Last night, after hours exploring Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, I unlocked the ability to double jump. It was such a simple thing—one jump, another jump—but I suddenly felt a rush of possibility hit me. That’s because of all the video game-y tricks, double jumps might just be the best.
Whenever I think of game mechanics, I ask, “Is this elegant?” In other words, I look for mechanics that achieve the greatest amount of effect with the least amount of effort. I’m hard-pressed to think of a mechanic more elegant than the double jump. The concept of jumping and being able to jump again in midair opens up a wealth of possibilities for any game. It expands the space players can explore and can increase the complexity of platforming puzzles. It offers new tactics for dodging and manipulating enemies in combat. By simply adding one extra jump, the canvas grows in size. There’s more space to act in and more moment to moment decisions to make.
Getting a double jump in Bloodstained felt so good because it filled my brain with all sorts of ideas. In a game focused on exploration and backtracking, knowing that previously inaccessible areas were suddenly open to me created a palpable excitement. The fact that such a small alteration meant such a large increase of explorable space is, frankly, one of the coolest things.
This was also true of Titanfall 2, where players initially played like a generic grunt before getting access to movement options ranging from wall-running to a double jump that covered a huge distance. Without the movement potential of the double jump, levels like the time-bending “Effect and Cause” would lose much of their magic. What made Titanfall 2 one of the best first-person-shooter campaigns of all time was how it turned movement and combat into a form of player expression. It wasn’t just that you had more options; you could use those options to craft moments of genuine beauty. The double jump was key to this, making it possible to bounce between walls, guns blazing. Remove it and Titanfall 2 would have fallen apart.
No double jump is the same. By adjusting how much control players have while in the air, designers can craft double jumps that are expressive get-out-of jail-free cards or modest course corrections. Just like how adjusting running speed can give us the weighty friction of Red Dead Redemption 2 or the balls-breaking antics of Doom, minor adjustments to double jumps create a spectrum of options. You can have the badass air-step combos of Devil May Cry, the glorious air battles and edge guarding of Super Smash Bros., or the impressive sequence breaking of Super Mario Odyssey speedruns.
Not every game needs a double jump. It doesn’t make sense in all cases; you don’t want Arthur Morgan bounding across the frontier, after all. But having them is certainly a benefit in most cases. They’re graceful. Without them, so many games would lose their magic. That all it takes is making one thing—a simple jump—into two things is gorgeous. A little shift, a tiny tweak, and your entire game can change.