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CONSOLE: Atari 2600 DEVELOPER: Activision PUBLISHER: Activision
RELEASE DATE (NA): April 20, 1982 GENRE: Action/Adventure
// review by Stingray

Pitting you against your own skills.

Aaahhh, nostalgia, you treat me well... No, wait, you don't, really, do you? Nostalgia often coats our perception of something to make it look better than it was (or is). I remember very fondly playing Pitfall! on my Atari 2600. Man, what a game it was! Action, adenture, jumping, side-scrolling... this game had it all. Pitfall is now 35 years old, having been released by Activision for the Atari 2600 in 1982. When reviewing retro games, I like to keep in mind the technology that was available at that time. Was it a marvel or did it not use what it could have? On the other hand, great games live up to the test of time. Let's see how objective I can be as we review Pitfall! for the Atari 2600.

Let's start off with the basic gameplay and then break it down from there. You star as Pitfall Hary, running through a jungle in the search of 32 treasures. You have only 20 minutes to collect these treasures as you avoid numerous obstacles. Several of these obstacles will cause instead death to poor Harry, including pits, quicksand, fire, rattlesnakes, and scorpions. The crocodiles are interesting in that you can stand on their head without dying and even run across their snout... if it's closed, of course.

In addition to all these hazards you must avoid, there are also points. It wouldn't be an Atari game if there was not a high score to beat. You start out with 2000 points, but will lose points if you hit the rolling logs, based on how long you are in contact with log, or fall down a hole. But there's treasure! Treasure ranges in value from 2000 to 5000 points. A perfect score of 114,000 can be achieved if you collect all the treasure without losing any points.

So, is Pitfall! a good game? Even taking off the rose-colored nostalgia glasses, I'd have to say yes. And I'll explain why. First, we had to look at Atari's lineup. At that time, the vast majority of Atari's lineup were ports of arcade games which were designed specifically to get someone to put in another quarter. This game changed all that. With a definable goal other than high score, this game could last much longer than your average Atari game, plus it gives you something more tangible to go for. Second, Pitfall! broke major ground in a technical standpoint. Pitfall! was able to acheive multicolored animated aprites without flickering and used innovative coding in order to keep within the primitive hardware of the Atari 2600. It is also often credited with helping define the side-scrolling genre.


This game certainly puts the "pit" in "Pitfall".

Pitfall! was not just an action/adventure game. It also had a bit of a puzzle underlining. The game was laid out in a long, 2D board with two levels. On the surface, if you moved over to the edge of the screen, it would put you over one screen. However, if you were on the lower level (underground) it would move you over three screens. Finding the right combination to quickly get to and find the treasure was half the fun.

Sound was never really a strong point of the primitive architecture of the 2600, but I think Activision did a decent job, especially the sound clip that is played while your swinging on the vine. It adds a sense of adventure and danger, which is good when you're swinging over a crocodile-infested lake or quicksand. The controls had to be precise. With little room on the crocs' head between its snout and the water, there was little room for error. Also, the obstacles are typically the perfect size to jump over. Timing and precision were important, and I think Activision nailed it with tight controls that moved Harry exactly how you'd expect.

Because of all this, Pitfall! was an instant success, selling more than 4 million copies and being the top video game on the Billboard charts for 64 consecutive weeks. Several ports and sequels were made over the years.

But then again, that was in 1982. Does Pitfall! stand the test of time? "Retro" or pixel graphics games seem to be all the rage right now. Yes, indeed, a quick search in Steam will show you many games that are made on the best of computers are trying to emulate days gone by. Looking at these games and Pitfall!, I can actually see Pitfall! being one of them. Maybe it'd need to be spruced up a bit or only be 99 cents, but I can see it there. I will forever love Pitfall! for Atari 2600. It was a major part of my early childhood and foray into gaming. And for this reason, it will probably always be my favorite Atari game. But looking past that, I think there was (and still is) a wonderful game here that many people can still enjoy.


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