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Game Debate #193: Pitfall

Reed Rothchild

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28 members have voted

  1. 1. Rate based on your own personal preferences, NOT historical significance

    • 10/10 - One of your very favorite games of all time.
    • 9/10 - Killer f'ing game. Everyone should play it.
    • 8/10 - Great game. You like to recommend it.
    • 7/10 - Very good game, but not quite great.
    • 6/10 - Pretty good. You might enjoy occasionally playing it.
    • 5/10 - It's okay, but maybe not something you'll go out of your way to play.
    • 4/10 - Meh. There's plenty of better alternatives to this.
    • 3/10 - Not a very good game.
    • 2/10 - Pretty crappy.
    • 1/10 - Horrible game in every way.
    • 0/10 - The Desert Bus of painful experiences. You'd rather shove an icepick in your genitals than play this.
    • Never played it, but you're interested.
    • Never played it, never will.
  2. 2. Next week's poll

    • Bionic Commando
    • River City Ransom
    • Crystalis

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I haven't played this game in a very long time, but I remember enjoying it.  I only ever played it casually, and I never knew about any of the goals.  I also figured it was the type of game that just went on forever.  It wasn't until @T-Pac's review of the game over in the T-Pac Arcade thread that I learned much more about the game.  Ever since watching that video, I've been wanting to give the game another try.  


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4/10, but it's honest.

The admitted flaw in my gamer-self is that I cut my gamer teeth on a 2600 and still, I just don't like 99% of OG Atari era games.  Pitfall and Frogger are the two games from my earliest gaming memory.  Specifically, I recall my aunt taking me over to her boyfriends house and he had a ColecoVision with this game and Frogger.  I was young, maybe 4, and I recall playing with my brother on this game back in 85.

Anyway, I remember loving it back then but to me this generation of games is just a bit more simpler than I tend to prefer today, and than I did as soon as I picked up a NES controller.  Nothing against the game, I just want a bit more depth and I've felt that way for nearly 40 years.  For historical importance, I could see this game ranking a 7 or 8, but from strict personal opinion, it really is just "meh".  Sorry.

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I'm a big 2600 fan, and PItfall! was a VERY influential game for me as a child.  I mean, this was the game that as a very young child got me thinking about virtual worlds, exploring the jungle, getting eaten by alligators - it transported me and my tiny brain, so it is very special.  That being said, there are big problems when coming at this game in the 2020's (or even the 1990s).  The biggest problem is exactly what @TDIRunner says - upon a quick play, you generally get the wrong impression of what the game actually is.

As the "legend" goes, David Crane wanted to create a more realistic depiction of a human being in a video game.  You can debate his success on that, but at the time, Pitfall Harry looked absolutely amazing.  How they got to a pseudo Indiana Jones rip-off is kinda par for the course for Activision in that they frequently "borrowed" concepts from other media.

But, after you get past the amazing, DaVinci-like depiction of the human figure what really ends up in the forefront is the maze of screens that you must navigate.  Apparently, Crane created an algorithm to procedurally generate the various screens and then froze that in the code for the game.  I suppose he may have touched up a few things here and there, but it is helpful to know that the maze you get was the best option out of a procedurally generated process.

Once, I understood (only as an adult) that the game was about mapping the screens to get all of the treasures, the challenge of Pitfall! emerged.  Trying to get familiar with the map and get all of the treasures within the time limit is extremely difficult, and I kinda don't expect to ever do it.  Why?  Because of a big problem with Pitfall!  It is just not really very fun.  Not today.  The repetition is quite dull and there is no real sense of exploration.  There's never a sense that you are actually going anywhere which I think usually bores gamers and kinda bores me.


When I rank my top 2600 games, I sometimes group Pitfall and Pitfall II as the same entry.  However, they really are very different in that Pitfall II addresses the lack of a sense of progress and truly creates what most of us now expect from a classic console game.  In the end, I still love Pitfall!, but it does not break into my top 5 or top 10 2600 games.  On this poll, I gave it a 7.  It is definitely above average compared to its peers, but not quite something I would recommend.


BTW, there are Pitfall hacks that give you a bunch of new mazes.  The game has been hacked so many times that there are kinda "classic" hacks at this point, but here's a good thread on some.

