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Gaming's Defining Moments

Memorable games, industry shifts, breaking stories both good and bad: in the three decades that gaming's captured our imagination, there's plenty of moments that have defined both the industry and us as gamers. In this weekly series, we look back at those points, and outline their personal significance.

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For the first in this series, I swore to myself I'd stray away from the obvious.

But in reading our Daytona USA review in which Jonas so emphatically explained the engaging vibrancy of the classic racer as opposed to today's realistic driving sims, as well as glancing over screenshots released this week that seems to show yet another skyscraper-sized boss in another epic set-piece, I felt the need to hark back to the moment when both elements were invigorating to eye and mind.

And there's no clearer moment in gaming than the first Bowser encounter in Mario 64.

Gaming's Defining Moments

Being a Sega fanboy meant my appreciation for Nintendo's craft was grudgingly given through most of the early years of that decade. Yet the transfer from 2D pixels to 3D worlds was, if not pioneered by Nintendo, was defined by the Japanese giant in Mario 64.

I certainly remember pouring over magazine scans of these seemingly huge worlds - tiny by today's standards - with wide-eyed wonderment in the months leading up to the Japanese, then finally UK, release of console, and I was first in line to pick up both it and a copy of Mario 64, after many months of saving.

It didn't matter the surprise if that first boss encounter had been ruined months before by a massive in-depth feature in the pages of Maximum Magazine. I just wanted to try it for myself.

Today we're used to cinematic flourishes and bosses bigger than God; pulsing weak points to scramble towards, treating the boss as a mini-platform level. In 1995 such monstrosities were the reserve of shoot 'em ups. Only five years previous Bowser had been a hulking turtle floating overhead in a propeller-clad cup.

So imagine, due to some clever perspective work, a beastly-sized King Koopa that swallowed and shook the screen with his debut 3D appearance. A behemoth of a boss that sprayed fire and who's spiked shell meant he was safe from bottom-bouncing plumbers.

It was a real David and Goliath moment. More so when the solution - gripping his tail and swinging him around to toss him into nearby bombs (a move that danced on the acceptable edges of physics, momentum and gravity), clicked.

Sure, the trick lost its sheen when it was repeated twice more in later face-offs, but for that moment I felt like I'd experienced something revolutionary, something new, and I gawped at what other things this console could bring me.

I'd been a PSOne owner for a while before; the edgy marketing and seemingly darker slant to its catalogue - WipEout, Tekken, even DOOM which I played for the first time - clashed wildly with the colourful tones of my early 90s fixations. I thought those days gone.

Yet Mario 64 brought the (first) moment where I saw the proper marriage between the 16-bit days and new hardware flourish, of how gaming's future could look, if only I'd had the imagination to create it.

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Luckily a Japanese developer had. And it's something Nintendo does to this day, albeit those instances are rarer. Skyward Sword's release seems the complete antithesis of the current trend of grim realism; for me, it's a glimpse at an alternative present, were the bright and bold games of the last decade continued across the hardware generations.



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