“Our story begins on a plane soaring over the dense Peruvian jungle. Our intrepid hero is on an expedition led by Dr. Bernard Bittenbinder, a curious archaeologist with an equally curious band of explorers. They are flying during a thunderstorm with an inadequate number of parachutes… we’ll just assume they get to their destination safely. Right? [Not quite.] As the risk-taking explorer Pitfall Harry, you’ve got to rescue the members of this [soon to be] lost expedition, stop an evil high priest from unleashing revenge, prevent your archrival from stealing the treasures of El Dorado and help a princess fulfill her destiny. Good thing that’s all in a day’s work for you!” This is the plot behind Activision’s new action, adventure game called Pitfall: The Lost Expedition.
The game begins as you (playing the part of Pitfall Harry) use your Indiana Jones-like skills to make your way through the Peruvian jungle so you can rescue the members of your expedition and thwart a number of foes along the way including a final confrontation with the evil Shaman, Pusca. Initially, you start off with no weapons and only a few basic moves. As you make your way through each level, you will happen upon a Shaman Shop at which you can purchase things such as extra health, new attack moves and weapons. To find your way around, you can use the Territory Maps found in your Handbook, which will show you where you need to go and where you’ve been. In addition, the Handbook provides other help in the form of the Journal (provides information about your current objective), Hints (provides basic hints), Bestiary (provides information on dealing with enemies), Inventory (shows what items you are carrying in your backpack), and Heroic Handbook (shows how to use special moves) sections.
Each new area of the game you visit requires that you complete a number of tasks before you can make it to the next level. As per previous Pitfall games, you’ll be leaping over Pit Monsters that will swallow you if you fall into their gaping maws. You’ll also be climbing up and down ladders, jumping on platforms, and swinging on vines. Vine swinging can be a bit of a pain until you get the hang of it. There were a couple places in the game where I got stuck and just couldn’t make it to the next vine until I tried it about 20 or more times. But for the most part vine swinging is fun and brings a lot of challenge and variety to the game. As you make your way from level to level, you’ll come upon idols, some of which are hidden and some of which are in plain site. You need idols to purchase items from the Shaman Shops (mentioned earlier). Many of the idols in the game are normal idols, but there are also some gold idols, which are worth 5 normal idols. You’ll gain golden idols each time you rescue a trapped Explorer (part of Bittenbinder’s lost team).
You’ll also encounter a number of enemies throughout the game including swinging and howler monkeys, piranha, crocodiles, bush ninja, scorpions, natives, porcupines and more. You’ll have to deal with these enemies in a variety of ways, which is what keeps the game interesting. For example, with howler monkeys you can either fight them or sneak by them using stealth movement. With piranha, you just have to swim like mad to the nearest piece of land. Leaping on the backs of crocodiles will keep you safe as long as you don’t stand there too long. You can defeat multiple natives by using the crouch/roll move and then sweep kicking them. But for more powerful enemies like porcupines, you need some actual weapons like the Sling. Porcupines can shoot their quills at you so you can’t really get too close, but with the Sling you can shoot back from a distance. As get farther and farther into the game you will gain new fighting moves and new weapons that you’ll need to defeat some of the nastier enemies. Yes, even worse than the porcupines.
The graphics and animation in the game are very good, but not spectacular. From a distance most of the environment and objects look nice, but as you get closer, you’ll notice that the quality of some other games on the PlayStation 2 just isn’t here. This doesn’t really take away from the game itself though because the action will keep you mind on the game play most of the time. The camera could use a bit of work as well in some places. This is especially true when you’re on a ledge up against a wall and you can’t really see where you need to jump to next. This can be frustrating, but with practice you’ll get the hang of the moves you need to perform. The sound, music, and voice over work, on the other hand, are excellent. The robust jungle music really sets the mood. The sound effects help to keep your mind in the game. And the voice-over work is overacted and quirky, which is just what the story calls for.
Pitfall: The Lost Expedition doesn’t break any molds when it comes to platform games, but it really doesn’t need to either. Fans of the previous Pitfall games will enjoy this next generation version and fans of platform games in general will enjoy Expedition as well. You’ll find a fun adventure, engaging game play, and a robust cast of characters, which includes finally meeting the real Pitfall Harry and not just some pixilated puppet on a screen. Those of you who are a bit nostalgic, however, will find two nice surprises in this game… the full versions of both Pitfall 1 and Pitfall 2: Lost Caverns as special bonuses. Very cool!