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Developer: Activision Publishing
Price: $.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0
Device Reviewed On: iPad 2

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★½
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★½☆
Replay Value Rating: ★★½☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

This is not your your parents’ Pitfall!. Starring 8-bit Pitfall Harry, the game children of the 70’s grew up playing looks like the splash screen for Activision’s new iOS version, released to mark the title’s 30th anniversary. I like what they’ve done to the game for the most part, turning it into a endless runner in the vein of Temple Run. Unfortunately the push to monetize this iteration makes it hard to get hooked.

The rebirth of Pitfall! as an endless runner makes sense. The game was always about quickly going up and down, swinging from vines and dodging about – it just fits. The original was released not long after Indian Jones fever swept America, and it always had that vibe. It’s coincidental that Temple Run riffs on the same motif; Activision is being faithful to the original game in terms of setting and theme, if not core mechanics.

Pitfall! has one awesome element we’ve not seen before. The game switches perspective so one minute we’re playing a side-scroller, the next a vertical one. The camera’s proximity to the action and angle shift, too.

The controls are the typical up and downward swipes for jumps and slides, left and right swipes for hard turns, and the accelerometer controlling Harry’s exact path. There is also tapping to snap enemies with a whip. If one survives long enough they get to ride on wildcats, motorcycles and mine carts. The gameplay doesn’t change, but the illusion of speed and peril, particularly with the evocative soundtrack, give Pitfall! enough distinction to warrant the $.99 entry fee.

The trouble comes with the power ups. The store’s a confusing mess with multiple currencies, and the boosts are unimaginative and extremely costly whether players use the in-game bar currency – which are strewn on the course, but not bountiful  – or by purchasing gems in-app. The various “tonics” are all limited-use and the game misses no opportunity to suggest buying more.

One of the best features, is maddening as a result. At each 2000m milestone there’s a checkpoint. It takes lots of grinding to make it that far so it’s welcome. The trouble is, once reached it’s unlocked, but not useable. Players must use another payment method – Macaw tokens – which eat through the other forms  of pseudo-money at a disheartening pace. Worse, opening later checkpoints doesn’t mean the macaw will drop Harry there. If one’s unlocked the 4000m mark, for example, but dies at 1900m the token will start them at 2000m i.e. the closest point to where they fell. The final insult is that when gamers stop playing for more than minutes the tokens are saved, but checkpoints lock again.

The relentless push towards purchasing and a poorly thought out reward system plagues Pitfall!. Other games use upgrades to help players make permanent progress and that feeds the addiction. Pitfall!, however, falls into an avaricious money pit and ultimately feeds frustration.

 

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