Pitfall!x256 (was: Pitfall!x16) - Page 3 - Atari 2600 - AtariAge Forums

Edited by wongojack
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It feels impossible to strip it from the historical context. In vacuum, the screens are way too samey remixes of the same few elements and it's not exciting to map a straight line to find all the treasures. Maybe it's challenging to do a run with no damage but I've never tried that. 5/10?

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Editorials Team · Posted

I had this game as a kid, briefly.  After experiencing Super Mario World and Wolfenstein 3D I could barely be bothered to stick with it for long than 3 minutes.

Some Atari games for Survivor were okay.  But I don't think I'd ever play any of them outside of that.

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Quite a few comments suggesting Atari games aren't very fun which is what I expected.  I'm not really an Atari apologist or anything, but I will say that I personally made an adjustment years ago on how I approach pinball and classic arcade games that let me finally enjoy those a bit closer to their original context.

Basically, it just boils down to challenging yourself to play a game for score.  If you find yourself quitting a critically acclaimed game in less than 5 minutes, that should be a clue that you can take a different approach.

My family had the 2600, C64, and the NES.  I played all of 'em and have amazing nostalgic memories on those classic 8-bit systems.  However, when exploring their libraries in 2024, I generally enjoy playing the arcade-style high score challenges on the 2600.  I even find that discovering games on that system tends to be more fun because, on average, there's less between me and getting into the game.


My techniques for enjoying high score games


Your mileage will vary, but every gamer on the planet could look at something older and come away saying "I wish it was more complex" or "I can't go back after XYZ game," so here's some advice I give to people who actually have a desire to explore older games.

If you can, play with a friend.  Try a best out 3 scoring challenge

  • Player 1 - Play 2 full games.  Note your highest score between the two
  • Player 2 - Take 3 chances to try and beat player 1's hi score
  • If Player 2 succeeds, then Player 1 gets one more chance
  • Repeat with the same or a different game.

This will likely get you more than just a few minutes of playtime and you'll also get to see the other player approach the game.

If I am playing by myself, I usually approach a new arcade or pinball game like this

  • Play 3 games just observing how the game works.  Notice what you like about it and what might be hidden
  • Identify a specific goal to achieve in the game (ex. unlock multiball) and try to achieve that goal
  • When you achieve the goal, note your score.  The next time you play you can try to beat it with a different technique

I can usually tell with this approach if I ever want to play a game again, but it still gives me time to figure out what the game is really like.


Edited by wongojack
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4/10 - I was an Atari 2600 kid and extensively played over 40 games during roughly 1981-86.  Pitfall was in my bottom 5 of those, barely beating out the likes of Word Zapper and Video Olympics.  It just didn't hold my attention the way other games did.

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21 hours ago, Reed Rothchild said:

Can you elaborate?

I'm not comparing it to anything that came later.  It's a 9/10 of Atari 2600 games.  The mechanics are good, the graphics are excellent, and I think it was ahead of its time in terms of gameplay and goals.  Its one of the few 2600 games you can actually beat.

Edited by CMR
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Graphics Team · Posted
On 2/28/2024 at 7:48 AM, TDIRunner said:

I haven't played this game in a very long time, but I remember enjoying it.  I only ever played it casually, and I never knew about any of the goals.  I also figured it was the type of game that just went on forever.  It wasn't until @T-Pac's review of the game over in the T-Pac Arcade thread that I learned much more about the game.  Ever since watching that video, I've been wanting to give the game another try.  


Thanks for the plug, dude!

I didn't think I'd like Pitfall, but now I'm a fan of the game for sure. 
The simpler, the better as far as I'm concerned.

The only problem I have with Pitfall is that it doesn't have much replay value for me now that I've achieved my personal score incentive. But that's true for all my favorite Activision games on the 2600 (Sky Jinks, Barnstorming, Dolphin...) so it isn't much of a complaint since I don't feel that replay value is all that important for my gaming preferences anyway.


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A truly great Atari 2600 game, but I usually play the sequel when I'm in the mood for it.  It was certainly a quantum leap in gameplay and graphics upon release.

Surprised no one has mentioned the TV commercial with a young Jack Black!

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On 2/28/2024 at 9:13 PM, CMR said:

I gave it a 9/10.  I'm grading it in the context of the 2600 and what is on that system, and I think it's one of the best games on it.  Only a few, like H.E.R.O., might be better.

Same.  Its stupid for people to give it a low score for comparing it to any other later alternatives.  For what it was at the time, Id argue its the best Atari 2600 game period.

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