Right off the bat, let me tell you…I never used to like Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure. Granted, I only have/had very sketchy memories of playing the MD original round a friend’s way, way back in the day, yet I don’t recall them being entirely pleasant and/or indeed positive. Alas, as times change, opinions can, too. Thus begins my rediscovery of an off-shoot sequel of one of the pioneering platformers (arguably, THE pioneering platformer) in the contemporary age. All out of random curiosity mixed with spreading the word to the retrobates out there who come and read RetroGameGeeks!
Originally released in the fairly marvellous year (gaming wise) of 1994 across multiple platforms (and one that Japan had to wait longer for, rarely so) including the SNES, MD, etc. The two versions of the game I am revisiting for review, however are the later 32X revision and unique Mega-CD version.
At some point in the early 90’s Activision must have been flicking through the once incredible list of franchises under their umbrella looking to pluck one out of thin air for a modern reinterpretation. Or, at least, that’s my unscientific and non-historically accurate version of events that lead to this particular title. By this point in retrospective time Activision had lost much of the industry grip for innovative video games that had made them a ridiculously popular and almost unstoppable beast in the 80’s at the height of the Atari VCS age. Dropping behind the likes of Electronic Arts in the third-party publisher wars, whose own success had started to drive the industry with clever licensing and a huge catalogue of titles that made them the go to guys outside of Sega and Nintendo on the 16-Bit systems and beyond.
Although not really talked up much these days, over its three year release cycle Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure was actually a fairly big deal. It was after all the first commercial release on the Windows 95 system, for those PC gaming enthusiasts among us (which was based off the 32X port, with Mega-CD audio, arguably making it the definitive version if you could run it – but I’m a console guy, so N’AH! #sorrynotsorry). Having ports on all major MD-compatible devices, that being the Genny/MD itself, Mega-CD and of course 32X, Activision were clearly determined you ran out and bought this sucker in some form. Especially as each version had its own unique features and draws to go with it. Think of it as the ‘remastering’ in this day and age. As everybody clearly needs to own Sleeping Dogs twice across two systems so shortly after already purchasing. *cough*
Designed/developed by Redline with a few of the folk who would go on to develop MechWarrior 2 (oddly, I know) the game essentially updates all we know of the Pitfall franchise, and plays as if it was a good version of Super Pitfall (y’know, the terrible NES game). Ultimately an action platformer, with lots of death traps, puzzles, death traps, secrets and more death traps. I say death traps, but could I say…PITFALLS!? Yes, yes I could. Ahem.
To my knowledge the 32X version was only released in North America, so you’ll need to be rocking NTSC to play, but if you fancy the Mega-CD version then us lowly Europeans/PAL-territory folk are fine and dandy here.
So you, the player; take control of Pitfall Harry Jr. (son of the original protagonist) as you set out on a whirlwind adventure through Mayan landscapes to rescue your dear ol’ dad. Simple stuff, but a Pitfall game has never needed the most elaborate of plot details, as it’s all about the detail of the gameplay, not the story structure.
First things first, as it will be the immediate thing anyone notices, is the graphics. The look of the game is absolutely outstanding and one of the most gorgeous of the 16-bit era. It has this unique cartoony realism about it which is all sorts of brilliant. There’s an unbelievable amount of detail that is typically reserved for the Disney gems of the period which not only exists in the superb back drops of each level, but also the character design and animation. Sprites to make your mouth water, I tells ya’! This s something present across all versions yet most prevalent in the 32X rendition, which runs that tad bit smoother and while minimal is noticeable (something that has gained that version its fair share of critics, must be said). The 32X version isn’t plagued by the short loading breaks between boss fights and levels, either, which is where the power of the cartridge comes into its own over any CD format. However, if you’re a sucker for FMV you know which version is for you instantly here, as you get a little movie style intro that has a real life harry swinging about and animals a plenty looking to snap him up. Like many FMV sequences added to games such as this for the CD format, It doesn’t particularly add anything to the experience other than a means to ‘show-off’ the capabilities. Think Sonic CD, for example.
In terms of audio the Mega-CD version wins hands down, to no real surprise. The music is much improved upon and unique to the format, ala Final Fight CD; the sound effects also get a fair beefing up to go along with the red book goodness. It’s not to say the 32X version sounds bad, it doesn’t. It really, really doesn’t, as it sounds fantastic. Just the comparison is night and day, as is the case with almost any Mega-CD version of any game out there. Darn fine conversions a plenty.
But, how does it play? I hear you ask. By now, you know I’m getting to that. AND RIGHT NOW IN FACT! HUZZAH! Right…
Well, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, really. Unlike the classic Pitfall for Atari, you will feel like you are fighting against the beauty of the overall animation. The controls aren’t particularly loose, nor floaty, but something isn’t quite right, that is difficult for me to put a thumb on. The actual control scheme in terms of the A-B-C buttons, etc. is fine (yet customisable if you so wish), but as soon as you go to grab your first swinging vine I’m sure you’ll ‘feel’ what I’m getting at here. Ditto when you go to pick up an item for the first time that’s levitating. You’ll be left scratching your head until process of elimination factors in and you whip the darn thing. Similarly, that first realisation of not being able to simply “drop down” from a branch, or chuck your boomerang in the direction of an enemy while climbing up and down the straight vines/branch/things. These gameplay elements exist across either the Mega-CD/32X versions so there’s no escape, for better or worse. Hopefully this whole paragraph hasn’t had you completely lose your head and you’re still with me, but hey; that’s how the gator snaps its monkey. Or something.
