Descent-ber: Gravity in Games

I can’t believe it – we’re finally here!  My 2020 New Year’s resolution to create top ten lists every month is coming to a close.  Are you ready to get DOWN because it’s Descent-ber!  Yes, this month we’ll be exploring the top ten instances of falling, sliding, or general downward motion in video games.  Can you think of any games where it’s going down?  Let me know in the comments!

10)Metroid (NES 1986)

A Samus among us.

Next floor: Brinstar! I’d really like to speak with the person who designed the infrastructure on Planet Zebes. First of all, you open doors with blasts from a gun. If the door is red, you shoot missiles at it until it opens. The doors only connect to areas that look basically the same as the area you were just in. What’s the point of having a door in a series of caves? Is there really a need for that divide? And then there are the elevators that just take you to places where things hurt you more. A thought… how are the elevator rooms so safe? They’re the only rooms in the game where there are never any enemies. Are these rooms where adolescent space pirate children go during a tornado drill? What happens if the elevator isn’t there when you arrive? Is there a button to push? I have so many questions!

9)Minecraft (PC/Mac/Various 2011)

H.P. Minecraft

While I never played Minecraft, I couldn’t help but put this game on the list because the very nature of the game requires that you dig for resources.  From the few instances of Let’s Plays that I watched, I mostly saw players wandering around deep caverns swatting at spiders while picking up a few things here and there.  Honestly, I would have loved Minecraft as a kid.  I was huge into Legos, and Minecraft is essentially unlimited Legos in an infinitely generated world that you can explore to your heart’s content.  It’s the game that keeps on giving!

8)SSX Tricky (PS2/Gamecube/Xbox 2001)

It’s tricky to rock a rhyme!

When I think of SSX Tricky, I think of my sophomore year of college.  My roommate owned the game and he was ALWAYS playing it.  I was enthralled.  Whenever he played, I would sit on the couch and cheer him on as he tried to rack up the biggest combo.  Whenever he’d nail an impressive stunt, a clip of “It’s Tricky” by RUN DMC would play.  It was completely infectious!  I never got bored of it.  Of course, that song strongly reminds me also of the classic 1998 movie “Can’t Hardly Wait.”  Anyway, every once in awhile, I got to play SSX Tricky, too.  I was terrible, but it was fun just flying off jumps and grinding any possible rail that gets near your snowboard.  I never thought I’d ever enjoy a snowboarding game, but this game totally changed my mind.

7)Portal (PC/Xbox 360/PS3 2007)

I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.

How many times has this game appeared on my lists now??  I cannot keep away from the epic glory of Portal!  Easily, one of my favorite puzzle-solving mechanics in Portal is when you’re forced to fall endlessly through Portals until you shoot your second portal high up on a distant wall so you can fling yourself to victory from the built-up falling momentum.  This act is even more fun in the two-player mode of Portal 2 when it’s your job to fling your partner (do-si-do) off into the distance by controlling the two portals where your friend is falling.  Have you ever dreamed of traveling through the endless mirrors that are created when you face two mirrors toward each other?  Here’s your chance.


::starts playing surfing music::

I couldn’t find an exact picture of this (and maybe I have the wrong game altogether) but I completely recall playing Wipeout in an arcade where I was lying on my back and controlling a steering wheel in front of me while I faced the screen in front of me. What was amazing and also disorienting about this experience was that, in Wipeout, your racer is seemingly always traveling down a deep tunnel. So, get this: you’re looking up but in the game you’re going down and black is white and cats chase dogs and and and it’s insanity! Again, I can’t remember this experience completely clearly, so if you know what game I’m talking about (or can confirm that it was Wipeout), please let me know!

5)Super Mario Bros 3 (NES 1990)

Sliiiiiide to the left!

You’re not a true player of Super Mario Bros 3 if you don’t slide down the hill of level 1-5 to take out the four buzzy beetles along your path.  You know, I wonder if the slides in Super Mario 64 are inspired directly by this section of Mario Bros 3.  They must be!  Truly, the sliding mechanic is one of the best features of Mario 3 and I wish there were more extreme chances to make use of it.  Even in Super Mario World, there were only a few levels where you’d do some major sliding, but think of how cool it would be to have a level based solely around the mechanic.  I’ve seen some fun instances of using the slide in Super Mario Maker 2.  Where was that creativity in 1990, Nintendo!?

4)The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii 2011)

And I’m freeeeee! Free fallin’!

I just finished Skyward Sword this past July, and while I didn’t enjoy the game as much as other Zelda titles, the action of falling/parachuting stuck with me simply because it was something you needed to do every time you entered an area on the ground from Skyloft.  Nothing is particularly special about the parachute sections and truly, they are kind of dull.  Once you activate your parachute, you can’t move forward or backward.  It just slows your fall as you continue straight down toward the ground.  I’m surprised Nintendo didn’t try to go full-on Pilotwings with some of these sections.  Of course, my favorite instance of falling/parachuting in Skyward Sword did exactly that.  There is a mini game in Skyloft where you have to fall through rings and then land on a target far below.  Why weren’t there more parts like these!?  I played this game dozens of time to try to earn the offered reward.  You know, maybe it wasn’t my favorite game but I felt psychologically obligated to complete it because the motion controls teased me by making me feel inadequate.  Why, I am a seasoned gamer with over 20 years of controller experience!  Now I have to subtly change the position of my hand to control my character?  YOU SHALL NOT GET THE BEST OF ME, WIIMOTE!

3)Dig Dug (Arcade 1982)

Can you dig it?

