Overall Rating: 1/5 Stars
In 1987, developer Michronics (do not worry if you have never heard of them, it is for good reason) produced Super Pitfall for the Nintendo Entertainment System, a title that was a supposed update of the classic Pitfall cartridge for Atari. However, the end result was, in astonishing fashion, actually a step backwards in enjoyment and quality from the original.
In short: It sucks.
The player controls Pitfall Harry, the protagonist of the original, though in “upgraded” 8-bit form, complete with blue explorer’s outfit and sporting a Mario-like mustache. This is a platformer with a secrets and exploration emphasis, with some fatal flaws made immediately evident.
The very first ladder the player encounters, which is visible on the initial screen of actual gameplay, causes Harry to fall to his death. Now, this could be defended as a clever “beginner’s trap” and perhaps even humorous, but in this title only serves as the tip-of-the-iceberg indication of deeper problems.
Harry must traverse a handful of caving levels, some of them absolutely cavernous, and must find hidden items to advance in certain portions. However, these hidden items are not only in remote, secluded locations, but are completely invisible; they must be found by jumping in exactly the right spots. Maybe there is a rare subset of players that enjoys blindly jumping around every pixels looking for hidden items required to advance, but to anyone with a rational mind, this sort of gameplay is absolutely ludicrous, not fun at all, and completely unreasonable. The idea that you truly have no choice but to try jumping everywhere in the dim hope of suddenly discovering the item you need is not a good idea; not for enjoyment, not for originality, not for replay value.
In addition, there are no save points or checkpoints to speak of; thus, when Harry dies, he must start all over at the very beginning of the level. This can be seen as a challenge, yes, but sometimes it is also just an unfair consequence of design issues. For example, there is a certain slate-gray portion of the adventure that demands the player continue climbing, climbing, climbing up to a higher height by going back and forth and traversing ladders up, up, up, over and over again. However, if they get hit by a waterfall, they go all the way back down, potentially undoing 15 minutes of gameplay. This would be fine, except that sprite-display issues sometimes make portions
of the waterfall invisible, adding a ludicrous expectation and unneeded challenge.
If that were not enough, once Harry gets all the correct items and finds his girlfriend and frees her, the game does not end. For some completely unexplained (completely unexplained just like any forward path and item locations) reason, Harry must go back to the beginning of the game. That alone is stupendously ridiculous, but not only must Harry go back to the first level, but not even the starting point – there is a seemingly arbitrary, unknown spot Harry must specifically reach.
Oh, and Harry has a gun with limited ammo that kills some enemies. He can find bullets in hidden locations, but this advantage seems offset by the ease of which he dies. Touch a frog? Oops, you are dead.
The Atari graphics were crude, pixelated, and stretched the hardware capabilities of the Atari 2600. However, it had an endearingly memorable quality, and at least was animated smoothly. The NES version arguably looks a little better (it uses colors and renders at higher resolution?), but Harry looks less masculine, the game suffers from flickering problems in the occasional sprites, and there are no significant advances in the appearances worth mentioning. Do not try to defend the expansive caverns or underground lairs, the game sucks. Well, the last level does look pretty cool, with the undead monsters and stuff, I guess. But other than that, Super Pitfall is more like Sucky Suckfall.
Hopefully you like the background music on the first level, because that is what you will hear for every stage except the last. The effects are mediocre, and often absent entirely (here is a challenge: try to describe the gunshot sound effect). The programmers were clearly too busy worrying about finding the most frustratingly possible places to hide absolutely necessary items to bother with production values like music and sound effects.
If “Let’s put items needed for advancement in spots that are difficult to reach, then make them invisible too!” is considered an original idea, then by golly, this game reeks of originality. In all seriousness, though: Super Pitfall does not introduce any good, new ideas.
Super Pitfall is extraordinarily challenging, but with the advent of the internet and ease-of-access for maps and item-finding guides, it can be defeated by patient retro gamers. This does raise the question, though: If you need an item guide to beat a game, how can it inherently be a good game on its own? This NES title is not completely broken, and is somewhat playable, offering a lengthy quest with some mildly interesting elements and obstacles. But for ruining the potential of a storied franchise, and for just plain being a game that sucks, Super Pitfall cannot score higher than one star out of five.