In nearly every video game, movement is a vital aspect. Like seeing an amateurish poster, clunky movement is the first sign a game might not be worth your time. I’d argue the Mario series’ success is mostly owed to how good it feels to move. Shigeru Miyamoto wanted Mario to feel weighty and tangible, so he retained Mario’s momentum after a jump, causing a tiny skid when reversing direction after landing. Without this tiny addition, Mario would feel weightless and unnatural. This works for Super Meat Boy, a character that can also cling to walls, but I like my portly plumber to skid around with a belly full of mushroom pasta.
Mario 64 still feels good to this day, as Miyamoto still had the magic touch even when attempting 3D (for the first time AFAIK). Balancing the right speed/weight/physics/ to feel fun and intuitive is probably a thousand times more difficult than it seems. I’ve criticized Mario Galaxy for feeling sluggish in comparision to 64. It’s esepcially frustrating to lose speed and running off of a ledge, when traveling downwards should intuitively gain speed. However, I understand the speed decrease was probably a necessary evil when working within much smaller areas, surrounded by bottomless pits. I’m happy to see Mario Odyssey appears to embrace speed once again.
I support a certain level of cheating within game mechanics. Small changes that reward a player’s correct decision by fudging the numbers in their favor. A player that knows what they’re supposed to do but fails because they narrowly missed the window of success will most likely feel frustrated or cheated. Ironically, a bit of cheating from the physics engine is what will make the player not feel cheated.
Titanfall 2‘s single player is full of interesting wall jumping puzzles, and there are often moments where I feel a more punishing game would have let me fall to my death, while Titanfall 2 understood what I was trying to do and allowed me to do it. It’s empowering and felt like I was choreographing an epic action scene of badass-ery.
I recently played Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy and was well aware it would be a challenging experience. Three main factors contributed to making it feel more challenging than it needed to be.
1 – The majority of the jumps are so long they require nearly all of Crash’s jumping distance safe clear. This means jumping a fraction of a second too early will kill you, forcing you to get dangerously close to the edge. This is fine for later levels or optional routes that produce higher rewards for the risk, but you will see these long gaps for most of the game.
2 – Crash’s jumping animation contains a flip and he isn’t round, making it more difficult to judge where he will land. Mario 64 solved this by rendering an extremely noticeable shadow indicating where he will land.
3 – The early 3D perspective – especially when running to the top of the screen – also makes it very difficult to judge where Crash will land.
Crash is a great example of a game that could have narrowed the margin of error to make up for the clunky mechanics of the era.
Movement is the first step to fun
Overall, movement is the first connection a player has to the character and conversely, the first way to break immersion and cause frustration. Miyamoto spent months making sure Mario 64 was enjoyable to simply chase a bunny before he made any levels! This might seem like overkill but you wouldn’t build a house on a shoddy foundation, so don’t make a game if it sucks to move the character.
Any thoughts? Let’s talk about it below.