Welcome back to the jungle.
Behold the dashing jungle hero! Swift swinging butt-kicker of naughty natives perfectly at home with a broad in one hand and a vine in the other! He doesn't need a gun…not when he's got his mighty sling! He's just like Robin Hood, except that he steals from natives and gives to museums.
In his infancy, Harry was just five or six little pixels matched up against impossible odds. It was tough back then to pack much character into just a few little green and brown squares, but something about the smallness of Harry and the insane obstacles before him tugged at the heart strings. And has there ever been a bigger bummer than the sound of Harry dying?
Over the years, Harry has grown from an anonymous string of dots into a 16-bit jaguar slayer, only to have a son named Pitfall Harry, Jr. who starred on the PSX and had the voice of Bruce Campbell. Now Harry returns once again in Pitfall: The Lost Expedition, bigger than ever, made of thousands of polygons and resembling a combination of Brendan Fraser and…the Dominoes Noid?
Who would have thought that what you weren't seeing in the poor resolution of the Atari 2600 was the skulking walk and creepy gaze of a genuine weirdo? Sure, he has all the trappings of a popular icon, complete with exaggerated facial expressions ala Pixar and self-deprecating one-liners, but the man blows up ancient statues to cross rivers, assassinates sleeping monkeys and steals treasures from the native population and then sells them back to them for treasure maps so that he can go back and steal even more treasure! The insensitive bastard!
He's not an anti-hero, either. An anti-hero would be a treasure hunting adventure-seeker living for thrills at the expense of hapless natives, a brigand with a heart of gold which would have to be unearthed by some comely, lost anthropologist girl with huge breasts who would force him to see the error of his criminal ways just in time for him to unite with the noble savages and foil the wretched, ecologically harmful plans of his nemesis. If you look carefully, you can see brief sketches of these elements at work in Pitfall: The Lost Expedition: there is a hot anthropologist girl with big breasts as well as a dastardly villain type. And, of course, eventually Harry teams up with the natives, but none of these essential plot details are given any care. The story just falls flat.
Pitfall Harry might be an annoying star, but he's also a surprisingly capable one. He has all the right moves: jump, kick, dive, chop down trees with his feet, swim, dragon punch and swing from vines. He's like an adolescent whose body has matured years ahead of his mind. If that also describes you or one of your children, then Pitfall: The Lost Expedition might make quite a purchase.
Most of the gameplay is your standard platformer fare: jump around on moving things, collect stuff, and kill enemies using a couple different moves. The main objective at any given point in Pitfall: The Lost Expedition is to get from point A to point B (an idea that constitutes the whole of Pitfall as well as each of its parts). Since there is no plot, Harry just tells you where you need to go and that becomes your mission.
However, the layout of the random South American jungle that provides the setting is by no means linear. Instead, there are several hub-like areas with different portals that can only be accessed when certain techniques have been learned or special items have been found. Generally, you go through one portal
to an area, complete it and return to the hub to find another portal opened or having learned the necessary skill to pass through it. It's akin to the kind of thing we've seen in classic platformers like Banjo Kazooie.
However, sometimes a path out of hub D will give you a new skill and then deposit you back in hub A or B, so that you must travel back through several areas just to get to where you started from with your new skill in order to can finally advance. While this presents a nice opportunity to collect treasures that were inaccessible the first time you played through an area, there are only two types of treasure (big and small) and you don't even really need them to finish the game.
Instead, the treasures are used to buy maps (which tell you how many treasures there are in each area and how many you've found) or super moves, each of which make killing a specific type of enemy much easier, and ultimately oversimplify Pitfall: The Lost Expedition's already static combat.
Unfortunately, it's pretty easy to get lost. There's no in-game compass, so even though you know Harry needs to travel east, you have no way of knowing which direction that lies. Of course, Harry usually gains one skill at a time, so it's a sure bet that the next place you need to go has something to do with the item recently acquired, but where exactly in the last twenty screens were those poisonous plants now rendered harmless by your gasmask?
The items Harry acquires, such as shields, pick-axes, slings and canteens, can be mapped to each of four directions on the D-pad. In an interesting design decision, the right stick controls Harry's right hand. It can be used to lift the canteen to Harry's lips or lower it to a pool for refilling, raise the shield over Harry's head for protection, or make Harry swipe treasures when his hands are empty. However, Harry's hand rarely moves but back and forth, and the uses are fairly easy and limited.
If the developers had made Harry's right hand a focal point of the game and had given it twice as many uses, it might have delivered the game from mediocrity. But the chances taken with Harry's hand are slight and unimaginative, and after an hour or so you forget that Harry's hand is supposed to be different or unusual and only occasionally chuckle when Harry gropes like an idiot for an object right in front of him.
Even though Harry is particularly ugly, Pitfall: The Lost Expedition looks great on all three systems. The jungle environments are lush and refreshing, and even though Harry's mannerisms are irritating and obnoxious, they wouldn't be so if Harry weren't animated as well as he is. Even though Pitfall: The Lost Expedition's action is pretty hard on the 'natives,' what with Harry blundering about karate-chopping pottery and dynamiting totem poles, some of the larger statues are unique to just the one area they're in and make me suspect that the artists actually put time and effort into studying Mayan, Incan and Aztec sculpture and stone-etching, and caring enough about their task to adorn the environments with rare fragments of something older and more unusual than basically everything else that constitutesPitfall: The Lost Expedition.
The game's sound is as mediocre as its gameplay. Wacky, overdone effects, plenty of cheap voice-acting, some themes that sound like cheap imitations of Indiana Jones tracks, and then the occasional latin-sounding pipes for a touch of authenticity comprise the bulk of the audio.
There was the original Pitfall, and now there is the unoriginal Pitfall: The Lost Expedition. The game clearly has a target demographic and a bevy of well-worn devices sure to appeal to the large number of gamers who enjoy the safety of ubiquity. The rest of us, however, expect a little more out of our jungle heroes.