Jumping is a fundamental part of many video games, particularly platformers. In fact, the character widely considered (even if not technically correct) to be the “Father” of the modern platformer and helped bring about the rebirth of video games as a whole, was originally called Jumpman. Yet so many video games can’t seem to get the concept of “jumping” right, whether realistically or mechanically. So today I’m starting a potential series of articles highlighting when “Jump goes wrong” beginning with the very basics: jumping.
Since time Nintendo, the jump button has usually resided on the “A” button or other random number/shape/letter equivalent. Usually it’s the most accessible face button on the controller since, especially during the “Age of the Platformer” jumping was the most important function aside from movement. Jumping was your primary mode of vertical and often horizontal transportation and sometimes it was even your method of attack. This was the way things were and continued to be until the platformer began to fall out of favor and other genres began to take hold in the marketplace, many with much less emphasis on vertical locomotion.
However, there were some rebels who were too “cool” to use a simple button for jumping, much less the universally-understood-A-button-is-jump. No, they had to use the “Up” button or direction on the d-pad or analog stick. This is especially common in fighting games or side-scrolling beat-em ups. These games tend to use all of the face buttons for various attacks and therefore must relegate jumping to the Up button. On the surface this doesn’t sound too bad, until you actually have to jump. See, the fundamental problem with using Up as the jump input is you have to be standing still in order to do it(unless you have an 8-way d-pad/stick and a game that allow diagonal input). This makes horizontal jumping virtually impossible or extremely limited since you have to jump straight up and then bend the laws of physics by propelling yourself forward using the magical laws of video game air time.
“So what?” you say, “It’s not like you’re jumping is required or even necessary.” Yes but nearly every game, no matter the genre, will attempt to sock-piano some kind of platforming element, somehow, somewhere in what I can only assume is some kind of necessary tribute to the Great Italian Father of the modern video games. Whether jumping is required, a secondary feature or merely tertiary is completely dependent on the game. Regardless, jumping straight up and trying to “aim” your descent at any spot other than that which launched from is nigh impossible both in real life and in video games.
Real quick, can we talk about Super Smash Bros? I absolutely ADORE that game and love the simple fighting mechanics, the creative platforming elements, not to mention the Nintendo mash-up fan dream roster. But I have one really big issue with the game, WHO THOUGHT UP TO JUMP WAS EVER A GOOD IDEA?!?! I mean, it’s a fighting game mashed up with a platformer, JUMPING IS CRUCIAL TO SURVIVAL!! How, in all honesty, can you expect me to constantly be flicking that toothpick of an analog stick up and then over to jump around opponents, stage hazards and moving platforms? Being able to use the additional face buttons to jump in the later games was a Godsend and I can only assume that the up-jump option only remains for those fanboys with pure, blind nostalgia for the N64 and its ridiculous controller.