It was back in 1982 when David Crane developed and released the original Pitfall! for the Atari 2600, wherein players took control of the titular Pitfall Harry as he scoured a jungle for treasure while avoiding quicksand and vicious wildlife. The game immediately became a smash hit back in the day and quickly sold over 4 million copies, making it the second best selling title to ever be released on the world’s first major video game console. Today — precisely thirty years later — Pitfall Harry is back once more for the iOS family of portable devices, and he’s still running away from danger as fast as he can after all this time.
If the concept of avoiding traps and animals while endlessly running forward sounds a lot like a standard Endless Runner game to you, then Activision would agree since their freshly released Pitfall! (out now, $0.99) has been designed in just such a way. While it is true that becoming an Endless Runner means you no longer have the ability to stop moving forward and stand still, let’s be honest and admit to ourselves that we’ve all repeatedly tried to take on the original game full tilt without ever slowing down (assuming we were alive back then). Still, those of you looking for a purist experience should consider yourself 100% warned that this update is in no way a graphically enhanced port of the classic Atari 2600 original.
The first thing I am going to talk about in regards to the iOS version of Pitfall! — before I even begin covering the controls — is how the game looks, as here the visuals are such a massive component of what makes the title work. The best way one could describe the visual 3D action going on in Pitfall! would be to say that it does a stellar job of capturing the feeling of an Indiana Jones film escape sequence, with every successful action being played up for dramatic effect. The player will — during the course of Harry’s mad dash to escape from the angered Volcano God — leap over collapsed rock formations, slide under collapsed trees, skid into tight turns, swing across pits from vines, whip snakes and scorpions out of the way, explore collapsing subterranean caverns, tackle with crocodiles, and even temporarily hop on the back of motorcycles and leopards (while that last part might not have a direct analogue in the original classic, it’s still epic in its own right). Far more so than other Endless Runner games out there, everything that transpires on screen in Pitfall! will look just as epic as you internally feel when you triumphantly stay alive for an extended period of time.
Pitfall!’s basic controls for surviving all the obstacles that will onslaught against Harry’s escape plans include slashing in the four cardinal directions, tapping, and tilting your iOS unit of choice. Sliding your finger across the screen will make Harry leap over obstacles, slide under things, and successfully negotiate tight turns when the path ahead suddenly veers off sharply to the side. The tapping action will cause Harry to bust out his whip so that he can force dangerous wildlife to get out of the way, because everyone knows that when a problem comes along you must whip it. Tilting the iOS unit left and right, while not directly involved in keeping Harry alive, is used to position the hero so that he can successfully snag all the silver bars he comes across during his lam. Finally, assuming the player currently has any items on hand, touching the on screen icons for various power ups will cause them to become activated.
The aforementioned silver bars are not just laying around so they can make happy pinging sounds when Harry scoops them up, they are also the currency through which items — alternate costumes — and ability upgrades can be purchased. Unfortunately, it is here that also lies Pitfall!’s singular biggest failing: the fact that the price of everything in the game’s store is quite high and will require a fair bit of grinding to obtain it, unless you want to pony up money and buy IAP Crystals so you can stock up much more quickly. Now none of the items in the store are actually essential to winning — as the lack of none of them will ever cause you to fail in a situation where you performed the correct action — but the time needed to grind for anything will still ensure that you always feel the looming specter of the game’s IAP option, as it will definitely be a grueling road to hit level 50 without some spare continue tokens on hand.
Speaking of Pitfall!’s continue tokens, they can only be used to restart Harry from the most recent checkpoint reached if the waypoint has been unlocked using IAP Crystals (the checkpoint itself will then remain permanently unlocked on all future play sessions once opened the first time). Now before anyone claims that Activision is absolutely forcing you to give them extra money because of the checkpoints, not that the company has exactly been a saint here either, I must point out that you do get free IAP Crystals every time your combined total run distance from each play attempt fills up a gauge. Furthermore, you are given a complimentary stack of free continue tokens whenever you do unlock a checkpoint with your IAP crystals (so a player should be okay in the checkpoint unlocking department so long as they don’t waste their precious crystals on things they could buy with silver bars instead).
To close out this review, I would like to talk about a very nostalgic inclusion to Pitfall! that should make the older games out there very happy: all of the achievements in the game take the form of Explorer’s Club Patches. For those of you out there who are not old enough to remember, back in the day Activision would reward players that scored well on the company’s Atari 2600 games with sew on patches if they sent in a photograph of their achievement. In some ways the Activision patches of yore were sort of like an extremely early precursor to modern day achievement systems, so I guess it is only appropriate that the recently released Pitfall! pays homage to them.
Pitfall! for iOS presents players with a visceral tour de force action packed thrill ride in the vein of an Indiana Jones style escape sequence, executed with an array of simple but highly effective controls. Furthermore, various graphical nods throughout — as well as the entirety of the sew on patch based achievement system — pay homage to the original classic for those old enough to have played it back in the day. Unfortunately, while not completely ruining the game, the ever looming specter of the included IAP system does mean that the serious grinding needed to enjoy Pitfall! — without spending extra money — prevents me from giving this game an even higher recommendation than I already have.