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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Action

 

Publisher

Activision

 

Developer

Edge of Reality

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q1 2004

 

 

- Varied enemies, well designed boss battles and challenging but manageable platforming action.
- Great looking cartoon graphics and well-acted cut scenes.
- Solid plot and good soundtrack.
- Recommended title for kids and a great update to the series for older fans.

 

 

- "Direct Control" scheme is an interesting innovation, but causes some of the more frequently used controls to become a little clunky.
- Free roaming level design occasionally makes backtracking a chore

 

 

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Pitfall: The Lost Expedition

Score: 8.4 / 10

 

pitfall lost expedition xbox review         pitfall lost expedition xbox review

 

I really did attempt to think up ways to begin this review by not sounding like an old fart, but we're talking about Pitfall!, the franchise that began on the Atari 2600 with Pitfall Harry, a (literally) 2-bit adventurer who fearlessly braved the synchronized jaws of the blocky crocodile and the sting of the apparently-four-foot-square scorpion in 1982. The graphics were Indiana Jones: Temple of Pong, and the sound effects were like a speak-and-spell being drowned in a bathtub, but as the game that marked the birth of the platformer, it definitely earned the exclamation point after its name.

Activision has since updated the Pitfall! series for almost every generation of console. "Super Pitfall" for the NES was almost as enjoyable as sitting on a cactus, but Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure for the Super Nintendo, and Pitfall 3-D: Beyond

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the Jungle, for the Playstation were both solid, fun titles.

In this latest installment, "Pitfall: The Lost Expedition" our hero has re-emerged with a significant makeover. The jaunty, cartoonish graphics are a break from the more realistic tone set by the series' most recent predecessors, and the new look, combined with silly, well-acted cut-scenes, invest Pitfall

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Harry and friends with personalities that fit perfectly into the game's plot.

The story opens with a battle against a demon jaguar. After fumbling through this fight, I was relieved when Harry, about to be dealt a final blow, has a flashback to the previous day. He and a group of explorers led by archaeologist Dr. Bittenbinder are aboard a rickety puddle-jumper above the Peruvian jungle when their plane is struck by lightning. (I noticed that Harry, fancying himself quite the ladies man, appears to throw Dr. Bittenbinder's assistant Nicole out of the plane before she has a chance to equip her parachute.)

And so the story begins with you, the dashing adventurer, attempting to find other lost members of your flight. The plot thickens when you encounter Jonathan St. Claire, Harry's arch-nemesis and personal Rene Belloq, who happens to be in the ruin-riddled neighborhood with a bunch of mercenaries, a local shaman and a load of TNT.

The game's free roaming level layout reminded me of last year's Metroid Prime for the GameCube. Both games require players to re-visit areas, often several times, when new items are acquired. In Pitfall Harry's case, a torch can burn through spider-webs blocking trails, a gas mask helps bypass poisonous plants and pick-axes help scale previously impassable ice walls. But, Metroid Prime set the bar pretty high in terms of design, and The Lost Expedition doesn't pull off the effect as smoothly.

A couple of levels, namely "The Great Tree," which are enjoyable and forgiving the first time around, can become downright tedious when you're later backtracking to hunt for items or simply trying to get from "Point A" to "Point B." Of course, people who have already played the game might say "Matt, you moron, you didn't have to go there." I do not know these things without a space-age 3-D rotating map.

 

pitfall lost expedition xbox review          pitfall lost expedition xbox review


While several of the boss battles are by-the-book action adventure fare, the "temple" battles are a great example of how developers can work within a story line to create challenges that aren't simple tests of combo-memorization and button-mashing. At the risk of a spoiler, occasionally putting players in control of monkeys, scorpions and penguins does an excellent job of breaking up the action.

The team at Edge of Reality also did a great job with Harry's regular enemies. Although Harry has a limited arsenal of fighting moves and combos, each type of opponent has a unique style that requires a unique approach to counter. St. Claire's mercenaries are always diving for cover just out of reach, porcupines can't be fought at close range unless they miss an attack and tumble on their backs, and if you don't silence the howler monkeys quickly, their friends will pelt you with fruit from above. The swinging vines, vanishing sinkholes, crocodiles and rolling logs of the original have also been cleverly updated.

A handful of special attacks -- including a downward punch, a sling upgrade and a spinning, "breakdance" attack -- can be purchased from local shamans who, like the idols they prefer as currency, are hidden throughout the game. Finding the 30 idols and 3 shamans needed to buy these essential combos is simple enough during the course of regular gameplay, and other available upgrades, such as an extra health bar and extra space in your canteen (which holds water to restore health) come pretty cheap. Unlocking the original Pitfall! for the Atari 2600 is another option, and it's free. This is good, because I've never really had the patience to find 100% of the hidden items in any game. Players who enjoy that type of thing will be in it purely for the bragging rights or the chance to play Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns (another Atari 2600 title), because the other items on the shaman's menu are all "guides" that simply point out hidden idols you've missed.

I'm a little ambivalent about the game's "direct control" scheme. At several points, the scheme has you control Harry's arm movements with dual joysticks. It works very well when using items like the sling, pick-axes and shield; it's workable when using the canteen and torch or pulling the levers in the game's puzzles; but it's awkward when trying to perform simpler tasks like grabbing the hidden idols.

When throwing dynamite, paddling your raft or scaling a wall with the pick-axes, you definitely see what the designers were getting at with these controls -- the joysticks, in those situations, do generate a more immersive experience. However, that comes at the cost of less intuitive controls at other points. Notably, the right and left triggers are the only way to turn Harry right and left. It works OK, but there's a 30-minute frustration curve at the beginning of the game, and I never completely got used to it. The camera compensates when you're running around, and it does a pretty good job of keeping up when you're fighting, but on levels that required extensive jumping from place to place, not being able to use a joystick to turn felt like a handicap. Still, "direct control" is not so much of a flaw as an innovation that seems to need some additional tweaking.

All told, the developers at Edge of Reality have created a terrific pick for younger gamers and a great update for older fans of the series.

- M. Enis
(March 29, 2004)

 

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