A Leap Ahead

I reviewed Lost Dimension earlier this month, and it was a tough game to judge. It has novel ideas and flows pretty well, but it just doesn’t make an impact. Hunting a traitor in your midst is intriguing. The battles are fast-paced and fun. On the whole, however, Lost Dimension can't summon the memorable characters or intricate approach that an interesting game really needs. It passes through like a cereal commercial.

Yet I’ll say this for Lost Dimension: it lets you stand on someone's head.


Technically, only one character in the game can do this. Lost Dimension puts you in command of an elite squad of psychic soldiers infiltrating the fortress of a world-dominating villain, and one of the special agents is Nagi Shishiouka. She’s a laconic and efficient woman who’s spent perhaps too much time as a military operative, and she glides around the battlefield in her impractically long combat dress. Position her just right, and Nagi can perch on a teammate’s head. Sadly, she can’t attack from that position. Nor can the other characters move with Nagi atop.

Standing on another character’s head is a feature too often ignored in video games. Plenty of action cavalcades let players leap momentarily upon an enemy, but it’s usually just a means of attacking. Seldom is it merely a neat trick to be enjoyed. And I think that’s a shame.



I first discovered this technique in Super Mario Bros. 2. The original Super Mario Bros. had Mario defeating enemies by hopping on them, but the second game, based on an unrelated Japanese title and overhauled for North America, gave its heroes the chance to jump on a foe and pick them up…or just use them for transportation. Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess Toadstool Peach can hitch a ride on just about every creature that isn’t a boss or a spiky Porcupo, and as a kid I liked to see just how far this symbiosis would take me in the game. We have YouTube channels dedicated to speedruns of classic games, but I'd like to see someone try to beat Super Mario Bros. 2, or even just a level of it, without touching the ground.

Another game with this underappreciated motif? Xenogears. It’s a big, crazily ambitious RPG so stuffed with ideas that it practically explodes. That’s why some people hate it. And yet among the medieval mecha wars and floating cities and past lives and godlike supercomputers and card games and walrus sailors there’s one idea that not even the most jaundiced Xenogears critic could knock: you can jump on someone’s head.


Unlike most of its RPG contemporaries, Xenogears lets its playable characters jump around. This leads to awkward platforming later on, but it also makes it possible to leap on many things: beds, tables, rocks, livestock…and other people. It can’t be done on everyone, but many of the average citizens you encounter are perfectly fine with a martial artist or skyborn solider stationed on their heads. Even better, some of them will walk around with you aboard. If only you could pick up and toss the townsfolk like Super Mario Bros. 2’s Shy Guys and Ninjis.


Even Chrono Trigger’s Lucca, making a pedagogic guest appearance, can host a Xenogears protagonist on her helmet. And then she apparently dies, because robots level the town and Lucca isn’t seen among the survivors. Perhaps she just ducked back through a time portal, but that’s a debate for another time.

Hopping on passersby is enough to make Xenogears a resplendent classic in my book. In fact, if anyone tells you that Xenogears is bad and that Chrono Cross is a better game, look ‘em square in the eye and ask if Chrono Cross lets you jump on someone’s head…or jump at all, for that matter. Then say “Despite our disagreement, I enjoy reading US Gamer, Mr. Jeremy Parish.”

I doubt that these three games are the only ones in which you can stand on someone, friend or foe, for no reason other than amusing yourself. And if there are more, I’d like to know about them. Wikipedia needs a page about this. Perhaps several.

3 comments:

Paul S said...

Creating towers in Quake 3 Arena was always a fun, dumb trick to pull when everyone on the server got bored of deathmatch.

Anonymous said...

Xenogears required you to jump over someone in order to progress in the sewers. By that point in the game, I had forgotten you could jump, and spent forever looking up a GameFAQs guide on a dial up connection.

IMO, Super Mario RPG did jumping on peoples' heads the best.

Anonymous said...

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CraniumRide