Written by Joseph Tobin
As this is my first review I’m going to do a quick review of my personal experience with the Atari 2600. When I was seven years old (way back in 1984) my sister and I were given an Atari 2600 with some games for Christmas. It was a black ‘vader’ style console (as they are known amongst Atari enthusiasts) and we had a bunch of games. Over the years we acquired new games as presents or saving up and buying them. I was buying brand new games for the Atari 2600 up until about 1992. The console I have is 26 years old and it still works well (other than having to replace the power supply a few times but thats a common Atari problem that is easily fixed) and all the games we bought brand new still work. Its a case now of if I see a game I don’t have I’ll buy it if I have the cash.
Now we have that out the way and I’ve established my Atari cred onto the review…
I will cover Tom Boy first as that is the game we first acquired. I remember getting this game at some point when I was 8 or 9. We got Tom Boy and The Year 1999 (what a laughable name for a game given its 2010 – I’ll have to review that one in the future) together. Tom Boy was supposed to be my sister’s and The Year 1999 mine although we shared everything with the Atari anyway.
Just a quick break for a sec. I grew up calling ‘the Atari’ and not ‘the 2600’ or ‘Atari 2600’ so in this review and future reviews thats how I shall refer to it. As far as I’m concerned the Atari 2600 console is THE Atari console to have and the only console to retail internationally over three decades (70s, 80s, 90s). When people think Atari they think Atari 2600 so I think its earned its stripes enough to be called ‘the Atari’.
Okay so we had these new games and we started playing them. Tom Boy turned out to be pretty fun – you run through the jungle avoiding obstacles and collecting treasures. The game has some neat little music tunes it plays when you die, swing on a vine or pick up a treasure. Fun stuff!
A few years later I picked up the Activision Super Action Pak cartridge. Because I was cheap (teenagers don’t have money at the best of times) for me the multi-game carts were very sought after. To be honest I was a little disappointed with this one compared to some of the others. Barnstorming is a crap game at best (fly through barn, dodge windmill/chicken – repeat until you pass through enough barns. Yeah thats fun…), Laser Blast (a space game where you are the UFO blasting tanks on the ground. Problem is its way too easy so its a lot less fun than it sounds), Grand Prix (a decent racing game for the Atari but nothing special) and Pitfall. I never bothered to buy Pitfall on its own because it looked just like Tom Boy so I figured why bother. But on a multi-cart I had the chance to try it out.
The first thing I noticed was how the animation on screen seemed more fluid and the colours brighter. Other features missing from Tom Boy made the game more of a challenge and it looked like a more polished product. It was like having Tom Boy all over again except this time the game had a difficulty setting. I knew Pitfall came first as I’d seen it reviewed in a book I had called “How To Beat Home Video Games” – that was such an awesome book, such a pity it literally fell to bits from overuse! This is also where I learned about the backstory about Pitfall Harry and his quest for the tresures of Enarc (Enarc being the game programmer’s surname backwards). Tom Boy was only a clone (third party clones are rife on the Atari – most are bad) yet both games were good in their own way.
Both games play pretty well and are a lot of fun but there are some big differences. I have taken some screenshots so you can see the differences for yourself.
The opening screen
These games really do look similar! Given Tom Boy’s fat appearance and huge head I’m guessing they may have even based the character on the main character from the Wonderboy games. Pitfall Harry stands with his arms forward, Tom Boy stands with his hands behind his back. They both have decent running animation. Harry has to avoid logs (which deduct points), Tom Boy has to avoid Snakes. The pit ladder is clearly more detailed in Pitfall. The one in Tom boy looks more like a tree trunk or log. Harry climbs the ladder while Tom Boy looks like he’s dryhumping the log as he ascends it. Maybe Tom Boy and the ‘ladder’ should go get a frikkin’ room?!?
Underground there is a nicely detailed brick wall (who on earth builds a brick wall in underground caverns in the jungle anyway? The people of Enarc?) where Tom Boy has no obstructions. This makes a big difference in gameplay as it looks like you can go wherever you like in Tomboy and in Pitfall you may hit a dead end.
More snakes and logs (this time moving and again the screens look remarkably similar. The key difference being the pits. Pitfall has a couple of wider pits to make things more interesting plus another brick wall underground to block your path.
A swinging vine screen. Pitfall has blue water, Tom Boy black. Underground Pitfall has a scorpion and in Tom boy a lion.
There is a major difference in the games between the scorpion and the lion. In Pitfall you can jump over the scorpion. Its a difficult jump but you can do it. In Tom Boy the lion can not be passed in any way. If you are underground and you stumble across a lion you run the other way! In a way its a clever way to deal with the lack of walls by making the lions unpassable. It adds a slightly varied challenge when navigating the underground areas.
The first lake with no swinging vine. You can only jump to the other side by going from stepping stone to stepping stone. But whats this? In Pitfall those aren’t stones – those aren’t stones – they’re crocodiles! Oh no! You have to time your jumps well and stand on the back of their heads to avoid being eaten. The mouths open and shut so precision timing is vital. Then you have Tom Boy with three boring stepping stones. Clearly this screen in Pitfall is way more difficult than its Tom Boy counterpart. I terms of gameplay I find this to be the biggest difference between the two games.
Another winging vine screen but its the first with a stationary creature above ground that can kill you. A snake for Pitfall, a spider for Tom Boy. Not a lot of difference there.
Here we go – its time to grab one of those treasures of Enarc we;ve been hearing so much about. But you need to traverse the opening/closing quicksand first. The treasure in Pitfall looks better (a gold/silver bar compasred to a pot of… is that gold?) and points scored are the same.
Is it worth buying Tom Boy if you have Pitfall already? I say no because as its a third party game its rather rare (I think it was only released in Australia as ‘Tom Boy’ (there might be a German-named version that was in Europe). Pitfall is a fairly common game and its easy to find. Best to stick with the original.
so there you have it – two games that look similar yet in their way play differently for a varied gaming experience. Tom Boy is clearly the less challenging of the two and it looks and feels less polished than Pitfall. For a clone game its pretty awesome but between the two Pitfall is clearly the better designed game.
For a rating out of 10 (taking into account this is the Atari) I’d give Pitfall an 8 and Tom Boy a 7. Both are fun games but Pitfall is that little bit better (and Pitfall II is even better again but I’ll save that one for another time). For kids Tom Boy is easier to get the hang of but Pitfall isn’t overly difficult anyway.
So thats it for my first review. Until next time happy gaming and may the lost spirits Enarc guide you.