Pitfall! was one of the most innovative titles that came out for the original Atari 2600. Gallivanting across the jungle, swinging across vines, crossing ponds on the heads of crocodiles, and jumping over pits while searching for bars of silver, gold, and platinum sounded like the next best thing to being Indiana Jones.
A sequel for Pitfall! was released, but it never gained the same popularity that the original Pitfall did. Pitfall II didn’t capture the same magic and simplicity of the original.
Since then, a few other Pitfall games have come out for systems such as the GameBoy Color and SNES. These games suffered the same, ahem, pitfalls of Pitfall II. Now Activision is attempting to revive the Pitfall franchise with Pitfall: The Lost Expedition.
Pitfall: The Lost Expedition tells the tale of Pitfall Harry exploring the jungle after surviving a plane crash. Along the way, Harry saves the crew, defeats his nemesis, excavates some idols, makes peace with the natives, and gets the girl. Is The Lost expedition a true homage to the original Pitfall, or does it fall into the some of the same pits that are laid out for Harry?
Pitfall: The Lost Expedition takes place mostly in a jungle. The jungle is lush with vegetation, and when Harry passes through a plant, it will move and shake like regular plant life does. The vines swing as you would expect them to. The entire game has an organic feeling to it. Later levels will include lava and ice. The lava swirls with red embers, and the ice sparkles.
Harry is animated very well. His arms and legs move realistically as he runs, and his body moves with the vine as he swings. When using some of his special abilities, such as drinking from a canteen and shooting from a sling, he looks like an animated cartoon character. Swing kicks and other attacks will have a few particle effects.
Harry’s enemies are well animated too. Tribal members swing at Harry, while crocodiles swim in the water, leap up at Harry, and swallow him whole. Pits open and close with teeth surrounding the pit, as if it was a giant mouth. If Harry falls inside one, it will chew him up and spit him out.
The only issue with the graphics is the low polygon count. Although Harry and some of the other characters look fine, the plants and other characters look blocky. Pitfall: TLE seems to have a lower polygon count than Whiplash and most other games that I have seen recently. Even the water looks blocky when it ripples around Harry. The low polygon count really detracts the experience from the entire game. This is unfortunate, because the animation is so well done.
Pitfall: TLE is set in the jungle, so it would make sense that the music has a tribal beat to it. The music does its job in that it sets the feel for the game while being unobtrusive. However, it doesn’t seem to change much during the game so there isn’t a whole lot of variety. While the music gives the right mood, it isn’t very memorable.
The sound effects that exist in the game are well done. Each punch that hits has a good smack. The plants rustle as Harry runs through them. Monkeys squeal, and each mango they throw at Harry makes a resounding thump. The natives speak in some type of native tongue. Birds flap when they fly away from the bushes.
Each character has excellent voice acting. Harry does sound like a bit of a rascal, almost like a cross between Indiana Jones and James Bond. Harry’s nemesis sounds like a typical villain, with a hint of charm. The head explorer has a gruff, experienced voice. The damsel in distress with the stuck up attitude and the Amazon princess both are voice acted well.
Unfortunately, sometimes there could be more sound effects. While swinging on the vine, there is no sense of air rushing past Harry. The water is practically silent unless Harry is near a waterfall. While in quicksand, Harry’s movements cause no sound. A few extra touches could have made the game excel in the sound department.
Harry is controlled using the left analog stick. X makes Harry jump, while hitting X twice causes Harry to double jump. Tapping Triangle places the camera back behind Harry, while holding down on Triangle switches to a near first-person look mode. Circle makes Harry sneak around and gives him better balance on ledges. Square makes Harry attack. R1 makes him crouch and roll, while L2/R2 controls the camera. Combinations of these causes Harry to perform different attacks, such as a spin kick or sweep kick.
Two issues exist with the game controls. First, the problem that seems to haunt most third-person action/adventures is the camera. Pitfall: TLE is no exception. The camera is too slow for the action. It just seems to take way too long for the camera to catch up with Harry when he is running around in several directions. While the use of the Triangle key does help, sometimes the action is too hectic to use it.
Secondly, the control of Harry seems sluggish. Harry doesn’t seem to turn quickly enough, especially while swinging on vines. When moving to a side, Harry seems to stall, and then he will start to turn suddenly. This makes lining up jumps from one swing to another difficult, especially when a timed even is involved.
Gameplay is varied throughout the game, yet stays faithful to the original. At the start of the game, Harry encounters pits just like the ones in the original Atari game. Some will open and close, while others will require a vine to jump over. As the game progresses, Harry rescues the other explorers on the plane that crashed. During that time he will gather more abilities through items he acquires. For example, a canteen that can be filled at healing fountains will let him heal himself anywhere. A sling will fire small rocks at targets. A shield can be used for protection, bashing spiked columns, or floating down small areas of water. A torch will light Harry’s way, as well as light gunpowder and scare away bats.
Unfortunately, these tools don’t help with the game’s issues. During the course of these journeys, Harry does a lot of backtracking. Although backtracking doesn’t take as long going through the first time, it feels like it is done to extend the game. This could have been improved with a hub system, but this just isn’t the case.
Secondly, while some puzzles make sense, some just don’t. In one case, to get an idol, Harry must run through two areas, one on each side of a swinging bridge obstacle. On each side, Harry much have five birds fly out of certain bushes. Once these birds fly out, a statue for each bird will raise. Once all the statues are raised, then an idol will rise from the ground. However, there is no indicatior where these birds are. Also, on one side of the bridge, monkeys will try to grab you. Once Harry has a monkey on his back, Mamma Monkey will run after him and kick the snot out of him. Another puzzle will find Harry in the body of a monkey, and Harry will have to grab onto his own body and have Mamma Monkey knock Harry around. This has to be done four times in 45 seconds, or else Jack will lose his body. Other than the fact that Harry lands on some ancient insignia, you are giving no explination why this happens, or why it’s included, is a mystery.
Finally, it can sometimes take a long time to get past certain areas in the game. One of these areas is a giant tree climb. The timing of the jumps, the sluggish controls, and the careful steps needed on some branches can make this level frustrating because of all the step retracing needed. Another area is at the renegade tribesmen’s fort. A lot of jumping is required just to get to the top of the fort and take out all the enemies. Once this is done, a lever must be thrown, a vine swung, two platforms jumped across, another vine jumped to and swung, and then a final platform jumped to so Harry can roll underneath some log spikes to go to the next area. This would be difficult enough if the log spikes stayed up, but unfortunately, Harry only has about 30 seconds to traverse this obstacle course. When a single area takes 45 minutes to complete because of timing jumps, it just becomes plain frustrating.
Brady Games was nice enough to provide me with a copy of their strategy guide for Pitfall: TLE. I found it very helpful to figure out which way to go when a level was completed, as well as find the idols and figure out the bird puzzle I mentioned earlier. Had I not had this, I would have had an even greater urge to throw the controller than what I had already felt.
The game shouldn’t take very long to complete. Someone could finish it on a long weekend with a rental. However, it does include the original Pitfall! and Pitfall II. This is a great addition for the Pitfall fanatic. However, someone who wants to play the original games would probably be better off purchasing the Activision Anthology.