Everyone has gameplay moments – the first time you play a particular game and find it such a leap forward from what’s gone before that it qualifies as a whole new experience, almost a new world opening up before you.
Virtual reality tends to produce this “mind-blowing” effect nowadays. Arguably the best thing about owning PSVR at the moment is watching someone experience VR for the first time and find themselves reduced to breathlessness and ‘wow’s by doing nothing other than looking round an empty room of Lara Croft’s mansion.
VR is unarguably a leap into a new realm, but there were realms before it. The reason so many of us remember and love Mario 64 on the Nintendo 64 is that it introduced us to not one but two new realms of gaming: full 3D immersion and open world structure.
The first time I played Mario 64 I was bemused. Since there was no linear level structure I didn’t know where to go, what to do, but I knew that I loved it. Here was freedom, discovery, possibility unrivalled by any game to date. I could move in any direction, wander at will and, eventually, discover my own adventures.
Today, open world games dominate the market, but the beauty of Mario, like all great gaming characters (and Mario, the plumber who never plumbs, is one of the greatest) is their timelessness and endless capacity for reinvention and renewal.
Mario was a star well before 3D gaming. 2D Mario platformers on the Gameboy, NES and SNES shipped millions of copies and were influential beyond measure, but when a third dimension was added to gaming Mario jumped through it like one of those magical pictures in his mansion and reasserted himself on the market.
Nintendo will hope that Mario can do the same in his latest adventure, Super Mario Odyssey, due out on the Nintendo Switch on October 27, 2017.
The Switch has enjoyed a highly promising launch to date, fuelled by a memorable outing from Nintendo’s other star franchise Zelda, but a well-received Mario game would be a timely boost as the Christmas market approaches.
The signs are good. An early trailer for the game whetted the appetite by showcasing Mario in a place called New Donk City, showing him scaling skyscrapers and ducking out of the way of yellow taxis.
An updated E3 2017 trailer was even more impressive. The trailer led with Mario using his iconic red hat as a means of controlling a Tyrannosaurus Rex. This appears to be one of the major gameplay innovations of Super Mario Odyssey: Mario can use his hat to temporarily take control of other characters (a feature that also allows scope for co-operative two player by allowing one player to control Mario and the other to control the hat).
The really exciting thing for Mario fans, however, is the diversity of the playing environments. As well as New Donk City, an urban environment unlike anything in a previous Mario game, there is an Ancient Egypt styled land, a realm of dinosaurs and a whole host of other looks to the game.
It is clear that this will be the most diverse Mario game to date and, judging by the trailers, the game will retain every bit of the trademark colour, humour and magic of the series.
For some, Mario has never scaled the platforming heights since Mario 64. Super Mario Odyssey looks primed to rectify that – and to scale the charts as well.