The two original Pitfall games for the Atari 2600 have become quite dated now – walking across a handful of endlessly repeating screens in the hope of finding treasure has lost its appeal. Activision once tried to "upgrade" the formula by allowing the Japanese developer Pony Canyon to make Super Pitfall for the NES, but that turned out so terrible it was almost unplayable.
So, with the arrival of 16-bit platforms, the developers decided to take matters back into their own hands – this time reimagining the entire game. In Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure no longer will you trawl through seemingly endless jungles whilst looking for the occasional spot treasure; players now get to visit a variety of locations in search of their father, the star of the previous games, Pitfall Harry. Best of all, players can actually defend themselves this time!
Similar to games such as Earthworm Jim, Pitfall features some very well animated characters: Harry Jr. and his enemies have very detailed motions, and almost look right out of a cartoon. Speaking of Harry Jr., his father, Harry Sr., must be proud of him – he's a far better explorer than his old man. Instead of only being able to run, jump and climb/swing on things, Harry Jr. is able to crawl, slide, roll, and much more. He's also got weapons at his disposal: a whip to thrash most of the generic enemies into submission; a slingshot, which can fire both normal stones and those of the exploding type (for taking care of bosses); and even a boomerang (for cutting spiderwebs).
As you're in the jungle you can expect a lot of different foes: snakes, crocodiles and pitfalls that will consume you if you get too close, dragonflies, monkeys, spiders, hawks, and other wildlife that will make Harry’s life truly miserable. Many will also be pleased to hear that the scorpion enemy from the original game makes a cameo – completely pixellated and looking just like he did on the Atari 2600!
The generic jungle isn't the only place you'll visit this time: Harry will be dodging traps in ancient ruins, climbing waterfalls, riding minecarts through abandoned mines, and even crossing a crocodile-infested river. Most of the "outside" stages have fairly straightforward platforming action, whereas the majority of the "inside" stages feature small puzzles (such as finding switches to open doors). There are a total of 13 levels to adventure through, so you'll certainly get your fair share of action… if you can stay alive. You see, in Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, players are only given two continues to beat the game, which is a pretty small amount, however, you can start out from any stage you've managed to reach before, so it's not as bad as it sounds.
While we have nothing to fault with the game’s graphics, the music, however, is a bit of a mixed bag. Although it’s true that the audio captures the feeling of every stage pretty well, there is a major problem… it's from the Mega Drive, so sound is very gritty! What’s most frustrating about this is that it could've been avoided if the Super Nintendo version was released instead – sadly, Activision did not think that way.
The only other thing that's a bit disappointing is the game's bosses: each one except from the last sees you facing off against one or two jaguars – a massive missed opportunity. Surely Activision could've thought up some other bosses for a game set in the jungle!? To make up for this somewhat, the jaguars do have a few new attacks in every encounter – but it still feels a bit lame.
Countering some of the effects of the lack of variety is the game's redeeming grace – it's really two games in one! If you enter a code on the title screen, you can play the original Atari 2600 game. It's pretty fun being able to see how the series has evolved from its simple roots to an Indiana Jones-style platforming game. The code's pretty hard to find out by accident – you have to press down, then the A button 26 times, and then down again.
Sure, a man fighting through the jungle with a whip might not be completely original, but Activision successfully managed to give the Pitfall series a much-needed facelift for the 16-bit era. Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure might not be the best platformer on VC, but as it stands it's a great little game nonetheless. We sincerely hope that Activision is planning to release many more games on the service!