- 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
notified of site updates. Sign-up for the Newsletter sent out
E-Mail Address Below:
Pitfall: The Lost Expedition
Score: 8.4 / 10
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
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
Harry and friends with personalities that fit perfectly into the game's
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
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.
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.