Pitfall: The Lost Expedition
15 years ago, gamers witnessed the future. And ignored it
The Pitfall! franchise is a rum one to say the least. It's almost as inconsistent as the Sonic the Hedgehog series in how its central elements are represented on a game-by-game basis. Pitfall! is nothing like Pitfall II - The Lost Caverns is nothing like Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure is nothing like Pitfall 3D: Beyond the Jungle is nothing like Pitfall: The Lost Expedition. It's all change all the way.
As a consequence, each game had to stand out in some way - let's face it, as formative and excellent as the original Pitfall! is, it's hardly a name that screams "big money". 1994's Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure was a terrific game and it sold a million, but Pitfall 3D wasn't and, er, didn't. Twenty-two years removed from David Crane's Atari 2600 masterpiece, The Lost Expedition needed something big up its sleeve to save the franchise. And, by God, did it ever have something.
It had Wobbly Arm.
Yes, Pitfall Harry is - within this game only - in possession of a fully controllable Wobbly Arm. Let's say that you find a collectable somewhere in one of the fitfully enjoyable 3D platforming worlds; do you just walk into it like you would in every single other platformer ever made? Hell no. Not in Pitfall: The Lost Expedition. Here, you slam your disbelieving thumb into that C-stick and blink back tears of amazement as Pitfall Harry manually extends Wobbly Arm and swipes the trinket into his backpack. You'll gasp and sit up as Harry thrusts Wobbly Arm aloft, the burning torch clutched in his mighty hand illuminating all manner of perils. The manual control of this stalwart limb offers a pleasantly tactile sensation to the light puzzle solving sprinkled into this otherwise quite familiar 3D platformer; Wobbly Arm quite sincerely feels ahead of its time. I don't feel it's excessive to compare that first taste of its flailing power to the late Neil Armstrong's first tentative steps out onto the moon's surface.
Practical use of Wobbly Arm is one thing, but its power can also be invoked for the purpose of puerile amusement. Want to simulate the manual wafting away of aggressive flatulence? Wobbly Arm can vaguely approximate that. How about a crude simulation of the act of onanism? Wobbly Arm has you covered, kinda. It's a flawless integration of the new, by equal measures a tool that provides the player with disciplined, purposeful enjoyment and a toy that lets you pretend Pitfall Harry has done a fart. Such duality in design exhibits a grace that makes ballet look like a cockney knees-up.
Fifteen years later, it's finally time for Pitfall: The Lost Expedition and its pioneering Wobbly Arm to get their dues. Apathy is worse than scorn, and Wobbly Arm deserved neither. Because Wobbliness is next to Godliness.