What do you do when strange creatures infest your garden?  You grab an air pump, tunnel down in  there, and you blow those suckers up!  Dig Dug was probably one of my favorite games for the Atari 2600 (as an aside, everyone always brings up the brown, blocky design of the original console, but we owned the black, sleek 2nd generation version of the system…which left me confused as to which model we had when I went back to read about Atari when I was older). 

I remember sitting on my parents’ bed, entranced, as I rid the screen of Pookas and Fygars all while my character waddled his way through the tunnels that were being created. Each step meant another note of the music played, and when you stopped, the music also ceased. I read recently that this mechanic was actually the brainchild of Yuriko Keino, who was encouraged by executives to tie the walking sound to the music of the game. Another aspect I loved about Dig Dug was how the ground color would change as you advanced to higher levels. Of course, the Atari couldn’t support that much color back then, but it was refreshing and rewarding to see the new palettes of color that were displayed in future levels. Finally, the most satisfying aspect of the game is being able to lure a bunch of enemies behind you and then SMASH THEM WITH A ROCK!!!!!! Over time, this became my ultimate goal, and I would even start the game over if I couldn’t get it to work the first time. Now, whenever I see a Dig Dug machine at an arcade, I feel obligated to try it out. It’s the kind of game that always holds my attention and will never get old.

2)Pilotwings (Super Nintendo 1991)

I think I’m falling for you.

The first rule about flight club is you don’t talk about flight club.  But seriously, that’s the actual name of the training areas in Pilotwings.  Whenever I went over to my buddy’s house in elementary school, it was a given that, at some point, we would play Pilotwings (along with other staples from his collection like Lemmings, Faceball 2000, and Turtles in Time).  There was something so freeing about being able to fly around through rings or land on targets in a 3D environment that was unlike many other games at the time.  My friend and I had played the game so much that we began to test the limits of the game.  How high could the plane go?  What would happen if you landed on the small grey circles while rocket belting?  What if we just didn’t open the parachute?  It’s interesting because I don’t think we ever actually beat the game.  It was hard!  After 4 grueling levels of Flight Club, you were suddenly thrown into a helicopter mission where you had to bomb turrets that were trying to bring you down in order to rescue your instructors from the first part of the game. 

Anyway, aside from all of that, I loved most the rocket belt section and the parachute section – both which involved varying degrees of falling.  In parachute, I’ll always remember the sound of free falling through the rings toward the moving platform below (gotta go for that bonus stage, of course!).  Then, shortly after reaching an altitude of 1000 ft, you push A to open your parachute.  Not even one second goes by before you are greeted with a new sound and a warning message: “RATE OF DESCENT TOO GREAT.”  The only way to slow yourself was by holding down on the control pad but this caused you to fall faster.  So, many of the parachute stages involved you just going around in circles until you can line-up well enough with the target.  If you DO land on the moving platform, you get to play the bonus game where you….become a penguin who dives off of a diving board!  Obviously!  It’s the same concept as the parachute but the penguin is much tubbier and you just need to land in the water below to gain points.  The last thing I’ll say about the parachute level is that the music reminded me of the Ninja Turtles theme.  Seriously, go listen to it.  I wonder if composer Soyo Oka had been inspired by the Fab Four.  

Honorable Mentions:

Sonic Spinball (Sega Genesis 1993)/Kirby’s Pinball Land (Game Boy 1993)

Shield Surfing in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U/Nintendo Switch 2017)

Spelunker (NES 1987)

E.T. (Atari 1982)

1)SkiFree (Windows/DOS 1991)

I will name him George, and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him…

If you had a Windows computer in the 90’s, then your most-played game was definitely SkiFree. We couldn’t keep away from it. It taunted us with its quirky little icon. It drew us in with simple controls. Our curiosity raged even further when we learned we could type “F” to activate a speedy mode and potentially outrun the abominable snowman. How far could we go before being gobbled up by the maddening monster??? What sort of player were you? Did you opt to race through the slalom or the tree slalom, navigating a series of colored flags? Or, did you head straight for the freestyle course in an attempt to perform wicked stunts for points? No, it’s not quite SSX Tricky-level of gameplay, but this was about as exciting as it got in the early 90’s. SkiFree was actually developed by one person, Chris Pirih, in his free time at home while trying to learn a new type of programming software. Not only did the game get packaged with every Windows computer in the Microsoft Entertainment Pack 3, but it also saw a port on the Game Boy Color in the year 2000. Can you imagine playing a series of Entertainment Pack games on your Game Boy?

Kid in the year 2000: Hmmm, what should I play today? Diablo II? The Sims? Majora’s Mask? Na, break out the Game Boy SkiFree!!

Apparently, the game also was released in 2013 for iOS. I kind of wanted to get it, but I just checked and it’s 99 cents. Eh, I’ll wait for a sale. Also, maybe they should rename the game to be called SkiNinety-NineCents. Anyway, how fitting that this game earns my #1 spot for December – just it time for us to be eaten by an abominable snowman. Honestly, it’s 2020. This wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest.

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Thank you all so much for reading and supporting my articles throughout the year!  I’d like to keep these monthly posts going and have several ideas already in the works!  Is there a particular topic you’d like me to write about?  What sort of content would you like to see?  I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Published by erichagmann

Arranger / Pianist / Vocalist / Educator / Gamer

3 thoughts on “Descent-ber: Gravity in Games

  1. I can’t think of any games where it’s going down, but I can definitely think of one where it’s yelling timber. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: Villager’s down special!

    Liked by 1 person

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