Pitfall! is a unique and intriguing home video game cartridge that is somewhat reminiscent of more recent titles. The animation is very distinctive for an Atari 2600 title.
Pitfall! removes the player from twentieth-century technology and transports him or her deep into the heart of a dangerous jungle. You are faced with the treachery of a two-level jungle atmosphere, where in a frantic race against time you try to accumulate the pieces of a hidden treasure. The game is fashioned, in a sense, in the Adventure mold, but features outstanding audio-visual effects - including a digital simulation of a Tarzan yell when Harry swings from one of the many vines.
You direct Pitfall Harry in his search for the secret riches, and you are confronted with a variety of dangers which include:
- Rolling logs
- Blazing fires
- Tar pits
- Subterranean scorpions
- Crocodile-infested swamps
- Holes that plummet you into underground passageways
- Brick walls that block your progress
The underground passages give Pitfall Harry the opportunity to take advantage of shortcuts in his race to beat the clock, but they hold some dangers not found on the primary level of the jungle. Getting in and out of the underground requires some skill to be done properly, without undue loss of time or points.
Coordination, quickness, and strategic decisions are your key to success in avoiding obstacles, gathering treasures, and mastering Pitfall Harry's jungle adventure. The crocodile pits are especially interesting, and there are a number of ways to succeed or fail around them. You are given three lives at the start of the game and cannot accumulate any additional ones. When your third life is extinguished, or when the twenty-minute time limit runs out, the game is over and your final point total is displayed. Points are awarded for the various gold and silver bars, diamond rings, and money bags which you have collected (by contacting them) as you scurry through the tropical maze; points are deducted when you run into logs or fall down holes.
The concept of the game is quite simple, and, unlike many other Atari 2600 titles, you are able to stop and think if you want (with a penalty in your point total and game time, of course). You are not forced into constant maneuvering as in some games. Yet Pitfall! can present a challenge for intermediate and advanced players, since time and point-total optimization are always possible.
The joystick controller is used to guide Pitfall Harry. Moving the stick left or right makes Harry go left or right. Pressing the red button makes Harry leap into the air. Pushing the stick up makes Harry go up stairs. Pushing it down can make him go down stairs or can make him let go of the swinging vine at any point during its travel. No special use of the control stick or button is necessary to pick up treasure pieces; just maneuver Harry so he touches the riches.
When Harry loses his life to one of the many dangers, he always reappears at the left side of the screen (if he still has a life remaining) to continue his jungle adventure. If he was wasted on the main jungle surface (or falling from it), he reappears on that surface. If he was eliminated underground, he reappears underground. The screen shows only one small part of the jungle at any instant. Harry can leave the current screen only by the right or left side. When he leaves one scene, he is automatically shown entering the opposite (contiguous) edge of the next scene. He continues going horizontally from scene to scene.
Helpful Hints and Information
Each of the hints in this section can be applied at numerous times and places during the game adventure. Included are facts and beneficial information concerning each of the dangers, Harry's methods of travel, evasive action, and some general Pitfall! strategy.
Left or Right
At the start of the game, Harry is positioned at the left side of the first scene, and is facing to the right. With this setup, it seems only natural to want to proceed left-to-right. However, it is generally more helpful to go continually right-to-left through the jungle - just turn Harry around and go. Two main reasons for travelling left are:
- You can avoid having to leap over rolling logs this way, since they always roll right-to-left. If you go left, they will never be rolling right at you.
- Whenever you lose a life to one of the fatal obstacles, you are always reincarnated on the left of that scene. Thus if you are going right-to-left, you are actually placed past the trouble spot. If you were going left-to-right, on the other hand, after losing the life you would still have to struggle with that same danger all over again, risking yet another life.
There are both moving and stationary logs in the jungle. The moving logs are constantly rolling, and they always roll in the right-to-left direction. You have to jump (via the fire button) to successfully negotiate the logs. If a log contacts you, you not only lose precious time in the slowdown effect, you also have points deducted from your game total. Thus those logs are double trouble.
