I remember Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure being a really big deal when it first released. At first glance, it’s pretty easy to see why. The game looks gorgeous, with some of the best animations I’ve ever seen on the Super Nintendo. The action is fairly straightforward, but it’s fun and easy to grasp. It’s connected to Pitfall, a game that’s maybe a little too old for people my age, but there was an Atari 2600 in my house so I absolutely played it. But for as big of a deal as it was back in 1994, no one really talks about the Mayan Adventure anymore.
After playing the first few levels of the game, I think it’s pretty clear why it kind of disappeared from the public’s consciousness. Despite all the positives I just threw its way, it’s also really uninspired. You progress through linear levels just like pretty much any platformer. The level design isn’t all that interesting and is sometimes really confusing. It seems like the developers decided to make sure the levels looked great, even if it made it hard to tell exactly where you were supposed to go next. The checkpoints are little statues that will point in the direction you need to go next when you touch them, probably because it was easier than making levels that direct you naturally to the next spot.
The first three levels are nicely varied, though. The first is a jungle, full of vines and trees to climb and explore. The second is a large waterfall that you have to scale by jumping across rocks that are protruding from the water. And the third is a mine, with carts you can push to reach higher areas. The thing about it that rubs me the wrong way though, is that known of these areas really scream “Pitfall” to me. The whole thing feels more like an off-brand Indiana Jones.
I understand however, that trying to modernize Pitfall might not be the easiest task. Pitfall is a very simple game. You walk left to right (or right to left, if you want) and jump over obstacles to collect all the treasure. There’s some extra strategy, like going underground to pass through the game quicker, but at its core, that’s what Pitfall is. It kind of feels like the developers of the Mayan Adventure were simply making an action platformer, and then decided to slap the Pitfall name on it.
I don’t want this write-up to come off as too negative though, because I really do think it’s a well made, decent game. The controls are very responsive (on the SNES version anyway. I’ve read some not great things about the Genesis version) and the variety of ways you can attack enemies is pretty cool. I just wish there was something to really make the game stand out.
Enemies seem to consist entirely of animals, all hellbent on killing Pitfall Harry for some reason. Luckily, you have a few different tools to defeat them. Pressing the A button makes Harry snap his whip, while hitting the Y button makes him fling a rock with his whip. You have a limited amount of rocks, but I never ran out while playing today. You also have boomerangs that can be thrown with the X button and exploding rocks that are thrown with the R button. You have a very limited supply on those two items though, so it’s best to save them for when you really need them.
During my time with the game, I only came across one boss. It was a jaguar at the end of the first stage. This seemed like the best time to throw my exploding rocks, and was the only time I actually did. Beating the boss was pretty easy. Simply run towards it, throwing whatever weapon you want, and jump over it when it gets near you. Sometimes it’ll jump up and hurt you, but mostly you’ll get by just fine.
Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure is a perfectly fine game, but it’s also one that will easily slip from your memory. I have a lot of memories of going over to friends’ houses and playing it, and it was one of the first SNES games I picked up when I finally had a SNES of my own. But unfortunately, many years later, the game just doesn’t have any real lasting impact, or any reason to revisit it over the tons of other classic games out there.