Posted in Nostalgia Lane

Nostalgia Lane: Pitfall for the Atari 2600

What may have been the strangest thing about playing Pitfall back when I was a kid is that I didn’t even realize I was playing a “platformer” — one of the first real ones, in fact. We didn’t have that terminology yet. It was just this cool game that everyone wanted to take a turn with, even though nobody knew how to win it.

(I mean, you could find all of the treasure before the timer expired, that was the technical win condition, but did you ever know anyone to do this in the Atari 2600 days? I never did. You simply played it for the joy and challenge before you utterly failed, because that was the Atari way.)

As one of the earlier games in our 2600 library, my memories of Pitfall are not a cohesive whole as a series of fragmented little clips:

  • Seeing my cousin be way better at it than me
  • Watching my dad howl in frustration when he fell into the croc’s mouth for the umpteenth time
  • Loving any screen with the swinging vine
  • Thinking that the scorpion actually looked like a cartoon face with an angry giant eye
  • Having that moment when the quicksand pit opened up and I fell into it, because I felt foolish
  • And finding that sweet spot on the croc’s eyeballs that was safe to stand

Oh, and that sweet, sweet Activision box art:

I definitely was not that great at Pitfall, but I dove into it time and again. What made me happiest is that I had a lot of freedom of choice in how to explore the world. I could go left, right, down into the underground, back up — the game wasn’t forcing me onto a path. Getting good at jumping over logs and the scorpion and the crocs was a genuine skill that I could practice, too. It was a HUGE game world (255 screens, a feat that was insanely impressive for 1983)

Looking back at it today, what strikes me the most is the absence of power-ups. We’ve gotten so used to them, it’s wild to consider a time when you didn’t have any. Not even a weapon, either! Just running, jumping, climbing, and (in my case) dying most ignobly.

But man, it was a great rush.

2 thoughts on “Nostalgia Lane: Pitfall for the Atari 2600

  1. Loved that game, too! Still have the cart downstairs. I played it all the time in the local department store before we could afford to buy it.

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