An Ode to Gliding in Games

David R. Howard
2 min readApr 14, 2023
Screenshot from A Short Hike

Everybody hates fall damage in games, so much so that in Super Mario Odyssey the developers removed it entirely. Now Mario simply brushes off the impact of even the highest falls after a brief moment of stupor. It’s something that makes me reflect on past games where falling from a height produced a specific effect. Whether it’s the small scale of the NES — from the heavy thud of Castlevania to the starry bounce of Kirby’s Adventure — or the open worlds of Spider-Man 2 and Assassin’s Creed in which falls are broken by web-slinging or piles of hay respectively. Then there’s AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! — A Reckless Disregard for Gravity, a game which took the vertigo of first-person platform games like Mirror’s Edge and ran/fell with it. However, sometimes it’s nicer to fall with style.

Bomb Jack was one of the first games to introduce the concept of gradual gliding to videogames. While some see it as a counterpoint to the Super Mario school of platforming, in truth it was laundered in via the raccoon and tanooki suits in Super Mario Bros. 3, cape in Super Mario World and bunny ears in Super Mario Land 2. Even imitators and spinoffs got in on the gliding action with Aero the Acro-Bat, select levels in the Prehistorik games and Mario Kart in its seventh and eighth incarnations.

While Super Mario 64 had the wing cap, gliding became more prominent in the games it inspired, such as Banjo-Kazooie, Spyro the Dragon and Ty the Tasmanian Tiger. Super Mario Sunshine had something between Kazooie’s flutter and Spyro’s glide in the water-propelled jetpack FLUDD, while Odyssey introduced the flying lizard Glydon. Another Miyamoto franchise, Pilotwings, would feature more literal hang-gliding, foreshadowing the Monkey Target mini-game from Super Monkey Ball and its sequel.

Gliding has also become a key mode of transport within open world games, from Saints Row 4 to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. This began with Prototype, which took the mighty leaps and bounds of games like Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction and Crackdown and paired them with a momentum-based side-hover ability. Just Cause 2 gave players both a grappling hook and infinite supply of parachutes which when used in conjunction meant one could glide forever. Wingsuits have been featured in Grand Theft Auto 5, Just Cause 3 and Far Cry’s 3 through 6 as well as their own dedicated game Superflight. I can’t help but see the long legacy of gliding in games when discussing “where we dropping” in Fortnite.