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Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns

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Released: 1984

Genre: Platformer

Format reviewed: Atari 2600

Publisher: Activision

Developer: David Crane

Submitted by: Darran Jones

I love Pitfall II, but it wasn’t always that way. I first fumbled around with the Sinclair Spectrum version, which, to my frustration, was ugly and unsatisfying. The experience was over in minutes and I wanted my money back. Nearly 20 years later, when researching an emulation feature for this very magazine, I finally had the chance to play around with David Crane’s original Atari 2600 version. And I immediately fell under its spell. My opinion of the game, horribly tainted by the god-awful Spectrum version, changed in an instant, and I spent a good few hours making up for lost time.

Everything that’s great about Pitfall II just so happens to be featured in this big ol’ screenshot, from the dense jungle where the game begins (evoking fond memories of Harry’s first, less excellent adventure), through the scorpions and other subterranean nasties that must be dodged with split-second timing, the underground lake complete with a waterfall which plunges our hero into a pool of deadly electric eels, the daring vertical balloon ride up a bat-infested cavern, to the reunion with Harry’s stranded niece Rhonda. Best of all, you can only see a small section of the game here; Pitfall II is huge, with a maze of passages to explore and many treasures to discover.

The game was ported to a number of more powerful machines – the Spectrum version easily the worst, the Atari 5200 version probably the best – but the original comes out on top as it pushes the primitive 2600 hardware way beyond its limits, creating a vast game-world on a machine designed for playing Pong. It’s a true showcase title and one that still plays surprisingly well to this day. Ironically, the main quirk for modern gamers is the innovative respawn system – which broke new ground by dispensing with the traditional lives counter – but having to watch a ghostly Harry drift back to the last checkpoint quickly wears thin.

Thankfully, it’s not enough to take the shine off this superbly polished title. With Pitfall II Crane successfully tamed the 2600, and in doing so shamed the competition.