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Review: Super Pitfall

Super Pitfall for the nes is TERRIBLE.  Completely awful.  Interestingly enough, it's given me quite a bit of thought about game design for my next project.

 
I've spent the past 22 years trying really hard to like this game. I mean, this game had the potential to be awesome.  It was a huge world that you could explore freely.  Dungeons and spikes and non-linearity and ladders and treasure.  What could go wrong?  Well, everything.  No matter how much I tried, I always came to the same conclusion:  this game was no fun.
 
So, to be productive, I'll try to think about why it wasn't fun, and what could be done about it.
First, the challenge level was way off.  There are numerous frustrating cheap kills near the beginning of the game.  And there's a ridiculously long time you have to wait between dying and when you get to play again...it's something like 10 seconds of waiting.  Considering your first life may only last about 4 or 5 seconds, it's really annoying to have to wait 10 more before you can play.  
 
Also very frustrating is the fact that, although it's a big open world to explore, you find very little compelling or interesting things.  You wander around collecting gold bars that do nothing.  Scattered around are special items (playing card suits?) that are invisible until you jump in a certain correct spot.  But even when you grab them, there's very little sense of accomplishment.  Why did I grab that?  What's it for?  And do I really have to jump at every single inch of the huge world to see if there's an item hidden nearby?  Overall, I get this feeling of a big huge empty world, filled with nothing but ladders and traps.  I've heard that if you are patient enough to map out the world, it all comes together and the game gets interesting.  But I was never patient enough.  
 
So, theoretically, this game could have been fun if:
 
- There were fewer cheap kills, and the challenge curve  had been a little more appropriate
- Your goals were a little more obvious, so you felt you were making progress or discovering something interesting
- There was a minimap (I love minimaps) to help you keep track of where you've been and where you are.
 
So the things I should learn from Super Pitfall:
 
- A huge world to explore is just frustrating if there's no obvious reward for exploring.  This is the trouble I ran into with the overworld in Anguna.
- A huge world is confusing if there's nothing to help organize your brain.  Forcing players to hand-draw a map is a bad plan -- provide a minimap.  This one is relatively obvious these days, as almost all adventure games do this. (and it was forgivable back then to not have one)
- Have someone else playtest a little to make sure the difficulty curve isn't insane.
- Make sure that secrets aren't hidden in obtuse and stupid ways that just require tons of tedium in trying every single square/block.

Comments

Rob said…
With the minimap, it might be nice to have places you've been automatically filled in, but not well filled in until you've found "the map", or parts of the map. I liked that about Zelda. Many games make the map too helpful by filling in too much info.

Rob

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