The Pit was like pretty much nothing else when it hit the arcades in the early 80s: part Lode Runner, part Dig Dug, and part 50s B-rated sci-fi movie made it one pretty different game, all right.
With each life and each new level, the typical-looking flying saucer from a cheap sci-fi movie (i. e. looking like two bowls stacked on top of each other) appears, which your character then tumbles out of it. Unfortunately, a giant tank (again, in full cheap sci-fi movie nod, with the word "ZONKER" emblazoned on it) appears at the opposite side of the mountain that your ship has landed in between, and starts shooting at you through the mountain. I guess the people who have you mine these planets were so obsessed with profits (kind of like the Ferrengi from Star Trek: The Next Generation/Deep Space 9 lore) that they don't care -- or don't have -- to sic any environmental hippies screaming at you to preserve nature. If the Zonker shoots away all of the mountain, your ship will take off without you, you'll lose a life, and have to start all over again. (I can just imagine the guarantees that comes with a military's [or whatever] purchase of their new Zonker war machines: "Guaranteed to scare away those pesky U. F. O.'s, or your money back!")
Ok, so lets get onto the REST of the gameplay then, shall we! Like I said, your ship lands, the Zonker appears, and your tiny man drops out of the ship. The game's a bit different, as are the controls, since you automatically shoot in the direction you're moving, as long as there's an area of dirt that has to be cleared out...yet you have a separate fire button as well. However, the latter is used to fend off these pesky enemies that start pouring in below the Zonker, although you can only shoot horizontally, as there are several passageways already carved out for you; miss, and come into contact with one of the bad guys, and this comical, brief little Wrestlemania act ensues until a life is over with (i. e. yours).
As you navigate through the terrain, any earth you erase will cause any rocks to fall that are above you, so make sure to stay away from those as well. What you are trying to accomplish is making your way to the bottom of the screen to gather some diamonds and return to your ship alive. Unfortunately, with the first diamond you scoop up, a bunch of rocks (or something) come raining down, so you must either be very careful (yet quick) or just get out of there as fast as possible before being "ZONK!"ed (as it says on the screen) by one (did the programmers have a thing for the word "zonk", for some reason?).
Unfortunately, when you first get out of your ship, a rock blocks your way back in (if you're able to make it that far, that is, to make it back out alive). So how DO you get out, you ask (if you're not as old as I am and never played this game the first time around and/or don't have the ROM nowadays for MAME)? You get out via the namesake of the game: the pit! You can tunnel your way to the pit in the upper left hand corner of the screen; however, once you stand on it's very thin protective layer, it starts crumbling away; if you don't make it to it's very small exit in time, down you fall, which, yeah, you're dead meat again. (There's also a creature hopping about in the pit as well, possibly the Lava Troll from Joust, which we could only see a hand from that game, but in this one, we get to see ALL of him, ugly face, body and all! Hi mom!) Make it through the very small opening in time, and it will lead you back to your ship, and a new planet, with a slightly different underground layout, and the Zonker shoots faster than before.
As original and intriguing as this game may sound here in print to those unfamiliar with it, unfortunately, the high difficulty of the game drops it's rating down a couple of notches: until a friend sent me the ROM (among many others) last year, when I played it at the arcades back in the day, I had never made it back to the spaceship once EVER in all the times I played it. However, I was a poor kid back then, and could only spare a quarter here and there on the machine; I didn't make it three times, tough luck, game over, move onto another game. The controls also don't help, as they're not good for making quick, turn-on-a-dime moves (I can't stress ENOUGH how important it is to burn down an opening in the dirt at the bottom first before attempting to grab the diamonds and the projectiles start falling). And occasionally you'll screw up and erase the dirt beneath a rock with no exit, which will crush you once it falls; argh.
However, this was still pretty unique, and worth an occasional game or two of. As I lamented in my Route 16 review, it'd be nice if the Centuri name was resurrected on a cd compilation and released, since The Pit was never ported to a home system (that I know of), although that was probably due to the small sprites: if even doable on the Atari 2600, it'd be a big flicker-fest, although the more powerful systems of the Intellivison would probably be able to handle it (although I shudder at the thought of the control being even worse with those dreaded Intellivison action discs!), along with the Colecovision...and home computers, since there were several games that had small graphics that ran just fine, like Lode Runner and Hard Hat Mack (the latter of which was ported to the Colecovision, strengthening my argument for this game to have been possible on that system). And if they included some kind of enhanced, up-to-date version of it that gave you different objectives per screen, that would be good too, due to the game quickly becoming repetitive (and even more difficult than it already is).
Until then, you're either left with the ROM for it, finding the coin-op somewhere (doubtful, since it was only a fair-sized hit back then, and must be pretty rare today), or putting two bowls together (to form your 50s sci-fi serial spaceship), painting "ZONKER" on a toy tank, and using any toy laser handgun or some kind of laser tag equipment while hunting for Easter eggs (in place of the diamonds) to re-enact this game in person.
Just make sure you've got all blinds drawn and windows closed, though. (Talk about being "zonked" if you get caught.) 7/10
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