Legacy of Goku 1, or LoG1, featured flying as a core mechanic, albeit in a really messy, unsatisfying way, which ultimately led to it being cut from the sequels. But 2 questions persist: could they have made flying work? And what did they lose by removing it?
I went over a lot of the problems concerning the implementation of flying in Legacy of Goku 1 while reviewing that game, so if you’d like to get a good run down of all the problems as it was originally imagined, then go ahead and read that. Now, let’s get to what flying is all about.
Could Flying Work?
Looking at flying as a mechanic, I immediately ask: What does it allow the player to do that they couldn’t normally do? Are those things good or bad? And, perhaps most importantly, what does the player expect this mechanic to allow them to do? Flying gives the player the expectation that they can go up and over things, which is directly in contrast to the way levels are usually designed. Think about how many times there is a bottomless pit, or tree blocking your way in a game. These are things that are easily flown over, which creates problems for the level designers as there can be a dissonance between what the player expects to be able to fly over and what he or she actually can fly over. This means that you must communicate to the player what can and can not be flown over.
So, what did flying succeed at, and what did it fail at? At this point, we know that flying gives us the affordance to move around more freely than merely walking, which means we should probably limit it or implement a tradeoff. LoG1 limited flying with flying points and caused a trade-off by not allowing you to attack while flying, but you could handle this in a variety of ways. For instance, a flying meter would allow the player to fly for short periods, land and repeat. Or you could give the player special flying attacks, like a ground pound.
In fact, LoG1 succeeded with using enemy placement to define the levels. The better levels were about trying to explore while there were deadly foes all around. Flying didn’t allow you to break an aspect of the game by drastically circumventing the way you explored, rather it gave you the ability to skirt around foes.
However, LoG1 did not handle falling and landing gracefully. The game has to be able to handle when the avatar falls onto trees, spikes, cliffsides, etc. If your flight is limited, then you always have to be able to land. For instance, trees could act as platforms that you can stand on, or you could have an animation play, so that when you land on a tree you fall through to the ground below. But you don’t have to land on solid ground, you can land in water, or lava.
Lastly, you must be coherent. There can be things the player is not allowed to flyover, but it must be clearly communicated and logical, even if it is only in game logic (Superman can not fly over the kryptonite deposits!).
Admittedly, top down games are bad at depicting the y-axis. But some top-down games have used the y-axis well, like many Legend of Zelda games. Bastion, which is an isometric game, did a wonderful job of using a jumping mechanic in its last level to implement some basic platforming. However, my confidence really stems from the fact that flight does not need to be precision oriented.
With all of this being said, I see no reason why flight wouldn’t work in the LoG series, or a game like it. Once you get down the core design decisions– like whether or not you will limit flight– then you must build the game with this core mechanic in mind.
What Was Lost?
At the end of the day, the biggest thing the player was getting from the ability to fly was the ability to move fast, which was later accomplished by sprinting. Implementing flight would also require larger screens, so that you have more room to maneuver, which was hard to do on the GBA. Grounding the player made sense in these contexts.
But a lot was lost too. Firstly, flight was one of the more unique mechanics which really set it apart from the pack. This was especially important since the level design became more simple in the sequels. Secondly, a big hallmark of Dragon Ball Z is flying. Without flight, characters felt oddly grounded when compared to the source material or any other adaption. You ended up losing some of what put the “Z” in Dragon Ball Z.
Recently I played Transformers: War for Cybertron, and the first thing I noticed about transforming was that you could not ram into foes as a vehicle. This is analogous to not being able to fly over small obstacles in LoG1; it broke the immersion. In a situation like this, there are 3 options: 1) remove the mechanic because it doesn’t fit in with the other mechanics, 2) communicate the affordances and limitations of the mechanic, or 3) allow the player to use the mechanic the way they should be allowed to. In the case of making a licensed game, you need to stay close to the source material. That means option 1 is off the table; saiyans have to fly. The latter 2 options would have made these games really shine; removing flight never should have been an option. The latter 2 entries in the LoG series might have been good games, but they were not good DBZ games, largely for this reason.