PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating
DEVELOPER: Activision (port by Sega)
RELEASE DATE: 1985 (JP)
As David Byrne once sang, “This is not your beautiful Pitfall II.” Or was it David Crane? Well, who ever sang it, if it was ever sung, the phrase stands. The SG-1000 Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns is not quite the Pitfall II you remember from the 2600. Or the 5200. Or the billions of other systems Pitfall II was ported to. This is Sega’s Pitfall II because… they thought they could do a better job than Activision? Licensing was an easier road to take than outright stealing the Pitfall formula? Simply because they could, and besides, who would stop them? Let’s go with the latter.
In 1985, Sega licensed Pitfall II for arcades and the result was a highly enhanced version of the game with added bonus features. Prettier graphics! Extra lives! The ability to see more of the maze at one time! The ability to travel by balloon! And for the Harry who has everything, falling stalactites!
Yes, Pitfall Harry’s life is a whirlwind of activity. But even with all these zany extras, the gameplay is basically the same. Pitfall Harry has to explore caverns of the lost variety via his significant jumping ability. He has no weapons and no items to use, save for various money bags and other assorted pearls that add to his score. The caverns are filled with creepy crawlies with specific movement patterns: bats and hawks swoop up and down, scorpions hot step it across the cold cavern floor, and frogs jump back and forth over ladder holes. Sinkholes appear out of nowhere. Water plots can only be swung over. Pitfall II is pure timing and memorization. The game is simple platforming pre-Super Mario Bros., yet it remains addictive and challenging to this day.
The SG-1000 version doesn’t look as nice as the arcade. Harry in particular looks like a salary man on his way home from work. All in all, though, the game has a brighter and cleaner look than most SG-1000 titles. Harry controls like a boss too. Precise jumps are key in the Pitfall series and the game pulls them off well. The only issue I have with the game is how Harry automatically falls through holes, even if a ladder is placed under the hole. I know this “falling through holes” mechanic is integral to how Harry progresses through the cavern, but compared to Pitfall II‘s overall elegance, it feels downright awkward.
Thanks to my aversion to all systems and games pre-NES, I hadn’t played a “traditional” Pitfall game prior to the SG-1000 Pitfall II (Super Pitfall will never count as a traditional Pitfall title). Pitfall‘s style is not the type of platforming game I’m used to, but I was still impressed with the game’s simple, minimalist design. Every room, every enemy, in the lost caverns feels thought out and well-placed. Simple it may be, but few games can claim as much about their own design.