Who doesn’t know and love this game? In the early 80s, my brothers and I spent many nail-biting hours sending Pitfall Harry into the depths of this perilous jungle. Decades later I used this game to lure my husband to my apartment on our first date. Ladies take note: let Pitfall Harry be your wingman. From the Tarzan-like melody that plays when he swings from a vine, to the iconic jumping sound, few games symbolize the essence of Atari 2600 as well as this one. It’s one of the first platformer games created (before they actually had a name for it), setting the stage for future iconic side-scrolling heroes like Super Mario and Mega Man.

In Pitfall! your goal is to move Pitfall Harry past various jungle-related obstacles and pick up all 32 treasures in 20 minutes. If that isn’t challenging enough for you, you can try for a perfect score of 114,000. You start out with 2000 points, which are subtracted when you fall down holes or run into logs, but you gain points for each treasure you pick up. There are several strategies posted all over the internet describing the best route to take to win the game. All of these rely on some basic Pitfall principles which you need to know:

1) The 32 treasures are scattered among 255 screens that loop. This might not be a problem if it weren’t for the 20 minute time constraint, so you’ll need to figure out the best way to get to all these treasures, avoiding crocodiles all the while.

2) You can, and need to, go both right and left. Running to the left is advantageous because you are running with the logs as opposed to against them. Running left is also a plus because when you die, you fall to the left side of the screen, thus passing whichever obstacle it was that killed you. This can be used as a time-saving opportunity if you are getting short on time but have lives to spare.

3) You need to take underground passages. You can’t get to all 255 screens in 20 minutes, so you need a short cut. Running among giant white scorpions cuts down your travel time significantly due to the fact that each underground screen will skip to every third overworld screen. Yes, it’s true. And this is where you will have to go both right and left. You may emerge from the underground world and a treasure screen is a screen or two back, so you’ll have to go back to your gold bar, then turn around and keep going the way you were headed before. Underground tunnels are no cakewalk though. The scorpions are so large they require a perfectly timed jump to pass them. And if you don’t know where you’re going, the brick walls can make for some annoying backtracking. Wait, brick walls? This jungle is uninhabited by people, having been taken over by snakes and scorpions, so who is the mystery mason who built those walls underground? Probably the same irresponsible guy that leaves those camp fires ablaze next to the ever-expanding pits!

Back in the days before you could simply look stuff up online, there were countless rumours surrounding this game. Does it end? Does it repeat? If you beat it twice, do the credits appear? This game is now over a quarter of a century old, so it’s about time we learned the answers to these questions. First, the game does end. When you get to that last treasure, the screen simply freezes (save for the rotating Activision logo in the bottom of the screen). Activision had a deal where you could take a picture of this and send it in and get a free patch (same deal if you scored 20,000 points or more). So no, it doesn’t repeat, and no, you don’t get to see the credits (unless you read the manual), and no, they don’t have any more patches to give out, but yes, that is a young Jack Black in the television commercial.

If you’re experiencing a renewed determination to beat this game, then here’s a good resource for you: http://pitfallharry.tripod.com/MapRoom/PitfallMap.html . This guy took the time and effort to map his successful adventure, and it seems to be one of the better routes I’ve seen described.

And remember, just because you have a map doesn’t mean you’re immune to poorly timed scorpion-hopping. While the game is still incredibly fun after all these years, the fact that it requires such precision in the jumps can lead to extreme frustration in otherwise calm people. Sometimes you would swear you were right on, but you would be wrong, and dead, with only 1 more treasure to go. Other games, in contrast, have far more room for error. Considering precision and timing end up being the main challenges, you end up being your own worst enemy in Pitfall- forget about the snakes and campfires and scorpions. Misjudging your position on crocodile heads happens to the best of us, so don’t let the Death Riff of Doom get you down. We are all human. Even Pitfall Harry.

Gameplay Video


Liontown emits a contented roar while making art and playing video games in the jungle of Los Angeles.

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