Super Pitfall is one of the worst video games of all time. It is cryptic and glitched to irredeemable levels, making it an unbearable, unplayable gaming experience.
The original Pitfall on the Atari 2600 is seen as one of the most fondly remembered games from the era, but its NES sequel deserves no warm feelings of nostalgia. It’s a game so broken that its only real accomplishment is that it gave the video game medium its most ironic use of the word “super.”
In Super Pitfall, players take control of Pitfall Harry, who must navigate a labyrinth to find a lost princess. It sounds pretty standard, but its execution is far below even the most basic of games.
Pitfall Harry has two basic actions: Jumping and shooting. The game manages to fumble even these most basic of gaming actions. The jumping feels awkward and stiff, and Pitfall Harry can only shoot directly in front of him, which does very little good considering almost all of the enemies crawl on the ground. So unless you time a shot just right when a frog is jumping towards you, or manage to be standing in the right spot when an incoming bird or bat are flying by, you aren’t hitting squat. So the main character’s basic controls don’t work. That alone would ruin the experience. But that’s only the beginning.
The entire game is just cryptic beyond belief. The whole thing evokes the worst kind of trial-and-error, with flat-out unfair enemies and traps (the very first ladder in the game leads to an automatic death). There’s never any indication of where you’re supposed to go or what you’re supposed to do. It’s just a big guessing game, one in which most guesses lead to death.
Even worse still, things like ammo and secret items that are required to beat the game are all invisible, and located in the most random of places. Even if you manage to reach the princess, nothing happens unless you have all the secret items with you. And backtracking to find them is such a hassle you’d be better off restarting the game (though the best option is to not play Super Pitfall at all).
So how do you make these invisible items appear? By jumping in certain spots next to the items. Are there any visual or audio cues to know where these spots are? Of course not. So you’re basically jumping around all over the place like an idiot, blindly hoping that one of the items is nearby. All while avoiding enemies that you can’t hit but can kill you with a single touch.
The game’s cryptic qualities don’t even stop there. Super Pitfall contains secret warp zones to fast travel to different areas of the labyrinth, but once again, there’s no indication as to where they are, and you’ll probably just fall or jump into them by pure accident. One of the game’s most notorious moments is one such warp zone that’s found by jumping into a particular enemy bird, which looks no different than the other enemy birds that kill you when touched. So the game isn’t even consistent with its rules.
As if all this weren’t bad enough, Super Pitfall is also glitched to high heaven. Jumping will often lead Pitfall Harry to get stuck momentarily, and I kid you not, I even died by jumping in one instance (much to my utter confusion and the delight of my friends watching). Just in case the intended gameplay weren’t torturous enough, the glitches ensure that Super Pitfall is downright unplayable.
Combine all of this with the game’s ugly, uninspired visuals and grand total of two musical tracks (both of which are irritating, seconds-long loops), and Super Pitfall is one of the worst things to have ever happened to the NES and, most assuredly, one of the worst video games of all time.