Retro game comparison time: Pitfall The Mayan Adventure

These days, multiplatform development is extremely common with nearly every major game seeing release across multiple platforms. While there are often differences between the different versions the end results are generally very close to one another. In the past, however, things were not always so cut and dried.

One of the most interesting comparisons I've encountered has to be the nearly forgotten mid-90s platformer "Pitfall The Mayan Adventure". I have pretty fond memories of this game myself but I recognize that it has its fair share of issues. The animation is given priority over response time and the levels can certainly confuse many a gamer with difficult to read platforms galore. Despite this, however, I still feel that it's a solid and interesting game that rewards skilled play.

So, naturally, I needed to experience every version of this game. The first thing I should note is that there are essentially TWO base versions of this game; the SNES version and the Genesis version. It is from these originals that all ports would be derived.

So what's the difference? While the level layout is basically the same, there are dramatic differences between the visuals in both versions. The Genesis sprites, for instance, animate much more smoothly while the controls offer additional precision. On top of that you'll also find additional layers of parallax scrolling throughout each and every level adding greatly to the depth of the scene. Unfortunately it suffers from the typical dithered color palette (64 colors at once) and poor music playback. The Genesis soundchip certainly doesn't excel at producing atmospheric tunes.

The SNES version, then, is a bit darker yet richer in color. The strong purple hues of the first level are immediately apparent and paint a very different picture. Unfortunately, the image is stretched like so many other ports from this era as a result of the lower horizontal resolution. Everything appears shorter and wider than it should as a result. The Genesis typically delivered games at 320x224 while the SNES stuck to 256x224 (same as the NES). The image was displayed at 4:3 with rectangular pixels. If you directly translate pixel art from a higher resolution source you'll wind up with stretched assets. So, while the art was heavily modified, it was clearly derived from the Genesis work. In addition, the sprite work seems to be missing frames of animation and the backgrounds have become nearly static. The moving water reflections in the background on Genny are replaced with a static image of a forest while the complex waterfalls of the second stage have been greatly simplified here. At least the music is of higher quality this time around thanks to the more capable sound chip.

The Genesis version

The ports following these two releases, however, are much more interesting.

There's the Sega CD version which basically features the Genesis game combined with a wonderful redbook audio soundtrack. This has wound up becoming my favorite version of the game as a result as it eliminates one of the most significant issues with the original release. They use a couple FMV sequences at startup but the game itself is untouched.

The SNES version

Then we have the 32x port which is just abysmal. The foreground is handled by the 32x and features a much broader color palette while the background is handled by the Genesis and looks the same as the original release. So what's the issue? Well, the foreground layer runs at 30 frames per second WITH significant slowdown while the background layer scrolls at 60 fps. This results in a rather uneven presentation and winds up feeling incredibly choppy as a result. It looks nice enough in stills but once you start moving things quickly fall apart.

The Jaguar port actually suffers from a similar issue. The color palette is much wider than the SNES or Genesis versions (including backgrounds this time) but the framerate is capped at 30 fps and slowdown pops up at certain points on top of it. If the framerate had been 60 fps like the Genesis, CD, and SNES versions it could have been the best version of the game. The music here is a touch better than the Genesis tracks but pales to the redbook audio and SNES soundtracks. Oddly enough, the Jaguar really seemed to struggle with 2D games and often delivered them at lower framerates. So much for their 64-bit claims.

Next we have the PC version. This shares the same visual presentation as the Jaguar version along with full redbook audio of the Sega CD version. It really could have been the ultimate release but it has been shackled by Windows 95 and is virtually unplayable on modern PCs. Even if you do manage to get it up and running the performance isn't as silky smooth as it need be.

Lastly we have the Gameboy Advance version which might just be the least appealing rendition of the game. It uses the SNES version as a base, crops the image resulting in a smaller playing field, blows out the colors for the non-backlit original GBA, and features downgraded audio. It's hideous to behold.

Given the choice today I would always go for the Sega CD version and you should too. If you don't have an actual Sega CD you can even pop the disc directly into a PC and play using an emulator (such as Kega Fusion). Give it a shot!

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Rebuilding a 3DO

I've been straying further and further down the retro collection hole this year and, after spending a couple months collecting missing handhelds, I decided to work on obtaining some of the less popular systems. It was time to add the 3DO FZ-1 to the collection.

Of course, on eBay, there are plenty of 3DO consoles available but older optical based consoles tend to be troublesome. So it was that the 3DO which I won managed to work for all of 5 minutes before failing to read discs any longer. Of course the seller has no interest in taking this unit back so I'm left with a broken 3DO. Time to bust out the tools.

So I pop off the lid, throw in a disc, and see what happens only to find that all of, well, nothing occurs. Sure, the system boots, but the disc didn't spin and the laser failed to move. Perhaps those "grinding" noises I had heard upon first using it were related? I think it's pretty clear.

Delving deeper into the system I start pulling apart the CD-ROM drive running across a "manufactured September 1993" label. Yeah, it's vintage.

Using a 9-volt battery I'm able to determine that all of the motors are in good working order. Of course, I did manage to break the solder point connecting a couple wires to the drive motor. Whoops. No soldering iron handy so I simply wrap those cables around the contact points with success. After poking and prodding it becomes clear that the issue lies with a small white gear driven by a smaller worm gear that is ultimately responsible for moving the laser sled up and down. The gear had developed a small crack which was just enough to prevent the system from smoothly moving the laser. It seems that, when the system is unable to move the laser sled, it simply stops trying altogether.

I lubricate the gear, used a little glue, and piece it all back together. I hit the power button and watch as the laser begins moving and seeking a disc. I toss a disc into the drive starts spinning. I quickly rush the half disassembled tank over to my display and hook it up only to find that it still just hangs at a black screen. At least we're getting somewhere, right?

So I keep fiddling more and more until I come to the conclusion that the problem now lies with the laser itself. So I start looking into adjusting the potentiometer. This is, without a doubt, one of the most tedious processes around. With many systems you can quickly make an adjustment and test the results, but with the 3DO, you have to pull out the circuit board and lens motor every time you want access to the pot. After performing this task eight times without success and I start getting lazy and attempt to adjust the thing from an angle. I did manage to move it and tried to make changes as quickly as possible. Somewhere during this I DID manage to get a music CD to read (with heavy skipping) and Road Rash DID start once again. Unfortunately, this

Unfortunately, my lazy method of adjustment did not end well. I completely broke the potentiometer screw itself off of the cable. Oops. As you can imagine this pretty much ruined the laser and side lined the whole project. Think I'm going to grab another broken 3DO on the cheap and attempt to combine the two.

Fun fact about the 3DO: the system only outputs video at 480i. My retro setup uses a Sony standard definition monitor which provides the most accurate image for 240p (low resolution) retro console games (which are mostly running RGB to that monitor). So the 3DO actually only delivers 480i despite rendering everything at a lower 320x240 resolution. Why on earth did they think this was a smart move? It's basically an early take on upscaling and it results in additional flicker with less overall sharpness. The games would look much cleaner running at a proper 240p. Very strange.