The variety in terms of enemies is more a case of look than individual ability. All the types you’d likely expect of a Pitfall title are present, however. Crocs/gators (which also feature as the health meter in a snazzy lil animation form), snakes, etc. alongside other jungle inhabitants looking to stop Harry Jr at any given moment. But also skeletons (standard), tribesmen and big cat bosses that transform. Yyyyeeaah. Overall though, there is a nice array of attacks among them that keeps you on your toes at least. There is a selection of weapons at your disposal, with the unlimited whip (that has is restricted via distance) and the collectable throwing items such as the boomerang and slingshot rocks of which are more powerful and reserved for the boss battles and bigger enemies in general. Bosses have a damage meter and their patterns are fairly standard so nothing to actually worry about from a player perspective, which is either good or bad depending on personal preference, of course. There’s various items such as coins you can nab to tot up points which lead towards continues and the like. The aforementioned puzzles/secrets are where the game grabs its real quality if you’re inclined to search them out, though. This includes a hidden playable version of the Atari 2600 version of Pitfall…So you obviously gotta get on dat ting. Also increases the length of the game and longevity of a title is always appreciated by us at RGG.
Despite added dangers of fire, quicksand and such, the majority of the levels while very different in terms of presentation are practically very similar to one another which on one hand makes the traversing a simply affair, but on the other offers little added spice to the proceedings. The difficulty curve is nonexistent, really. You'll barely notice the game getting tougher, just level design changing. There is two options or either "normal" or "hard" though, with myself playing through on the normal setting.
One of the biggest strokes of genius will either frustrate and/or confuse, or just have you falling about laughing is the finale of the game. Beat it and you'll get what I mean, if you're not already aware of the ending. I wont spoil anything for those out there who are unaware, though.
Once you become entirely accustomed to the game mechanics and controls, then what you find in Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, for both 32X/Mega-CD; is a game well worth your time. There’s some sort of majestic quality to it which is about as difficult to pin point as the control scheme issues. The overall feeling and atmosphere it builds and sucks you in (or at least did for me) makes it all worthwhile. It’s far from a technically perfect game, but what is there is very solid indeed and arguably deserving of more recognition than it gets, without totally neglecting to mention its shortcomings and prior criticisms. Think of it when you see a good movie that happens to be just that. Good. Not bad, not great. Nothing particularly leads you to rush out and tell all your friends that you’ve just witnessed the second coming, or anything like that. However, the pros of Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure are very strong, which does present that solid action platformer that we have to revisit.
Clearly, this review is not representative of either the SNES or MD/Genesis counterparts, or the later Jaguar version (which did instil save options) as quite simply I did not play them for review. From what I am aware, the bulk of the game remains across its multiple platforms and that said it did get re-released on GBA in the early 2000’s and more recently the MD port had a version for download on the Wii Virtual Console. Add emulation into the mix and there is many a way you can rock this Indy-flavoured joint.
In terms of obvious differences between the NTSC 32X and PAL Mega-CD. I’m sure you can draw the obvious conclusions yourselves there. But the core remains with both versions, with the slight differences making it a consumers choice, as it’s not particularly the kind of title that is a must own for both platforms, yet is something collectors would go for regardless. Both are good on their individual merit and the likelihood is you’ll prefer the version on the system that you rate higher. The reality is more along the lines of the criticism the game received upon release.
Verdict:- Pretty much a game that is the highest quality in terms of audio/visual, but has moments where it falls flat in the other areas reducing the overall score. While I scored the graphics a 9 for both overall, the 32X does run that tad bit smoother as mentioned in the main review section above.
I would certainly recommend either a retrospective replay of Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure if you're sat poodling along in the same boat as myself, but would equally throw out a recommendation for those who have yet to experience it. Does it set the world alight and change perceptions of what a video game is and/or could be? No, not at all. Nor does it have the cultural and industrial significance of its predecessor. All the same, I'm fairly certain it set out to accomplish neither.
If what the programmers and Activision had attempted to create with this was a solid update of a classic that will have some heads nodding at its decent gameplay and spectacular presentation, then yup. Good jerb.
Second Opinion:- Transbot clearly remembers this getting a little bit of a pasting when it first came out way back when MC Hammer was still around (remember him?) The funny thing was that the reviewers of then in the text itself spoke quite well of it but still gave it low scores... This puzzled Transbot! Made no sense!
You see once you strip away the lovely animation and overal graphical presentation sure the game is just another average platformer cashing in on the Indiana Jones vibe but that doesnt mean it's not fun, far from it, this is a cool little game. It ticks pretty much all the boxes that need said pen stroke to make a solid playable adventure and honestly I see no real faults here at all.
My score reflects how this means it's a game that fits the genre and most importantly the actual era (1994) as so many clone games were around but this is one of the better ones for sure. Sure it's not amazing, but it's not bad, for this robot it's right at the top end scale of average. Average is not a dirty word that some other retro sites and reviewers would have you believe.
Transbot Scores:- 7 out of 10