Genre: Platformer Developer: Zombie VR Ent. Publisher: Activision Players: 1 Released: 1995
Does Pitfall! really need an introduction anymore? Has it been that long? Well, Pitfall! is often referred to many as the “grandfather of platformers,” and looking at it now, it probably could be called the great grandfather. Pitfall! on the Atari 2600 (almost thirty years ago) was a game that defined the idea of a side-scroller in which a character (the hero of the story) moves to the right of the screen, collecting treasures and bonus items and seemingly reaching an end goal. The original Pitfall!, from what I could tell, did not include an ending (which is the reason I never play it). So if you cut a long story short, it spawned sequels that spanned across three or four different game consoles. And just when the series was thought to be forgotten in the annals of american history, it made a rather notable return in 1994 in the form of Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure. This release was popular enough to make the rounds on all three Sega systems, including Genesis, Sega CD, and the 32X, version which we will look at today.
PtMA had everything going for it that was also going for many well known platformers on the Genesis at the time. Many of those well-known platformers were mainly Disney games. Such as Aladdin, The Lion King, The Jungle Book, and several others. All of these games runaway successes for a few good reasons, such as great control, incredible cartoony 16-bit graphics, great bells and whistles, great playability, great replay value, and of course the fact that they were all based on characters from some well cherished movie franchises.
The creators of the Mayan Adventure knew they had the household challenge down. Many of us know who Pitfall Harry is. Knowing that crazy old Pitfall! game from the old Atari hidden somewhere in the closet, many of us just couldn’t resist seeing what rebirth would take place of the classic old Pitfall Harry. Hardcore gamers were hoping that this was finally a decent remake (remembering the NES game), and casual gamers such as myself almost missed it. Because let’s be honest, it wasn’t quite stellar.
Leaving behind the the simple jumping tactic from the original, Pitfall Harry has evolved into a recognizably human form (made up of many more pixels than in the original!) that can not only jump but now throw projectiles, use a whip, and do many stunts including climbing up and down ropes, swinging on weird rubbery things that look like intestines (what can I tell ya?), swinging down vines, and riding mine carts to your possible death. He can upgrade to different weapons that you collect along the way. He can jump on spider webs like trampolines. He can even go behind the scenery with secret passages.
While these new elements are necessary to be a little innovative, the great majority of this game feels a tiny bit rushed, and you can particularly feel it in the controls. Moving your character around is extremely fair. This definitely is not Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, so don’t worry about that, but his movement on the ground is slippery, and sometimes it feels like he’s on ice. Many points in the game involve jumping up a series of platforms and often it takes several several tries in order to pull it off. Making landings from high places is a nightmare, and hitting anything is extremely difficult to do without getting hit every single time. Avoiding such a thing almost requires you to inch yourself around at a snail’s pace.
What’s worse, the game throws hundreds of enemies at you that are inches high like snakes, rats, and tiny little monkeys, forcing you to continually duck down again and again. Ducking takes almost a second to pull off, and turning around while ducking requires getting up, hitting the other direction, and ducking again, and when slews of rats are coming from everywhere this sometimes gets maddening! You will inevitably hit the wrong controls a lot of the time and keep getting hit.
The life-bar is also rather confusing. It shows Harry with an alligator behind him and the alligator’s jaws get ever closer to Harry the more hits you take in the game. But telling whether or not you’re on your last hit point is always a little hard to tell. It’s not like it matters that much. I just wanna know! It helps when deciding whether or not it’s worth it to go in some dangerous direction. Then again, there’s no direction in this game that’s not dangerous.
Mayan Adventure keeps itself a little interesting with hidden bonus stages that you must bash open at the right point, or unlock with a switch. The elements of a good Sonic The Hedgehog game are here you might say. But they definitely don’t dazzle or seem worth the trouble to get to them. The bosses are challenging, and some are quite humorous to fight, often reminding you of the quality animations found in this game.
What’s more, the game always stays true to the charm of the original Atari game. You’re always collecting hundreds of jewels, diamonds, and other bonus items. Some enemies look like the primitive 2600 versions, the dangerous pits that you can fall into are all over the place, and the original Atari 2600 game is unlockable at the title screen.
So aside from its flaws, I can’t avoid the fact that it also does look really good. The 32X version gives you a measly extra level which isn’t huge and 3D or anything, so you definitely won’t feel the 32-bit experience with this game. One could easily chalk it up to being another useless 32X title. In fact, I could barely see the difference between this version and the others at first. The background and colors still look pretty drab in most levels, and the sound effects and music are Genesis standard, which is always disappointing. To be fair, though, the 32X version does look better than the Genesis or Sega CD version. The graphics are cleaner, shinier, more detailed, higher resolution, and the animation is even a bit more realistic. And of course, the original 2600 game is hidden in the title screen as well, but it’s hard to recommend tracking this game down unless you just really want every 32X game. It’s just another of three Pitfall!s that’s virtually the same as the others. One of the classic reasons why SEGA confused us all.