Pitfall! [Atari 2600] – Review

Selling north of four million copies, this is the second-best selling game on the Atari 2600.
Selling north of four million copies, this is the second-best selling game on the Atari 2600.

Of the original designers at Activision, David Crane was arguably the most prolific with titles like Dragster and Freeway to his name. But I’m not kidding anyone with that succinct introduction; inarguably, David Crane’s magnum opus is Pitfall!. Originally released by Activision in 1982 for the Atari 2600, it was also released for every major video game console of the day, as well as a few personal computers.

As Pitfall Harry, players are tasked with retrieving a slew of treasures hidden all over an expansive jungle – over two hundred screens! Within twenty minutes, the player is expected to navigate Harry through the puzzle-like jungle and overcome obstacles like quicksand and crocodiles. Traversing the (now) technologically primitive, yet, expansive 2D world makes one wish Harry had a GPS or at least a map, but part of the fun is solving that quandary with a map of one’s own making.

What I found interesting about Pitfall! in some retrospective reading, is its introduction of long-form gameplay. If anyone has actually been following along with these articles, the games I’ve been discussing are very simple. The majority revolve around the concept of score attack or time attack, rather than a quest; they’re more focused on competition. Ian Bogost and Nick Montfort describe this game as “a distinction point between the home and video game markets” in Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System. In effect, Pitfall! was one of the first games to bring about what could be considered the evolution of the single player video game.

In case you didn't think this looks tricky, believe me, it is.
In case you didn’t think this looks tricky, believe me, it is.

Anyways, there is an unlockable commercial and patch in Activision Anthology, awarded after 12,000 and 20,000 points which was the actual requirement to get the patch back in the day. If anyone didn’t already know, that’s Jack Black in the commercial.

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