Released in 1982 by Activation, Pitfall features the adventures of Pitfall Harry as he runs, jumps, and swings his way through an alligator and scorpion-filled jungle in order to recover a variety of treasures.
Pitfall sold over four million copies. It plays a minor role in Ready Player One as one of the Atori 2600 games found in a simulation of James Halliday’s childhood home.
Beside the Atari was a shoebox containing nine game cartridges: Combat, Space Invaders, Pitfall, Kaboom!, Star Raiders, The Empire Strikes Back, Starmaster, Yars’ Revenge, and E.T. — Ready Player One p. 102
Pitfall is the prototypical side-scrolling platformer. The game features an 8-bit stick figure – Pitfall Harry – running through a jungle. A timer slowly counts down from 20 minutes; that’s the amount of time you have to find all of the treasures hidden throughout the pixeled environment. Overland challenges feature static and rolling logs (to be jumped over), vines to swing over ponds and quicksand pits, and numerous lethal animals. Alligators lurk in the ponds (forcing you to jump on their heads in order to cross the pond, if no handy vine is available). Each screen – there are 255 of them – features new threats and potential rewards.
Meanwhile, you can also advance through underground passages, which allow you to skip three overland screens at a time. The passages are filled with their own threats, namely lethal scorpions. A more subtle threat is the occasional brick wall, which block forward progress and force you to double back (which, while not fatal, does cost you valuable time).
As a kid, I loved Pitfall. That love was, in part, driven by an obsession to get one of the Pitfall Activision patches. To earn one, all you needed to do was score 20,000 points in Pitfall and send photographic evidence to Activision. My friends and I spent many an afternoon and evening trying to get to that point; if I recall correctly, we did it … but never got the patch.
I don’t recall if we never submitted our scores or if Activision ran out of patches, but it doesn’t matter. This was very much a digital journey before destination sort of thing, and we had a blast trying. Game play-wise, Pitfall is exceedingly simplistic, but the relentless countdown clock, combined with the need to precisely time your jumps, still makes it challenging (if a little repetitive).
The Ready Player One Replay is an ongoing exploration of the games that inspired the novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Love it or hate it, there’s value in revisiting our geeky roots.
- My High Score: 8,686 with 16:31 minutes remaining.
Where to Play
- Wikipedia: Pitfall
- 8 Bit Central: Pitfall
- Game Informer: Activision Badges – The Original Gaming Achievement
- Reddit: The Pitfall Patch – When Pitfall! was released for the Atari in 1982, if you scored 20,000 points or more and sent Activision a picture of the score on your television, they sent you one of these