Before Mario, there was Pitfall Harry--jumping over scorpions and swinging across vines in his own Indiana Jones-style adventure on the Atari 2600. What players remember most about the original Pitfall games were how unforgiving they were. Landing in a pit or falling into a crocodile's mouth would simply kill you. Pitfall: The Lost Expedition for the Game Boy Advance isn't nearly that tough, but it does stay true to Harry's roots in various ways. There is plenty of platform-jumping and vine-swinging to be had, and you'll need split-second reflexes (as well as the constant use of the continue function) to advance past some of the game's nastier obstacles. Along the way, you'll find all of the trappings that you'd expect to find in a modern platformer on the GBA. Minigame tasks and plot scenes crop up frequently, and the character animation is so smooth--not to mention hilarious--that most players will come away genuinely entertained when all is said and done.
Like many GBA games these days, Pitfall: The Lost Expedition includes a bit of everything. You begin each world by participating in a minigame activity, which usually entails navigating an obstacle course with an apparatus such as a hang glider or a pogo stick. The next four levels in each world are standard fare. You'll tackle three side-scrolling stages, which are loosely patterned after the Pitfall games of yesteryear, along with an overhead view stage that's vaguely reminiscent of Nintendo's Zelda games. At the end of each world, you'll participate in a boss battle, where you typically need to use Harry's jumping and slingshot abilities to exploit a split-second vulnerability in the boss's attack pattern. In all, there are 27 different levels to complete.
As you'd expect, the side-scrolling stages involve a great deal of platform-jumping and vine-swinging. The developer went out of its way to make these stages interesting. There are swimming sections to explore, hidden chambers to find, and plenty of areas that involve ducking and jumping over many series of fast-moving objects, like boulders and fireballs. The overhead view stages in each world provide a break from the side-scrolling stages, but that's about all. The goal in these stages is to rescue the explorers who are scattered around the level to unlock the gate to the next stage. However, the process is pretty uneventful because Harry is unable to use his jump ability, which means there also aren't any vines or bottomless pits to contend with. Finally, each world ends with a boss battle.
Harry has a wider range of abilities here than he had in the old Atari Pitfall games, and these additional moves tend to enhance the design rather than detract from it. Instead of just avoiding enemies, you can use Harry's slingshot to get rid of them. If you come across a ledge or a vine that you can't quite reach, you can use the double jump to give yourself a boost in midair. Besides running and jumping, Harry can also gently climb down from ledges, and he can tuck into a ball and then somersault through tight spaces. As the game progresses, you can use treasure you find to upgrade the range and power of Harry's abilities.
The original Pitfall games were known for their unforgiving difficulty. Running into a log or falling down a hole would subtract points from your score, while landing in the water or jumping into a crocodile's mouth would take one of your three lives. In Pitfall: The Lost Expedition, Harry has a life meter, which means players can take five hits before having to start the level over. When you run out of health, the game doesn't end, and Harry doesn't die. Instead, you simply go back to the beginning of the level you're on, and you try it again. Pitfall purists won't appreciate the fact that the latest installment has been made kinder and gentler as a result of its modernization. But to the game's credit, some of the later levels are extremely difficult to get through even with five health points and an unlimited number of continues.
Just from looking at the graphics, you can tell that Pitfall: The Lost Expedition was designed with a younger audience in mind. The characters are cartoonlike, so they're presented in a style that is more funny than menacing. For instance, Harry's eyes will bug out, and his arms will swing when he's in danger. When you hit an enemy with a pebble from Harry's slingshot, it will fall over, and a ghost will slip out of the carcass. When you run out of health, Harry doesn't keel over dead. Instead, he falls to the ground as if he's taking a rest. The animation is smooth throughout, and even if you don't appreciate the kid-friendly look, it's easy to be impressed by all of the extraneous details that go into Harry's actions. Landing from a jump or diving into the water will result in the appearance of a tuft of dust or a flume of water, and there are all kinds of superfluous arm and leg motions involved with basic actions like running and jumping. The backgrounds in the overhead view stages aren't as detailed as those found in the side-view stages, and the animation isn't as diverse, but thankfully, only about one-third of the game occurs from the overhead viewpoint.
On the whole, Pitfall: The Lost Expedition doesn't hold a candle to games like Yoshi's Island or Super Mario World. The gameplay isn't rich enough to put it in the same league as those games, and at 27 levels, the entire adventure is a bit on the short side. From a purely superficial perspective, Harry and his adversaries don't pack as much charm or charisma as familiar characters like Mario or Donkey Kong. The sound effects and the music also fail to stand out. The voice samples are clear, and jungle-inspired beats make good use of the GBA's instrumental capabilities, but there's no recognizable theme that simply cries out "Pitfall!"
Taken for what it is--which is the next installment in the Pitfall franchise--Pitfall: The Lost Expedition is a decent side-scrolling action game that should satisfy younger players as well as longtime fans of the franchise.