Michael McConnell, August 16, 2012
It should be noted that the original Pitfall! was a ripoff of Indiana Jones, but that didn’t stop it from becoming one of the classic titles of the Atari 2600 era. The game went on to spawn a myriad of sequels that kept up with the current trends of gaming. Which means that it shouldn’t be surprising that the 30th anniversary version of the game is a Temple Run clone for iOS.
Fun game, mind telling me how to play?
Pitfall, referred to without its exclamation point for the rest of the review, gives you the basics right away. You swipe up to jump, swipe down to slide, swipe left or right to turn. If you’ve played Temple Run, you’re prepared to play. Activision did make some effort to differentiate the game by adding the whip to allow you to attack snakes and scorpions that are in your way. Early on, there is a side-scrolling camera angle that gets forgotten pretty quickly; it’s more for effect than gameplay.
The major difference compared to Temple Run is Pitfall’s checkpoint system. As you get further, you come across macaws holding tokens. These represent a checkpoint you can use if you die after this point. Akin to shaking players by the ankles for spare change, you need to purchase these checkpoints to use them. This is done with one type of in-game currency, and it isn’t the one littered around the stages. Instead, you either need to work to unlock several levels to save up for the farthest checkpoints, or just hand over some cash to Activision via in-app purchase. You then also have to use another set of tokens after you die to use the checkpoints as well. These tokens are unlocked as you go but they are also available from the in-app store. There are plenty of ways to give Activision your money.
As you keep going, later stages do manage to really depart from the Temple Run template as there are mine carts, motorcycle rides, and ponds with crocodiles. These three all stand out because they do tweak the controls with little to no warning to the player. The mine cart mimics the on foot controls, but it isn’t clear right away, while the motorcycle controls focus on turning the iPad/iPhone like a steering wheel. Again, this isn’t a new control scheme exactly, but the first time you hit this there are no cues for the player to follow. To navigate the level with the crocodiles, you must combine the whip attack and a jump, but there is no prompt for this change either. There’s actually a comment on the game’s Facebook page asking about passing the crocodile level, so this does seem to be a problem.
The dynamics of the gameplay are actually pretty refreshing, since the game’s beginning feels so closely modeled on Temple Run. You can’t, however, simply expect players to pick up on new control schemes without any tutorials. This mars the game pretty seriously, and the freemium offerings aren’t helping either.
Hey, where are the pixels?
Pitfall is one of many games people can probably identify even if they aren’t gamers. Other than a jokey opening cinematic, all that really survives of the classic style of this game is the iOS icon, which resembles the original box art, dating back to when rainbows were a staple of game art design.
The graphics for Pitfall on iOS aren’t terrible, but this certainly isn’t pushing the processor on the iPhone or iPad in the slightest. There isn’t a lot of detail on the screen at any one time. It does use a pretty bright color pallet compared to many iOS games. It’s a pretty brave move, as I think that a lot of games get away with the low levels of detail simply by using a darker color pallet. Pitfall may not look perfect, but it isn’t drenched in shadows to hide what they aren’t showing.
There should have been some places where the details were improved. When your character is poisoned, generic red lines fill the screen that just look horrible. You don’t run into it all the time, but it’s really distracting. The big problem seems to be attention to detail, with a lot of rough edges needing smoothing.
I suppose that you can consider the causal freemium model the newest game innovation to port Pitfall to, though I think it doesn’t hold a candle to the 1998 version of the game with Bruce Campbell voicing the main character. This isn’t a great tribute to a long-running franchise. On the other hand, this is one of the better Temple Run clones I’ve seen and does enough to differentiate itself to be worthy of some attention. The tutorial issues with the later sections are another black mark for the game. It also feels like the game always reminds you that you should just buy more stuff rather than enjoying the game. If you’re really in the market for something like Temple Run with more features, but don’t mind more hard selling than a used car lot, then this might do the trick. Everyone else can just pass.Follow @macgasm