Tag Archives: pitfall!

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End [PlayStation 4] – Review

Uncharted 4 A Thief's End - PlayStation 4 - North American Cover

Early in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, it’s evident that life’s changed for Nathan Drake. His days of globe trekking in search of lost treasure and fending off cunning thieves are behind him, relegated to artifacts and journals in the attic. Nowadays he works as a recovery diver and spends evenings at home with Elena, discussing their day-to-day lives in a pedestrian, unfulfilling manner. When his long lost brother turns up unexpectedly, this allows him an opportunity to quench his thirst for adventure, but at what cost? Developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony on May 10, 2016, Uncharted 4 tops the efforts of its predecessors in every way and nearly two years later, stands in my mind as a masterpiece. Continue reading Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End [PlayStation 4] – Review

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Pitfall II: Lost Caverns [Atari 2600] – Review

I love the opaqueness of the box art. It hammers home the feeling of exploring a cavern, even if the gameplay isn't totally represented as such.
I love the opaqueness of the box art. It hammers home the feeling of exploring a cavern, even if the gameplay isn’t totally represented as such.

Pitfall II: Lost Caverns is the sequel to one of the most popular and prolific games on the Atari 2600. Released in 1984 for that platform and a handful of others, Lost Caverns is even more advanced and expansive than its predecessor.

While the core gameplay of tracking down treasure via exploration and platforming is the same, there are many differences from the first game. Players are no longer racing against the clock to complete the game, nor are they limited by a set number of lives. This time around, when the player is injured, they’re taken back to the most recent checkpoint; Harry has an infinite life as it were. This makes it less of a burden to explore the caverns that Harry has found himself in, although that doesn’t make it an easy game.

Thanks to the game’s setting, it’s logical that the environment is deeper than it is wide. The caverns are eight screens wide but an astonishing 24-plus levels deep; because of this, Lost Caverns offers a style of platforming not seen in Pitfall! – vertical movement. Personally, I found it had a lot in common with Metroid, a game I played through and mapped out shortly before starting My Brain on Games. Again, because of the verticality of Lost Caverns, there’s much tougher navigation due to the increased possibilities for dead ends and tricky ways to enter rooms.

Lastly, just jumping and evading enemies is a challenge. Even in Pitfall!, I was surprised by how accurate players had to be when jumping over enemies. I felt like I had to wait until the very last moment to successfully complete jumps. It’s no different in this game, but it seems like there’s increased risks from flying enemies. Evading these requires a keen eye on their patterns and swift timing to take advantage of their upward movement.

Pitfall II: Lost Caverns is very appealing to me. The expansive environment is begging to be mapped out on graph paper and the elimination of a time limit and set number of lives should make it a more manageable task. More than that though, it’d be an entertaining and challenging trial.

The red cross represents a checkpoint and that feller down there is Quickclaw, Harry's cowardly cat.
The red cross represents a checkpoint and that feller down there is Quickclaw, Harry’s cowardly cat.

When played in Activision Anthology, achieving scores of 45,000 and 99,000 points will unlock a new gameplay mode and patch. Again, this patch requirement matches what player’s originally had to strive for.

Private Eye [Atari 2600] – Review

Activision began moving away from their original box art template in 1983.
Activision began moving away from their original box art template in 1984.

Taking inspiration from Pitfall!, Bob Whitehead’s Private Eye is a video game with simple gameplay mechanics, built around a larger, single-player orientated adventure. As one would suspect from the title, this game is about sleuthing.

Pierre Touché is on the trail of Henri Le Fiend but to book him properly, he needs evidence. Controlling Pierre, players travel through an expansive (in Atari 2600 terms) version of New York City tracking down the required items to proceed with a criminal prosecution. There are five cases in the game and they’re outlined well in the manual. Also outlined in the manual is a rough sketch of the city, helping players navigate without getting lost or being forced to make their own.

I think a big factor in my preference of Pitfall! over this game is platforming. Conceptually, both games are practically identical. I wouldn’t say it’s reductionism to call these games fetch quests in a large environment. A core conceit of the former is platforming. While the objective is to collect treasures, the platforming involved in this task takes up the bulk of the game. It’s challenging and getting timing down can be fun. I don’t see the same emphasis placed on platforming in Private Eye, and without it, I don’t find it as fun.

