You know you’re in trouble when a game’s menus showcase the only creative brilliance you can find after playing through the entire title. In the case of Pitfall: The Lost Expedition, the menus feature a book that the main character, Pitfall Harry, whips out and opens up. Displayed on the pages are all the usual game selections ranging from Save to Options to Hints and so forth. As you scroll through the choices, a little scribble is penciled under each one you highlight. Once you make your selection, Harry will either flip to a section later in the book where more choices are laid out, or he will yank out a page from the back and your selection will be listed on that page. I had so much fun with this little feature it was unreal.
Oh yeah, there’s a game here too.
I can’t see many adults enjoying Pitfall: The Lost Expedition as much as their little ones will. This game screams “Kiddie Market” like little else, due to the juvenile and childish manner in which even the most adult material is presented. This is especially disappointing because not one of those kids grew up with the aggravating yet addictive Pitfall the rest of us did. The original featured an Indiana Jones clone named Pitfall Harry swinging on vines through jungles and avoiding the usual Amazonian death traps of crocodiles, piranhas, quicksand, and really Angry Natives’™. All of that has been brought into 3-D for the Xbox, but Harry can now be called Hornball Harry due to him hitting on everything with two legs, there’s a talking jaguar who claims he’s a “love doctor,” a butterfly-obsessed Native Princess straight out of Playboy, and as much ridiculousness as can be crammed into a video game.
The graphics would have scored higher were it not for all the blasted clipping and hanging on edges that I experienced. For example, Hornball Harry will jump onto a vine and swing to a cliff face and just miss the edge. Does he drop to the ground below and have to start all over? It depends on where you land. If you’re close enough to the ledge, he’ll catch onto it and pull himself up. If he’s a hair off of that, he might just land on the side of the cliff and stand there as long as you’re holding forward on your thumbstick. If you’re lucky, he might even slide up the cliff face if you just hold forward long enough. Another thing that bugged me was the level of transparency solid objects take on when the camera is beneath something. If you’re running on a platform and the camera goes underneath you, then all of a sudden all the platforms in your eyesight are about as clear as crystal. This is not good when you’re trying to make precision jumps. Sadly, it is an example of something stupid making it through Quality and Assurance.
The characters and the world are actually done quite well. If you can get past the cartoonish look to the game, Hornball Harry and his associates have a certain quirky charm going for them. I really enjoyed how the native villages were done, and the crocodiles will certainly give you a swim for you money when you’re being chased by them. The jungles and mountains are all really swell to look at and the world is very consistent in themes and tones. Every area you go has its own feel to it, but I never thought I was playing several different games. Jungles, mountains, underwater caverns, and hot lava beds all work together in Pitfall: The Lost Expedition very well. It’s just a shame there are so many technical issues like the clipping, and the blasted camera, that cause the overall score to be lower than it should have been
I have to say this much: I loved the music for Pitfall: The Lost Expedition. The choral pieces in the Native Villages are fantastic, as are the themes per section of jungle. As you explore through the game, you’ll find the jungle is spread out into dozens of individual sections and it seemed like each one had its own theme. All the jungle beasts sound appropriately scary, and the sounds the Natives make are pretty cool. But then there’s the voice acting…
With the lone exception being the “I’ll kill you” guard, who insists that anything Harry does will result in a good killing by the guard, the vocal work is painful. Very painful. Nails on chalkboard painful at times, and suicide-inducing when the talking jaguar shows up. The guy playing Hornball Harry does as good a job as he can, but it felt like watching a kiddie show host simultaneously playing coy and trying to score with every “chick” he sees. Also included are a scientist who makes Bill Nye the Science Guy look like James Bond, an archeologist gal is a fairly grating nerdy-yet-scorching hot type, and a Princess seems to be channeling Kathleen Turner from Body Heat, which struck me as odd considering the game is rated for everyone. The high point is definitely the “I’ll kill you” guard who, for some blasted reason, cracked me up with every “I’ll kill you” line he said. You’ve got me as to why.
The controls for Pitfall: The Lost Expedition suck, and manage to suck so uniformly I’d actually consider it an accomplishment. The camera goes all over the place. While it’s nice to hit the white button on your controller to get the camera centered behind you, if you want to change the angle then you have to do something more convoluted. To change the camera angles, you hold both triggers, and then move the right thumbstick with your thumb to angle the camera up or down. This is the video game equivalent of trying to get better reception on your TV by holding the antennae while standing on one leg and bending over into a Yoga position. It does not help matters when you’re running on a ledge and the camera swoops under you and suddenly you seem to running on thin air, and the ledge you need to jump to has gone transparent. That can make things dicey when you have Angry Natives’™ on your tail.
The directional pad is used to select the unique items you’ll eventually pick up, like the shield, the torch, and a canteen. Once you select the canteen, you fill it in the health spas by pulling the right thumbstick towards you, and drink it by pushing the thumbstick away from you. The A button is your jump, the Y button makes you crouch, the B button is your run button and the X button is your kung-fu button. That’s right, Hornball Harry is now a kung-fu master complete with “hi-ya”‘s every time he throws a punch or does a spinning jump-kick. The thing I found funniest about his kung-foolery was that he looked like a cross between Crash Bandicoot and Sonic the Hedgehog due to his speed and his wacky movements. It’s as if the marketing team figured they’d take a classic then revamp it with elements from several flagship mascots, and then kick back and collect the cash. Wait, I may have stumbled onto something here…
The opening cinematic has the plane carrying Hornball Harry and a group of explorers crashing into the jungle. The main plot follows Harry trying to rescue the scattered party, make peace with some really Angry Natives’™, and collect some sacred idols while he’s at it. He’s also “helped” here and there by the aforementioned talking jaguar, but more times than not Harry’s just as puzzled by the speaking cat as I was. The player makes Harry jump from platform to platform, climb ledges, swing from vines, and so forth. All of this is reminiscent of the original, but that’s where the similarities end. Harry collects several unique items like a torch, a native shield, a gasmask, and a slingshot throughout his quest, and all of these items have a clear function and purpose.
You get different fighting moves throughout which help when facing down a pack of scorpions or porcupines or Angry Natives’™. I just wish there was more fun to be had in the game than running around and jumping on stuff like any fifth grader can do. Come on guys, this is Pitfall we’re talking about here! This is not some Saturday morning cartoon! This is a game a lot of us with terrific eye-hand coordination cut our teeth on! Where’s the challenge?
The only replay I could see for Pitfall: The Lost Expedition would be regarding the Explorers and the Idols. You have a set number of them per map, and finding all of them and all the secrets can be tough. Beyond that, this isn’t a game that’s likely to see my Xbox again. The kiddies might get a thrill out of this one, but I wouldn’t put it past them to put it down out of sheer boredom at some point then forget about it. As a bonus, the original Pitfall and Pitfall 2 are both hidden features, which is a trend I’m really glad to see developers following.