reviews\ Mar 4, 2004 at 7:00 pm

Pitfall: The Lost Expedition - PS2 - Review

Does this game need an introduction?  I think most of you would expect me to talk about the past and what the original Pitfall was like.  But that's old news.  There's a good chance that you've played it at least once even if you weren't born when it was originally released.

That brings us to the newest Pitfall game – The Lost Expedition.  There's a story behind the game, but does it really matter?  Pitfall Harry is back and is ready to explore the jungle once more.

As you may or may not have expected, The Lost Expedition is a fairly linear game.  While there is some backtracking involved, the story of the game usually pushes you toward the goal, which is almost always to move forward.  With that in mind, you can probably assume the obvious: this is very much a 3D version of the classic Pitfall.

There's more of everything, and it's all on a much grander scale.  You'll battle crocodiles and flame-retardant enemies.  You'll grab vines and swing over deadly plants that want to make Harry their dinner.  You'll also use explosives and various tools that will aid you in your expedition.  In a nutshell, playing this game is like playing any great classic that has been revived for the third dimension.  The experience takes you back in time but is fresh enough to keep you interested.

With a somewhat linear level design, you can look forward to some fast, run-and-jump, Crash Bandicoot-style gameplay.  The controls, game goals and other aspects are entirely different from Crash, but the thrill of always moving forward is very Crash-esque.

The game begins with a battle that takes place 24 hours after the game begins.  Once the battle ends, the game jumps back in time, showing you why Pitfall Harry is there in the first place.

Anxious for action, I skipped the intro and headed into the game.  While I wouldn't say the levels are exotic, they are quite cool, especially in the way that the platforms are laid out.  You'll have to become a master of the control scheme (which is easy to learn) and their subtle nuances (not-so-easy to learn) before you'll be able to fully master this game.

One of the welcome additions to the series is Pitfall Harry's new moves.  He can double jump, punch and lunge forward, perform simple attack combos, and roll into a Sonic-sized ball for easy navigation.  There are times in which you'll have to cross a path with large barriers.  Only a tiny hole remains open, and the only way for Pitfall Harry to a go through it is by scrunching his body into the tightest ball possible.  This is easy on the player's behalf – just press the R1 button.  You can also perform a sweep kick attack while rolling around.

All of these control aspects are great.  The odd thing is the camera system.  You can't change the camera angle with the right analog stick!  The developers decided to use the right analog stick for picking up objects.  Why I'm not sure – this doesn't add anything to the experience.  In fact, it makes it a little more frustrating at times.  That would be acceptable if you could use the stick to maneuver the camera as well.  It doesn't sound like a big deal, especially if the only next-gen game you've ever played is Mario 64.  That game used buttons to change the camera just like Pitfall does.  But now that I've played a zillion next-gen games I've grown accustomed to the analog stick standard.  It's not a huge issue, but it does make the game a little confusing at first.

The Lost Expedition looks good visually with its goofy cartoon style.  As you can see from any of the in-game shots, it doesn't use any cel-shading techniques.  Still, it reminds me of a 3D cartoon; Pitfall Harry's design is really silly.  It's exaggerated to the point that it's almost annoying, and I suppose in any other game it would be.  But when you look at the rest of the game's visuals and take everything else into account, his style works pretty well.

As far as the technical side of the graphics go, I never noticed any slowdown, clipping, or anything else that would damage the gameplay.  It's smooth sailing (or in this case, exploring) from start to finish.

I was a little surprised by the game's sound.  It's subtle, and doesn't always include loud music, which suits the atmosphere of the game.

While this game is not for everyone, anyone who likes Pitfall, Crash, or action games of this kind should definitely give Pitfall: The Lost Expedition a shot.  Don't expect a Sonic or Ratchet & Clank-style quest; while you may have seen the game promoted alongside those titles, it is very different from the typical action/adventure.  If you can envision what the original Pitfall would be like in 3D you'll have a pretty good idea of what The Lost Expedition is like.  It's not the longest game in the world, but there are quite a few levels, two bonus games (the original Pitfall and its sequel), and some hidden secrets, so don't expect the experience to be over too quickly.

Review Scoring Details for Pitfall: The Lost Expedition on PS2

Gameplay: 8
Before I wrote this part of the review I just had to go and play the first level one more time.  Shigeru Miyamoto (creator Mario) has said in numerous interviews that the first level in a game is what he calls a "throw away level."  I totally disagree.  Not only is the first level in Pitfall: The Lost Expedition one of my favorite, but the same goes for the first level in most of Miyamoto's games.


Of course, Pitfall has a lot of great levels.  I especially liked the ones that involved a lot of jumping and vine-swinging.  Swinging from platform to platform seems so dangerous at first – and thanks to the less-than-perfect camera, it's not easy either.  But once you get a feel for the camera and compensate for its flaws, the game opens up and feels so free.  It's fun to just rush through each level.  That's the kind of game this is.  It's less about careful exploration and more about having a good time right here, right now.

Graphics: 8
Fully-rendered backgrounds with a cartoon touch.  The Lost Expedition's exaggerated visuals are consistently good throughout the game.

Sound: 8
Surprisingly decent.  Not that I expected the music to suck, but you don't always hear music in this game.  And yet, even when you don't, the sound is still good.  It's not too loud or obnoxious.  It's subtle.  Outside of a war game involving major gunfights, subtlety is usually a sound designer's best bet.

Difficulty: Easy/Medium
A moderately easy quest geared at a less experienced audience.  Fun for the hardcore players, but they'll beat it much faster.

Concept: 8
Pitfall in the third dimension.  Lots of new additions, including some taken from today's premiere action and platform games.

Overall: 8
Gamers should be thankful for all of the competition Pitfall: The Lost Expedition has.  Without it, the game might not retail for $39.99.  Certainly that price is more attractive, but if you knew the game sucked would a lower price really matter?

This game doesn't suck though.  In fact, it mostly rocks.  It's not perfect and it's not for everyone.  Some gamers will want more action.  Some gamers will want more of a challenge.  But if you understand and appreciate the kind of game this is, you'll really enjoy it.


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