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Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure

Genre: Platformer Developer: Activision Publisher: Activision Players: 1 Released: 1994

In the era of Sonic, Mario and general platform frenzy, who could be better suited for the task of challenging the gods Sega & Nintendo than the company that created two of the earliest platform adventures in gaming history? Activision of course, creator of Pitfall 1 & 2 for the Atari 2600. Both games were fairly popular titles for the system that helped lay the foundation for the home video gaming craze. Later on, both were ported to multiple systems, and Sega even bought a license and used it to make an arcade version of the second game in 1985. Oddly enough neither ended up on the Master System.

Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, on the other hand, was originally created for the SNES in 1991 but made its way over to the Sega Genesis a few years later. It was then ported again twice over for the Mega CD and the 32X add-ons. The later versions are said to contain a few more levels than the Genesis one does.

This time around, we find ourselves playing as Pitfall Harry Jr., son of the original Pitfall Harry and Indiana Jones look-a-like contest winner for three consecutive years. (OK, I made that part up). Storywise, it’s a fairly plain deal. As we join in, Harry & Harry are located in the depths of the Mayan Jungle in search of the legendary Lost Treasure of Vaxactun. Naturally, they soon find themselves in trouble as Harry senior get himself kidnapped by the treasures guardian, the spirit of an ancient Mayan warrior – Zakelua. Yep, you guessed it, it’s up to you to save him.

I don’t think I ever seen a 16-bit game with as much attention paid to detail as can be found in Pitfall: the Mayan Adventures. The mood is set right from start with an inspiring theme playing in the background as the game’s very short intro plays. Small details like this, the continue screen and a humorous life bar really adds to the game’s atmosphere.

As soon as the game begins you can look forward to non stop jumping, swinging, climbing, crawling and slinging mayhem. Unlike many other platformers, Pitfall likes to keep things concentrated. Most levels are fairly short but feature great design to make up for it. Certainly amongst the best in this genre. By using a ton of secret areas and even some shortcuts/alternate paths that allows for quite a bit of exploring, the game actually manages to plant the notion of freedom in you when playing. Even though the truth is that the path is pretty much set from start.

The colors aren’t the most vivid to ever grace the Genesis but given the setting, a darkish palette is easily excused. After all, the Jungle isn’t the number one spot for pastel-o-rama. The game isn’t all about humid forests and dark mines though. Some levels, like the waterfall stages, are a welcomed change of scenery and a lush feast for the eye. Further in, levels are reused, which is kind of a letdown. There is however enough variation to excuse this and Activision’s focus on great design never fails to deliver. The music throughout the game, while not catchy, certainly is suitable.

Harry himself is beautifully animated and the developers really went all out to create a character that feels alive to play. The screen scrolls smoothly at all times. However, with such a heavy focus on animating his moves, Harry can at times feels a bit sluggish to play. This really is a matter of preferences. If you want pixel-precision jumping and instant reaction from your character then this isn’t the game for you. Of course, this doesn’t mean the controls are crap, they just take some getting used to – much like Prince of Persia – and that’s hardly a bad thing.

As far as gameplay goes, Pitfall pretty much stays on the same track all the way through. What you do on the first level is pretty much what you will be doing until you complete the game. It’s a good thing that playing young Harry is so much fun. There are some exceptions later on, where you will be riding a mine cart skatebord-style. But truth be told, it doesn’t really add anything to the game, though variation is nice. There’s also some â€?hiddenâ€? mini games, including the original 2600 Pitfall. I seriously doubt you will be able to miss them.

The game is rather hard, and the lack of a password save means you will have to do it all in one sitting. If worse comes to worse, you can always just leave the game on for the night and come back later since there is no time limit whatsoever. While hard, the levels are full of energy boosts, extra lives and continues. The latter being earned by collecting 50 points worth of treasure. By doing so it adds more to the gameplay than your average ring/coin collecting does and is a nice touch. If it’s your first time playing you will be needing those extras, especially when facing bosses. Luckily, most levels comes without a boss fight, so new players should be alright. On the other hand, if you played through the game previously you will most likely end up with more lives than you will ever need.

All in all, Pitfall: The Mayan Adventures is a blast to play and in my opinion one of the system’s best games. It is somewhat hamstrung by the lack of level variation and an overly animated control. Don’t let this dissuade you though. It was released the same year as two Sonic titles, which must have hurt sales, and thereby its popularity quite a bit. Nowadays it can be found for less less than $5 so there is no reason not to try it out.

SCORE: 8 out of 10

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