amazing in 1982. No criticism of this review is intended... it’s looking-back approach to an admittedly now-dated game is right on target. Just wanted to give a back-in-the-day perspective to why this game was so popular and groundbreaking back then and remembered fondly by us old folks today, despite gameplay that doesn’t stand up quite as well as many of its contemporaries.
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Some people price their games entirely based on name/brand recognition, not how common or desired those are. I've seen the same happen even with Pac-Man on the 2600 which was so common they had to bury a number of those carts together with E.T. and the rest. Supposedly though there would be collectors on AtariAge with surplus loose Pitfall! cartridges for anyone missing it, so you wouldn't have to buy through overpriced eBay auctions.

 

Anyway, isn't it a sign of good physical status if you are not making sounds when you are running, in particular if you have a new pair of silent shoes?

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Anyway, isn't it a sign of good physical status if you are not making sounds when you are running, in particular if you have a new pair of silent shoes?

 

Wait... So asthmatically huffing and puffing while jogging slower than one would walk is not a good thing?

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Now I wonder if there is any video game where you pick up inhalers as a form of life energy boost, like those healing potions in role playing games.

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Now I wonder if there is any video game where you pick up inhalers as a form of life energy boost, like those healing potions in role playing games.

 

Asthma Simulator 2020

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Love some Pitfall!

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The brain sometimes takes funny detours. I just remembered a C64 speech sample demo with a few short clips. One of those was from John F. Kennedy's presidential inauguration speech in 1961, but due to low resolution on the sample it sounded like he says "Asthma, what your country can do for you..."
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I really liked Pitfall! back in the day,...But believe it or not,  I did not own it.  I borrowed a friend's copy and played it a bunch...I guess I burned myself out on it or always thought of it as a game I'd buy later...But strangely Later came much later as I bought a new in the box copy for ColecoVision off ebay I think.   Which I opened and played!  And my mind was blown!   And I picked it up for Atari too...

 

Anyhow I kicked back, drinking a Dos Equis and realized how Awesome this game Always was!    It was a huge adventure put together with reused graphical elements...In my mind, I somehow imagined that if you went far enough, fast enough that there would be an ending...I picture an Actual ending with a colorful waterfall, maybe some flashing skull and crossbones, and maybe a final screen with a big treasure or something.     Now I know the Atari did not have the capability to do that (Maybe if I win Lotto, Buy Pitfall!...Get someone who knows how to program, something something something bankswitching schemes blah blah blah)...And I'm sure Coleco's version is not that advanced either...But in my mind...I still imagine it...The potential of this game was so great!  

 

Still a Classic to me!

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