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Pitfall II: Lost Caverns

From the Database of Home of the Underdogs

GAME DESIGNER:Frank Abbing & David Crane



Copyright 2004, Frank Abbing

Pitfall II is a superb fanmade Windows remake of Activision’s classic action game designed by the now-legendary David Crane. The game takes the original frantic jump ‘n run action, but propels it to a whole new level by increasing the “adventure” part of “arcade adventure” by a considerable margin. Since this is a very faithful remake of the Atari original (down to the pixellated creatures), Andrew Schultz’ excellent review of the Atari 2600 version at GameFAQs should be enough to convince arcade fans to try it out:

Pitfall II takes a different tack than its predecessor, and while it is not as captivating overall, it has some worthy new ideas and will certainly captivate your attention despite a few time-wasting flaws. A mere extension of the previous game would have gotten tiresome, so the programmers decided to send Pitfall Harry underground to find treasure. True, the very top level is on the surface, where you can see the sunset above the trees–a detail missing from the original. But once you get into the underground caverns (you can go up and down off screens as opposed to the prequel,) your search for treasure picks up. The bulk of the treasure consists of gold bars, but the critical things you must pick up to win the game are a diamond (which looks like an enormous ring) and your niece Rhonda (who just disappears when you touch her) and the tree-looking thing below where you start. Each is out of the way if you want to get to either of the other two.

There are a lot of new objects in the game; while there were stationary alligators and campfires and snakes in Pitfall, there are many animals that will nail Harry if they touch him. There are a bat and a condor who repeatedly fly across a level (that their flights wrap is a small inaccuracy) and whose wings(the condor’s are bigger) are very annoying to Harry. The biggest nuisance is the frog, who sits on one side of a ladder, jumps in the air to the other side, and back. Getting past him requires delicate timing, especially if there is a bat or condor above or below. This interaction between monsters wasn’t seen in Pitfall–although the scorpion that exists here was. He’s still lethal, and he’s usually accompanied by a hole in the middle of the scene.

The way the game is set up is clever; the object of your travails(or the toughest one to get to) is directly below you. In fact, you can even get to the screen to the right of it, but a rat will bump you off that screen and back in the water to the right. This made me want to solve the game right away, because I already felt I was ”so close.” What a first impression to make!

This game actually has fewer rooms than Pitfall. However, since they connect two-dimensionally, there are more possibilities for the rooms, and the background changes between rooms, they seem like more. Pitfall II also is more lenient if you run into a monster; Pitfall gave three lives, but Pitfall II simply subtracts points(there are crosses in the game that, when you walk over them, are where Harry is transported when killed. The farther he returns, the more points you lose, and they are nice checkpoints to establish how far you’ve gotten,) unless you are down to zero. This takes some of the pressure off you and leaves you free to think–although if you know how to control Harry, you can really pile up a high score. Other than that, scoring is simple–shiny gold bars are 5000 and special treasures are even more.

Gameplay is standard with four directions and a joystick button to jump although you can anticipate a move by holding the joystick diagonally. You also have the opportunity to swim (a bit slower) and jump off a ledge. Perhaps one annoying thing is that you cannot walk over holes. This was the case in the original, but with some ladders going down five or more levels, it is annoying to see Harry fall that far after a slip of the joystick.

Graphics have mostly technical improvements. Although the frog looks like a flying gun when it jumps, the condor and bat are believable, the scorpion is his same old self as is Harry, the water actually makes waves, and there’s a sunset added to the aboveground view. Most importantly, when you are in a cavern, the top third of the screen or so shows what is directly above you, and it shows a squashed version of what is two screens above you. But I miss the cool obstacles for Pitfall like pools, tar pits, logs and brick walls–there are only the monsters present in this game, and even though you know how to dodge them, the process is too repetitive. If you fail, it takes the deceased Harry annoyingly long to teleport back to the cross, blinking all the while. Just put him back there, roll the score down appropriately, and let me start again!

The Pitfall series was a boon for the Atari system, and although the second Pitfall wasn’t quite as magical as the first, it still has some practical parts that will recommend it to someone who is not as interested in a race. You don’t have to play it all at once, and mistakes are forgiven more easily. This game, even if it is not quite as engaging as the first, still provides quite a challenge in just 10 KB of memory (over twice as much as Pitfall) and is worth checking out.”

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