When a log contacts you, you lose a variable number of points. The actual number of points deducted depends on how long you are in contact with the log. If you stay in continuous contact, you can watch your point total keep on decreasing. Thus, whenever you do have the misfortune to go into a log, get away from it as fast as possible! It could mean the difference between losing a few points and losing many points.
One other useful observation about the rolling logs: A given log never continues from one screen to the next. Thus if you avoid a log and leave the screen, you need not be concerned about meeting that same log or having it catch up to you on the next scene. There will be other dangers there, however, so don't relax too much.
Jump to Your Heart's Content
To have Pitfall Harry jump into the air, you must depress the red fire button on the joystick controller. You do not have to hold the button down; just a nice press-and-let-go action will do nicely. Holding the button down does not make Harry jump any higher. And when you execute the jump, you may also be moving to the left or right, thus performing the Pitfall Harry Running Jump.
Note: Jumping while you run does not slow you down or hurt you. You can jump as much as you want, or just for the sheer pleasure of it!
The Log-Jump Event
Sometimes rolling logs appear in pairs in the jungle. Some pairs are fairly close together, and some are very far apart. Whether or not you get a running start and are going at full speed, you can still leap completely over the closer pairs of logs (of course, if you are going right-to-left through the jungle, you don't have to worry about this). You don't have to jump over one, land, and then jump over the other. Try it!
Don't Get Shafted
You will come across stairways and also wider, plain open holes. If you run or stumble into one of the latter, you fall through a shaft into the underground passageway. You can get across the holes with a running jump or jumping from a standstill. Going at top speed you can negotiate a hole and still have a little room to spare. You need never fall through that shaft into the underground if you just make sure that you don't begin the leap until you are quite close to the actual hole.
If You Have a Lead, Go Full Speed
Let's assume that you are going right-to-left through the jungle, as we suggested earlier. If you have a log rolling at you from behind and you have any lead on it, then you will outrun it as long as you continue to proceed at full speed. If you stop, even momentarily, or perform some action like a stationary jump, then the log will gain on you. Keep going, and remember the above observation on the logs.
In our experimentation with the Pitfall! game, we have found at least two ways to travel down stairs properly. By climbing down "properly" we mean getting down without losing points. If you fall down the stairs, points are immediately deducted from your game total; if you see Harry's arms and legs moving as he walks down, then he has gone down the right way and has not lost any points. Here are two ways to get down without penalty:
- If you are walking/running right-to-left, hold the joystick diagonally down and to the left as you enter the stairway (the joystick should point southwest). If is easiest to accomplish this if you start pulling the stick toward you before you reach the opening
- Jump onto the stairway opening and pull the joystick suddenly down as you are over the approximate center of the opening.
Serpents and Blazes
Contact with either a snake or a fire costs you a life; and since you only have three lives, you cannot afford to get too careless around these rascals. The way you get around them is by the running jump, taking care not to begin the jump until you are fairly close to the obstacle. If you begin the jump too soon, then you could land on top of it or it could nip or graze your leg while you're on the way down. Even the slightest contact is enough to cost you your life.
It's the Pits
The dark, swamplike patches on the jungle's main level are tar pits; the similar patches of a lighter shade are quicksand. Occasionally both the tar pits and the quicksand display what we call "retraction action" - they expand to full size and then retract toward their centres and vanish. When they have retracted all the way and are invisible, you may safely travel over the ground they used to occupy. When they are visible, they are deadly and can trap you.
Some of these have swinging vines over them that may provide you with safe passage. Others have no vines above, and you must patiently wait until the tar pit or quicksand has retracted. The fundamental approach is to walk/run up to the edge, and as it retracts start to go across. You could start a bit early if you leap as you begin to cross, but it is safest to go across when it has completely vanished. You have time to cross such an obstacle, provided you don't hesitate. What we recommend is that you execute a running jump over the final part of the patch. This is a precautionary measure that would be a lifesaver if you had delayed a bit at the start or gone slower than you should have. Always jump at the end to play safe. To know the best spot to begin a jump, we like to check out the jungle background. Find a spot that is about 80% of the way across. Focus on that spot. When the patch retracts and you are running across it, begin your home-stretch jump at the spot you have approximated.