The little platforming required sends Pierre launching out of his 1935 Ford Model A.
The little platforming required sends Pierre launching out of his 1935 Ford Model A.

Originally getting the “Super Sleuth” badge required players to complete the third case in Private Eye. In Activision Anthology, all that’s required is to start it. So yeah, games are way easier than they used to be.

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.

Fishing Derby [Atari 2600] – Review

Warren Robinett must have drawn that shark.
Warren Robinett must have drawn that shark.

What could’ve been a laid back fishing trip to the piers is anything but in 1980’s Fishing Derby for the Atari 2600. In it, two opposing fisherman aim to out fish each other, which in this game means reaching ninety-nine points first.

Fish are arranged in rows and are worth more points depending on how deep they reside. Getting a bite seemed hit and miss in my experiences with the game, but with a human opponent, this wasn’t as much of a detriment since both were facing the same problem. If one person was getting strikes consistently and the other wasn’t, it could be a tad funny, maybe. When a fish was on the line, managing it didn’t simply entail reeling it in as fast as possible thanks to the opportunistic shark roaming near the surface. A cute and easy to pick up and play game that, like Boxing, is at its best with a human opponent.

In what seems like a still from The Red Green Show, two oafs try their luck at fishing in shark-infested waters.
In what seems like a still from The Red Green Show, two oafs try their luck at fishing in shark-infested waters.

Fishing Derby was designed by David Crane who was arguably the most prolific designers of Atari 2600 games with titles like Dragster and Pitfall! to his name. He continued developing video games until the mid nineties and is perhaps most known post-Atari 2600 for A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia.

Activision Anthology [PS2] – Review

"Pulling Mussels (From the Shell" by Squeeze is my favorite track from the tubular 1980s soundtrack.
“Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)” by Squeeze is my favorite track from the tubular 1980s soundtrack.

Released on November 25, 2002 in North America, this compilation collects the majority of Activision’s output on the Atari 2600 and a little more. There are other versions of this game out there on various platforms and truth be told, the PC version appears to be the most complete, but hey, this is what I have. The Wikipedia entry for this game has a wonderful breakdown of what each version includes by the way.

Activision Anthology is nearly over the hill with a list of games that almost numbers fifty. Although many are rather simplistic – requiring the player to learn to uncomplicated mechanics and progressively improve their score – that doesn’t mean these games aren’t worth playing. This simplicity is these games’ selling point. Understanding the mechanics of these games comes quickly, but having a fantastic session and lighting up the scoreboard is something that requires practice.

With the passage of time though, Activision’s games grew more complicated and some, like Pitfall!, revolve more around the experience of a single player. Though sparse here, these games offer a break from the monotony of shooting waves of advancing enemies. Should this offering wear thin after a sojourn with each title, multiplayer should reinvigorate one’s time with Activision Anthology.

Although they're not much to look at, it's games like Demon Attack that'll keep you trying for a better score.
Although they’re not much to look at, it’s games like Demon Attack that’ll keep you trying for a better score.

One thing the PS2 game has going for it that perhaps not every version does is top-notch presentation. Barking Lizards Technologies and Contraband Entertainment really knocked it out of the park. Be it through these companies or someone at Activision, it’s clear that there was a real affection for Activision’s output in this era. Rather than a list of games to choose from, the “main menu” is instead stylized after a room as it might look in the 1980s. Situated inside are the Atari 2600, a rack of cartridges, and an old stereo among other goodies.

Hands down, the coolest feature has to be the ability to unlock patches for high scores or other criteria. After achieving a specific goal, a player back in the early 1980s could submit photographic proof to Activision in return for a patch signaling the accomplishment. These patches are quite the collector’s item today and spotlight a cool appreciation program from the past. Also spotlighting the past are the cheesy, premise-based commercials that can also be unlocked; these are definitely worth viewing.

Sega's Bonanza Bros. must've been inspired by Keystone Kapers, Activision's cops and robbers game.
Sega’s Bonanza Bros. must’ve been inspired by Keystone Kapers, Activision’s cops and robbers game.

The wealth of games to play, not to mention the numerous unlockables have kept me satiated longer than anticipated, and I don’t have a particular fondness for the Atari 2600! After a week or so, I’m still playing some of these games trying to beat personal best scores and to experience new enemies and stage designs. That’s the bread and butter of this package. Despite the wonderful presentation, the games are the reason to pick Activision Anthology up.