Pitfall: The Classic Redone

Prior to everyone playing Call of Duty, and way before Halo was a household name, Activision reigned supreme in the first few generations of consoles with titles like Pitfall taking the lead. It’s been 30 years since we saw Pitfall, and even though there have been a few variations on the concept,  nothing has really stuck like the original.

But now, there’s Pitfall! for iOS. When I first discovered the game, I wondered if it was going to be a solid port of the original in all its low-tech glory, or another attempt to translate the game to a new format. Well, it’s a little of both. Let me explain after the jump. 

The Original

Pitfall has always been about a guy named Pitfall Harry that runs through the jungle to collect treasures. The iOS version starts off with that same pixelated character running across the screen, swinging across vines to reveal that familiar Activision logo. But then the screen starts to shrink and next thing we see it’s Pitfall Harry, looking at a video of the old game on his new iPad. Fancy.

Ahh ... those were the days.

Ahh … those were the days.

You still play as Pitfall Harry, but now the format has changed. Instead of running through a maze within a time limit, you’re now moving through the jungle trying to escape disaster and avoiding obstacles in the process. It’s  a runner, and a fun one at that — but it’s not without its flaws.

The New Hotness

The game begins with a straightforward tutorial that guides you through the controls. As a runner, you never slow down. The only thing you can do is tilt your device left or right to move left or right on the screen, or swipe to get Harry moving in the appropriate direction. Swiping up gets you to jump over obstacles, a swipe down gets you sliding and a tap cracks your whip at whatever bad guy is in your way.

The game moves from side scroller to a behind view.

The game moves from side scroller to a behind view.

Along the path, you’ll be trying to collect silver and quickly maneuver through the jungle; This game is fast paced, with lots of twists and turns. As you progress, you work towards passing markers. If you pass one, you can then unlock it with a few diamonds — one of the currencies in the game — and then it becomes a point that you can start at on your next run.

Frustrations and Oddities

Although that’s all great, this marker system becomes a point of great frustration when you play. See, there’s no real set path to the game, and everything seems random. In addition, the game changes every time you play, so you can’t just memorize the course and move on. The markers are at set distances, not directions. And that’s tough.

Buying markers sucks.

Buying markers sucks.

Also, you have to buy these markers with diamonds. You start off with a few, but there’s no way that I’ve found — other than gaining XP and advancing a level — to get more diamonds. Instead, you collect silver bars. And with each marker you buy, you get a few of these gold Macaw coins. And therein lies the rub.

The In-App Purchase Monster

When you unlock one marker, you get five Macaw coins. Each coin is worth a free continue once you die. So if you die a lot — and you probably will — you’ll need more Macaws to continue. And since they don’t transfer over from game to game (or at least not in my experience), you pretty much start fresh every time you open up the app. Holy crap is that maddening.

Lots of purchasing options.

Lots of purchasing options.

Of course, this is all a motivator towards in-app purchases, because you can buy diamonds, Macaw coins and the works whenever you want. Understand that it’s not a requirement to progress forward, so it’s not a total slap in the face. But does make the game easier to play, and since the difficulty level is pretty high as it is, that’s something to consider.

The Device Option

This is a universal app, so you can play on your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. In my testing between the iPhone and iPad, each one had its own distinct set of advantages. The iPad’s bigger screen was nice because you could see obstacles further in advance than you could on the smaller screen. But the game requires you to tilt the device side to side as well, and that’s awkward with an iPad.

By the time you get here, you might have lost your mind.

By the time you get here, you might have lost your mind.

As for the iPhone, I almost had more fun on the tinier screen, and I think a good portion of that had to do with the tilting action. Because the iPhone is smaller, it seemed to be more sensitive to each tilt. It felt like you could narrow your movements a bit further, which was nice to use. Really, I don’t have a specific preference on which iOS device I use, but I do wish there was iCloud syncing or something similar. Since there isn’t, it’s all tied to the device itself.

Final Thoughts

The whole in-app purchase thing drives me nuts. I understand the motivation behind it, but it always feels like a bait and switch to me. I’ve already paid money for the game, why do I have to pay to progress further or faster?

Even with that in mind, I still found myself playing Pitfall all the time. It’s a lot of fun, and I found that I didn’t have to buy extras to proceed, it just would make things a bit smoother. It meant that by practicing a lot, I could get better on my own, and that’s just what I did.

Should you buy this game? I think so. I had a lot of fun playing it, and I think you will too.


Relive the classic arcade game on your iOS device — kinda.