Be a Swinger
There are several places in Pitfall! where swinging vines are available to assist you over various trouble spots, such as crocodile swamps. The vines are in constant back-and-forth motion, swinging to and from both ends of the trouble spot like a pendulum.
- Grabbing the vine
- Go as close to the trouble spot as you can without
putting yourself in immediate danger. When the vine is just completing
its swing toward you, simultaneously press the red buttong and push
the joystick in the direction toward the vine; this makes you leap up
and toward the vine. Contact with the vine attaches you to it. You
now hear a wild, digitally simulated Tarzan yell as you swing on the
vine over troubled waters.
You can also grab onto a vine while running full speed toward it, provided that the vine is swinging toward you at just the right time. One precautionary note: If the vine has started swinging away from you, don't try for it; you'll probably lose the leap and the swamp will swallow you up.
- Letting go of the vine
- When the vine has swung to the far side of
the hazard and is at its "motionless" point there just prior to
beginning its swing back, pull the joystick controller back toward
yourself. This lets you release the vine and land just beyond the
trouble spot. Immediately push the joystick in the direction you were
travelling and proceed hustling through the jungle.
Actually, letting to of the vine just a wee bit early or late also works. In fact, sometimes you may want to intentionally do so to avoid a rolling log. You could delay just a fraction of a second to let the log go by, and then release the vine and still make it to safety.
Don't Get a False Sense of Security
Enough exposure to the Pitfall! game (or the map below) should show you that each and every scene in the jungle adventure has at least one danger within it. Thus is you enter what appears to be a screen without any hazard, beware! If the screen looks clean, you can be sure it contains one of those tar pits or quicksand patches with retraction action. Proceed a little way onto such a screen, but be ready for a pit to roll out an unfriendly welcome!
A Hitch on the Vine Saves Nine
Vines swing over some of the quicksand pits with retraction action. As you approach the trouble area, if the quicksand has just disappeared, then you may continue running and get right through the problem area. If you approach the pit as the hazard just disappears and the vine happens to be swing right over your side of the pit, then you have a choice. Either the vine or your legs can carry you safely past the trouble.
Which should you choose?
Our answer is to choose the vine if the timing is right. Use of the vine seems a bit faster than taking all those separate little steps to cover the same distance. If you do this at several points in the obstacle course, the time you save can be significant.
Throughout the jungle you encounter several places where you have a choice of whether or not to make use of the underground passages. Experimentation with Pitfall! will show you that going down, traveling through a couple of underground scenes, and coming back up can be equivalent to travel across several above-ground scenes. This can really save time, but don't overdo the underground because:
- You may miss scenes which contain treasures, therefore causing your point total to be deflated, or
- If you're not familiar with the local geography, you may run into a dead end in the form of a brick wall. This will force you to double back, wasting a lot of time.
Pitfall! Map by Thomas Clancy (in text format)
Here is one possible "solution" for Pitfall! It ocasionally uses the underground passage to bypass above-ground scenes without any treasures. If you execute this pattern without too much delay, without running into any logs, and without losing all your lives, then you should be able to net around 100,000 points.
- In scene 1, descend the stairway into the underground and then proceed leftward; you will continue going to the left for the remainder of the game.
- At the second scene, hop over the scorpion and then proceed to the third screen.
- At the third scene, take the stairs back up to the ground level of the jungle.
- Go to about the fourteenth scene and pick up the first treasure (a money bag).
- Stay on the ground level, running left, for several more scenes until you can pick up the second treasure. Take it, and continue moving left.
- At the second "opportunity" that follows, go back underground. (By "opportunity" we mean a stairway that leads you down to a point where you are not blocked in the same scene by a brick wall on the left.)
- Continue underground until the next stairway; take it to the ground level.
- Continue above ground, always going to the left. Pick up the next five treasures. (The last one, in case you lose count, will be the second silver bar you come to.)
- Go down at the next "opportunity".
- Hop over one scorpion and then go up at the next stairway.
- Proceed to the left on the ground level for the rest of the game. Gather all the treasures as you go along; you should be able to collect enough treasures to net a final score not very far from the maximum 114,000 points.