Pitfall II: Lost Caverns

Atari 2600

Review by Rob "Dire 51"



Graphics: 9

Sound: 10

Gameplay: 10

Overall: 10

One of my favorite VCS games was Pitfall! I can't tell you how many hours I'd spend on that game. Seeing as how it was a game the likes of which I'd never experienced before (and ended up being the prototype for thousands of side-scrolling adventure games to come), and I enjoyed it immensely, I hoped and hoped that David Crane (the creator of Pitfall!) might create a sequel to it at some point. Wonder of wonders, in 1984 it actually happened. Pitfall II: Lost Caverns was released, and for the longest time I was dying to get my hands on a copy. Luckily my friend Len had it (as well as a "special edition" port for the Atari 800), and I spent hours at his place trying to finish it, which I finally did. It was one of the greatest games I'd ever played. Then, sometime in 1988, he sold me his VCS copy. I finally had the game, and I couldn't be happier.

The story behind Pitfall II is pretty unique. The instruction manual is presented in the form of "Pitfall Harry's Diary", and it looks just like a diary Harry himself might have kept, complete with handwritten passages and notes. According to Harry's first entry: "Perhaps I've gone too far. I'm in an underground cavern beneath Peru. It seems to be a complex maze, perhaps eight chambers wide and over three times as deep. Niece Rhonda has disappeared, along with Quickclaw, our cowardly cat. I am beset by all manner of subterranean creatures in this vast, ancient labyrinth. And all because of a rock--the Raj diamond. It was stolen a century ago, and hidden here."

Very interesting stuff there. It was nice that Crane included characters from the short-lived Pitfall! cartoon that used to be shown as part of the Saturday Supercade on CBS in the early '80s, in this case Harry's niece Rhonda and Quickclaw. The story gets better, though: "Old friends, if ever you see this diary, I hope you'll read it and come to my aid. Help me find Rhonda, Quickclaw and the diamond. On the way, let's also look for a stone-aged rat. A large university wants it for research. Finally, lots of stolen U.S. gold bars were ditched here. The more bars we recover, the more "brownie" points we'll get at journey's end."

He goes on to describe the hazards that await him on his journey: "For the record, if I want a perfect evaluation (199,000 points), I must find Rhonda, Quickclaw, the diamond, all 28 gold bars, and the rat. And never fall victim to a single danger. Again though, my contract only requires the recovery of Rhonda, Quickclaw and the diamond. Everything else is gravy. But oh...danger prevails. Poisonous frogs, bats, condors, electric eels, albino scorpions. And leaps over dark voids that dare me to fall to their fathomless depths. All of these pitfalls must be avoided. I'm not really sure what'll happen, should I succumb, but it can't be good. I'll check it out tomorrow."

All I can say is that if you've never seen this instruction manual, find a way to check it out. It's indicative of the way Activision was presenting their manuals at the time, and is quite an entertaining read, for an instruction manual.

Pitfall II, on the surface, looks just like the original. Pitfall Harry hasn't changed a bit, and the gold bars and Raj Diamond look just like they did in the first game (the sprite for the Raj Diamond is the sprite that was used for the diamond rings in the first game), as do the scorpions. Other than that, almost everything else about the game is totally new, and the graphics are phenomenal - much better than the majority of the other VCS games at the time. Just by looking at the opening screen you can tell that this is definitely not a rehash of the original. Now Harry must traverse a series of underground caverns to accomplish his goal (for those of you that are wondering, yes, the game does end). The time limit from the original is gone, as are the lives. Yes, Harry only has one life this time around, but - and this is the most interesting aspect of the game - you cannot die. Scattered throughout the caverns are red crosses. As Harry puts it in the diary: "Red Crosses are as good as gold--go for them! They'll never believe this when I get back but it's like this: whenever I succumb to any danger, I'm not put out of commission, as one might think. Instead, I'm magically transported back to the last red cross I touched! Here's my theory: these caverns are part of a land long inhabited by the Incas. This great civilization must have energized healing, and these ancient crosses mark their locations. Their magic is still potent." This alone makes Pitfall II quite a bit easier than the original, and the crosses themselves serve as "save points", to coin a phrase.

During Harry's journey through the Lost Caverns, you'll encountered all of the above mentioned dangers, which have different patterns that you must learn to avoid them. For instance, the bats fly in a "wave" motion. If you can time it right, you can run under them when they're at the highest point in the "wave". The condors have similar patterns as well. The scorpions act just like they do in the original, so just jump over those. The frogs can usually be found jumping back and forth across holes. If you time it right, you can get down the ladder before the frogs hit Harry. The electric eels are easy to avoid: just swim underneath them. Yes, I said swim. Scattered throughout the Lost Caverns are various underground lakes and rivers, and you must swim through these to get to where you're going.

At one point in the game, you come across balloons floating across a shaft. If you can grab one of these, you'll float up towards the ceiling. You can speed up or slow down the balloon, but be careful - you can still be hit (or the balloon can be popped) by the bats flying across the shaft. Riding the balloon is necessary, as they'll take you to where Rhonda is hidden. Be warned, though: if the balloon hits the ceiling, it will pop, so be careful. You do find gold bars scattered throughout the caverns, so be sure to pick those up. Each of those is worth 5000 points. Rhonda and Quickclaw are each worth 10,000 points, if you find the Raj Diamond it's worth 20,000 and picking up the cave rat is worth 15,000. A word of warning: approaching the cave rat from the front will only get you shoved backwards into the water. This is a little frustrating, as he's one of the first things you find. Approach him from behind and he's all yours... but to do that, you have to work your way through the entire maze of caverns.

The controls are spot-on - the stick controls Harry's movement, and the button is used to jump. Harry controls exactly like he did in Pitfall!, so if you're used to that, you'll have no problem here. One of the best features of Pitfall II is the music. There is a theme that plays throughout the game. It never gets old, and it changes when Harry gets hit to a more of a sad theme. Picking up a gold bar will return the music to how it began. There's also a jaunty circus theme that plays when you're riding the balloon up the shaft. Activision apparently devoted most of the sound in the game to the music, and it was worth it. If you're like me, you'll find yourself humming the main theme from time to time. The sound effects were recycled from the original game, but that's fine, as they sounded pretty good to begin with.

There were several ports and conversions of Pitfall II. Besides the aforementioned Atari 800 port (the "special edition" part is due to the fact that once you complete the game, you're presented with a whole new set of caverns to work your way through), it was also available for the Atari 5200 (also as a "special edition"), Commodore 64, ColecoVision, MSX, plus Sega licensed the game and turned it into a fairly fun arcade and SG-1000 game (also including elements from the original in the mix, as well as a few things of their own creation), and FCI created a version for the Famicom/NES, entitled Super Pitfall, which - to be blunt - was a truly terrible game, not even worth playing... unless you really need to satisfy your curiosity.

Pitfall II is my favorite VCS game of all time, and with good reason. Many have called this the greatest VCS game ever made, and frankly, I'd have to agree with them. The scope of the adventure was unheard of at the time, and along with the fantastic controls, gorgeous graphics and terrific music, it's truly earned its reputation. Pitfall II is truly deserving of a place in any VCS fan's library.


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Last updated: Saturday, September 25, 2004 09:17 PM