reviews\ Apr 2, 2004 at 7:00 pm

Pitfall: The Lost Expedition - GBA - Review

I recall when Activision changed video gaming forever. Activision was an upstart game maker trying to get noticed by Atari users in the early 80s. One day, in an issue of (the now defunct) Video Gaming magazine, I saw a one page ad for "Pitfall Harry". There was a screen shot of a "stick figure" man facing off with a cobra. How weird that looked??!!  I had been playing Asteroids, Space Invaders and Combat!, but here was this NEW type of game. I was intrigued. A trip to my local Sears (where I used to play games on their version of the Atari) changed my gaming expectations-- forever. Though I never was really good at it, a friend bought the game and I tried to Master it every chance I got. 

History lesson over.

Today, we have far superior technology, but Harry is back and keeping up with the times. Some things change for the better, but some things just... change. Pitfall: The Lost Expedition for the GBA falls into the latter category. While often entertaining, this game falls short and seems to be a case of riding on the accolades "yesterday" to get attention today. Kind if like a Paul McCartney CD. 

Unlike the original, you can now explore from different perspectives and within several interesting environments. You begin in a plane ride-- that quickly turns into a plane crash. You are separated from your friends, and must collect them, and objects, in your quest through the jungles, waters and "pits". Harry has gone from being an Indiana Jones type adventurer to a character that looks like a Midwest snowboarder. He has a sling from which he throws his "stones" to kill the (HUGE!) scorpions, snakes, birds and other baddies along the way. Once you hit the ground from the crash, you start your mission, which is reminiscent of a lot of games that  come out in recent years. That's where Pitfall Harry turns into just another adventure game. Though, this time, obviously geared more for a younger audience. 

He has some nice moves, and there's plenty of vine-swinging and careful jumping to keep you on the edge of your thumb pad. The second level turns into a "Xevious" type game as you use a hang glider to traverse the jungle. There are also icy mountains to climb and rivers to navigate a la "Toobin". There are bosses to battle, and various threatening monkeys (though they're quite cute!) to dispose of. Though there are 27 levels, they are mostly not that challenging. I actually hated the hang gliding portion, but some of the later, more complex territories did not pose much of a challenge. The cut scenes were nice, and there is plenty of humor and fun to provide "filler" entertainment as you play. In conflicts, you have a health meter, as do the Bosses. There are "fountains of youth" and other upgrades to find along the journey. You also have fatigue meters and "air" ones for when you encounter water. One of the coolest weapons he has to sling is a bee-hive grenade. It drops and a swarm of bees make the enemy scatter or drop on the spot. That was fun. 

The graphics were very nice, though the cobras looked like tiny, wagging twigs. They were not much better than the Atari 2600 version. Otherwise, the baddies looked good, and the environments had good dimension and depth. Though very cartoon-like, the people were done nicely, and that helps this game that is weak in actual play and other areas.

The sounds were above average. The music was good for a jungle-themed game. Taking hits and other nuances were pretty to the ears. As always, I use headphones with the GBA. Those speakers are just too "tinny" sounding. There is a big difference with the external sound support.

In all, Pitfall is a fun game with a lot of jumping, slinging and interesting challenges. It just doesn't feel very original, and the variances in difficulty is too extreme. It seems to be more like a compilation of other games... with the Pitfall name tagged on it. Considering the legend of the original and how it broke new ground, I'd expect more from Activision-- even for a hand-held system (btw-- I hear the large platform versions are excellent). Good try, but it has more pit, than Pitfall. 

Gameplay: 6
The moving around is fine, so the mechanics are good. The problems lie within the challenges and lack of feeling something "new". It's an average run around and shoot at things game. The jumping and motor skills activities are smooth and easy to learn. 

Graphics: 8 
One of the saving graces for the game is the graphics. The game looks good. The characters, though cartoon-like, look great and the jungle(s) stand out as lush and green. I can't explain why the snakes look so bad, but maybe it's a tip of the hat to how bad they looked 20 years ago!  

Sound: 6.5
The environmental sounds are good, but this is definitely a headphones type game. If you want to appreciate the "chatting", battle sounds and etc, the built-in speakers won't cut it.    

Difficulty: Easy
The game flip flops in it's levels from hard to easy... but overall it is easy to learn the moves, and how to get through things. There is a lot of walking (or running) to go through "mazes" of jungle obstacles, but that's not hard-- just complex. It's geared for younger players, and plays that way. 

Concept: 4.5 
Once a ground-breaker, but now just a recycled compilation of other games currently available-- with the "Pitfall" name attached to it.   

Overall: 6.5
The name doesn't do enough to carry this one. It (pit)falls short of being a good game and otherwise living up to it's history. There is no sense in reinventing the wheel, but this comes off as a lazy, rehash of current games. You can't ride on a name for long. What have you done for me, lately? It's definitely above-average, but not something I recommend everyone race out to buy. If you're a die-hard Pitfall Harry fan, you should try it. If you want an adventure game, there are others out there that are more satisfying. It's good at what it is-- but there are better. Sorry Harry, Maybe you fell into one pit too many.  

Above Average

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