There are few golden-age games as venerated as the original Pitfall!
, brainchild of developer David Crane and the then-respectable Activision. With popularity comes sequels, and Pitfall!
saw many, some of them better than others, but few would argue that Super Pitfall
on the NES was one of the better games.
It seemed like a logical extension for the series: More places to explore, more treasures to find, and more ways to deal with threats. Unfortunately, the developers were either inexperienced or lazy, haphazardly combining strange and infuriating design with controls and physics that could generously be described as "unforgiving". Some commentators have even said that these design ideas, applied to a better game, might have actually worked.
This is where the PC-88 version of Super Pitfall
comes in. Upon playing the game, it quickly becomes apparent that the NES version is a stripped down port of this title. There is a purpose to crouching: You can shoot at two levels, making it possible to actually defend yourself. There is a purpose to the gold strewn about: You can spend it in shops for helpful items and ammunition. There is a purpose to the hidden orbs with card symbols on them: You can use them as keys to reach new parts of the map.
This is the game that Super Pitfall
for the NES was meant to be. A completed game, with fully-implemented mechanics, recognizable graphics, and surprisingly good play control. Early Japanese PCs were not known for their strong action games, which makes Super Pitfall
even more surprising: The controls and physics are far better than the NES version, which is particularly impressive considering the PC-88's complete lack of sprite hardware. Jumping, shooting, climbing, and of course swinging from vines are all responsive, with none of the strange control quirks found in many other Japanese PC action games.
You may have noticed that most of my praise above is focused on how much better this is than the more well-known NES version. This is because, though it's a solid game with some interesting mechanics, it is neither exemplary nor must-play, it is simply "pretty good", and not without its faults.
First, and most aggravatingly, is the sound. The tinny 10-second music loop found in the NES game is back again, and somehow manages to sound even worse than before. The infuriating invisible objects also return. Thankfully they are more sensibly placed -- an empty dead end or a background object out of alignment is often a sure sign of a hidden item -- but without a guide you will likely still be left jumping around open spaces looking for the key to the next area.
The bosses are also a particular weak point. There are only two in the game, a large stone head that simply moves back and forth on various patterns, which you fight multiple times, and the last boss which is pitifully easy if you stand behind it. A bit more variation would have been appreciated.
The Bottom Line
To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from Super Pitfall
. Having played the NES version, I was mostly curious how it compared, and was amazed that it actually compared quite favorably. It's not fantastic, but unlike the NES version, it is actually worth playing.