Reviewed: November 7, 2008
Released: October 7, 2008
When I first laid eyes on Pitfall: The Big Adventure, the latest in a venerable and noble line of platform games, I admit my hopes were dim. The problem? A bad first impression, courtesy of the game's box art. Staring out bewilderedly from the center is what can only be described as a hideous amalgamation of the body of Pitfall Harry (the series' star and mascot) and the chubby, spheroid head of a Mii. The creature hangs suspended by a vine over a trio of crocodiles who, rather than look intimidating, appear as though they have just been informed of their tremendous lottery winnings. Above, a snake and (unlikeliest of all) a scorpion both smile down benevolently towards the Mii-thing. Whatever happened to the Pitfall gamers already know and love? The Pitfall that is as much about exotic injuries and deaths as it is finishing the game? In short, where are the teeth of this title?
Thankfully (though somewhat mystifyingly), the box art turned out to be totally misleading, as I discovered upon popping the game into my system and giving it a whirl. The Big Adventure features the same Brendan Frasier-inspired Pitfall Harry as its predecessor, The Lost Expedition, wisely eschewing the soulless dead eyes of the Mii-thing they had apparently considered, however briefly. That is not to say that the graphics are good by any stretch of the imagination: not only the character design, but also the level of technology used to create the game appears to have remained unchanged since the last game as well. This makes sense because, as I soon discovered, The Big Adventure is EXACTLY THE SAME GAME with a new control scheme!
The opening panther fight, the jungle crash sequence... everything remains the same as before, except for the controls, which are of course a hallmark feature of most Wii games. The long and the short of it is that this game, which never looked particularly pretty even on the last-gen systems, now looks downright awful. Thick polygons abound in special effects and character models alike. In all truthfulness, The Big Adventure would not have looked out of place as a first-gen PS2 game. If you buy it, it won't be for the graphics. The gameplay, however, has aged a bit better.
For those of you not familiar with the last game (which is to say, this game), it opens with our hero Harry acting like a huge, but somehow likeable, dweeb, chatting up the archaeologist in the seat next to him and trying to pick up a woman in the next aisle with terrible pick-up lines. When the airplane falters and crashes in the middle of a deep jungle, Harry somehow survives the crash. An Indiana Jones sort of guy, he decides to set off in search of his fellow passengers, who escaped with parachutes and are somewhere in the jungle, while searching out priceless golden idols on the side, most of which are in hidden or hard-to-reach places.
Aside from being a fun side quest, gathering idols has a practical purpose, too: they are used to purchase abilities and other goodies from the occasional wandering shaman Harry meets during his explorations. In much the same vein as Metroid Prime, new abilities are not only useful in combat, but often provide ways to access new areas and find more idols. Harry will also acquire useful tools, such as a canteen and a torch, during his journey. The game helpfully informs players what tool or power they will need to continue if they approach an area where one is required.
Overall, Pitfall: The Big Adventure is a decent, if not particularly fresh, platform game, with lots of running and jumping, as well as the occasional bout of sneaking around a sleeping howler monkey, performing a crouching roll through a tight gap, and laying the beat-down on various enemies. It is in these actions that the new control scheme comes into play. Utilizing the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, Harry can do all the things he did before, but more intuitively this time around. (For the odd soul who prefers to play this reissued title exactly the way it was played on the GameCube four years ago, it is also compatible with the GameCube controller.)
Waving the Wii Remote causes Harry to attack wildly. Camera controls are split evenly between the Remote (pan with the + and - buttons) and Nunchuk (first-person view with the C button), and movement is as simple as using the Nunchuk's directional stick. Items are equipped and returned to Harry's pack with the Remote's D-pad, and Harry can reach out to grab items with the B button. While using an item or reaching, moving the Wii Remote causes Harry to bend in the appropriate direction. Even without a tutorial level (which would have been nice), the layout is simple enough that players should have little trouble surviving the game's opening fight sequence. After that, the main danger is in landing a jump in the wrong spot, which can quickly whittle Harry's health bar down to zero.
The music in Pitfall: The Big Adventure is a decent complement to the action, if a bit unwieldy at times, but the one place this game really stands out is in the voice acting. Surprisingly, all lines are delivered with proper cadence and intonation. On top of that, most of the dialogue has some real energy behind it, which really helps bring the characters to life in a big way. It is unfortunate that poor audio mixing leaves the voices a bit too muted, even with effects turned all the way up via the sparse Options menu. The voice work is probably the best thing The Big Adventure has going for it, since it makes the characters much more endearing and memorable than they would otherwise be.
Pitfall: The Big Adventure is not a bad game in most regards, though it does feel a bit dated (and the graphics are downright icky). It plays well enough, and offers a few of those moments all gamers crave: the moments when you come up with a cockamamie idea that seems too crazy to work, and then realize that it will work--that the game will let you think creatively and do things unusually. Hopping across live crocodiles to get to the other side of a lagoon is a lot more fun than just jumping from rock to rock... in a video game, at any rate. And that's the charm of Pitfall: The Big Adventure, the reason it leaves players feeling entertained and not annoyed after a play session: it's over-the-top entertainment, pure and simple.
There's not much of a difficulty curve; the game remains easy from start to finish and chances to rejuvenate Harry abound. There aren't a lot of extras aside from the two original Pitfall games, which can be easily unlocked--some sort of multiplayer mode or other utilization of the Wii's wireless capabilities would have been a welcome addition. Instead, what we get is a pretty good game that falls short on value because let's face it: a different controller setup is hardly novel enough to warrant purchasing--or playing--the same game twice. At about $40.00, the price for a game that can be purchased for less than $10 in a previous incarnation seems very high.
For those who have never played the original, Pitfall: The Big Adventure will be a worthwhile purchase once it drops below the $19.99 price point. Until then, it's a fun romp through a world of freewheeling treasure hunters, man-eating crocs and hidden treasure--just not quite fun, or new, enough.