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North American box art.

Pitfall! is a platform action adventure game designed and developed by David Crane and first published by Activision for the Atari 2600 in 1982. It was later ported to several other consoles and home computers. The game is the first in the Pitfall! series and a pioneer of the platformer genre of video games.

Because Atari ROMs had so little memory, David Crane cleverly used a reversible polynomial to generate the game map. The player has to collect all 32 treasures spread across 255 rooms within a 20 minute time limit. Playing straight through the map, the player only has about 4.7 seconds per room to traverse the entire map, not nearly enough time, so it's very important to use the underground passages which allow the player to skip 3 rooms each time they're used. However, because the undergrounds often dead end, the player is forced to make a map to figure out an optimal solution.

In a postmortem about the game, Crane said that he initially only wanted to give the player 1 life, but wisely altered the code to give the player three. But, since he had already optimized his code, it was quite a challenge to rework it for the added lives.


I first played Pitfall! in the mid-1980s on my family's Atari. It was one of my favorites for the system, and I always dreaded the worst screen, three alligators with no vine! It wasn't until the 1990s that I was good enough at the game to get a decent score. I exceeded 20,000 points, the amount necessary to be part of the Pitfall Harry Explorer's Club, but I have not beaten the game.


I might have this game in my parent's attic. I have not beaten it.


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4 4 3 2 4

Best Version: Atari 2600

— This section contains spoilers! —


  • The game is well designed, fun to play, and presents a good challenge.
  • For the time, the graphics, sound, and game play were all above average.
  • The use of a polynomial for a map was a very creative idea for creating a large game world with little memory.


  • The polynomial, unfortunately, makes the game's map entirely arbitrary. It doesn't start easy and become hard, instead, easy and hard rooms are effectively randomly placed throughout the map.
  • There isn't much content to the game. You'll see everything the game has to offer after only a few minutes.
  • The ending is quite dull. When you collect the final treasure, the game just switches to the copyright logo. There isn't a message or unique sound effect or anything.


  • Beating the game is extremely difficult. Even when taking the optimal route and not dying or even taking a hit, there is very little wiggle room to collect all 32 treasures in 20 minutes.


Box Art



Fan Art


Review - Metroidvania Works.
Commercial - Starring a very young Jack Black.
Longplay - 2600, perfect game.
Game play - Atari 8-bit.
Game play - Colecovision.


Thomas Jentzsch has disassembled and commented the source code of Pitfall!


Role Staff
Entire Game David Crane


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