Top 100 Games – 93 – Pitfall

28 Feb

Year: 1982
Genre: Platform

The year is 1982, Argentina have invaded the Falklands, 700,000 people in New York protest proliferation of nuclear weapons (in person, not via twitter) and ‘Come on Eileen’ is the biggest hit of the year. This was sadly, not protested. 1982 was also the year that birthed the platform game. Before the global dominance, World of Warcraft and, unfortunately, Tony Hawk’s Ride, Activision were innovating with the seminal ‘Pitfall’. This was one of, if not the best, games on the Atari 2600 and paved the way for the brilliance of Super Mario, Sonic and almost every other 2D platform game that followed. Pitfall is an incredibly important piece of videogame history, signalling a shift from the score-attack gameplay (though a score system was still included) to motivation based on increasing challenge and variation in obstacles and enemies.

For the 2600, the graphics are incredibly impressive

To suggest that Pitfall is just a footnote in industry history would be to discredit it as a great game on its own merits. Creator David Crane hit upon the idea for a ‘running man’ in 1979 and by ’82 had successfully built a game which utilised that potential. The 2600 featured many, many single screen games, but Pitfall offered players a constantly changing environment in which hero Harry traversed a multitude of dangerous ‘pitfalls’. Snakes, crocodiles, scorpions, logs and quicksand all stood in the way of the player finding the treasures that lay hidden in the jungle. Graphics on the 2600 were far from spectacular, but Crane made the most of the technology at his disposal, creating not only one of the most impressive titles visually, but also one free of the stuttering, flashing sprites and bland backgrounds of other games.

What really separated Pitfall from its peers however, was the fact that it was an adventure. In the same way as Legend of Zelda and Elite rewrote the rulebook for what a game could be in terms of scope, Pitfall was a class above its contemporaries. The mere fact that the jungle Harry explored was varied is impressive for the 2600, but that first moment he jumps onto a vine and a swing across a murky swamp is enthralling. Suddenly the world fades away and is replaced by a mysterious jungle, filled with unknown danger and intrigue. The basic sound was enough to maintain the illusion and so one of the first genuine gaming adventures was created. Here was a game that finally offered a real escape into another world, as long as you had the imagination. With wonderful gameplay to back it up its legend was complete. Pitfall is a gaming pioneer, and while it is, like all 2600 games, dated, it still offers a fun and exciting gameplay experience.

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