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Or "Can Mario learn from a game by Sega?!"

    For those of you who don't follow gaming news, or who just don't get it, the title of this rant refers to Shenmue, the super-ambitious, $70 million opus of Sega game designer Yu Suzuki. Chapter 1 of this game just came out recently in Japan to rave reviews, and is due to come to US Dreamcasts by years end. So what makes ShenMue so special? And how can Mario games learn from this?

    Let's deal with one question at a time: What's so special about ShenMue? Well... there's a lot. First thing is the graphics, which run at an amazing 60 frames per second throughout, with beautifully textured models for the environment and the characters. Seeing this game in motion is an almost religous experience. Past that glitz is much more, though. Ryo, the games main character, can interact with almost everything in the game world. I mean everything. The sense of realism this gives the game is amazing (and helps explain the huge development time). What else? Let's see, each computer controlled character moves about the world in real time, following a realistic day-to-day schedule (get up, go to work...). The companion disk has tons of background information on all of these computer characters too. The story is well told with good voice acting and cinematic cut-scenes! The environment for the game is a fully mapped out Japanese city! There's a complete virtual pet type game bulit-in! There are even full versions of Sega classics "Hang-on" and "Space Harrier"! All this, and it's only chapter one! There's gonna be more of this soon!

    While all this stuff is secondary to the main gameplay, the end result is apparent: One of the most engrossing, engaging, virtual worlds ever made.

    Now for the next issue: How can Mario learn from ShenMue? Well, the first thing it can emulate is the story. I hate to tell you this, Nintendo, but "Save the Princess" and text box speech from the bosses will not pass for a "story" anymore. The next Mario should have cut scenes (possibly FMV) with good voice acting (no high pitched, Italian stereotypes please) telling an engrossing story. I know you can come up with one... if you can't, our fanfic section has plenty of ideas for you.

    Next, a realistic, interactive world is important. Super Mario 64's expansive castle with jump-in picture was very nice, but the interactivity was limited (You can push some boxes... and pound some posts. Not much for interactivity.) In the next game, let Mario pick up stuff he finds around the world, and have him use them in interesting ways. I don't mean keys that pop out of dead bosses, I mean useful items that power Mario up, or unlock secret areas, or help kill enemies, or can be used in other, hopefully realistic ways.

    Other little things can be copid from ShenMue. Add in a little collectible pet feature; they're all the rage now (Even Sonic Adventure had one). Have classic versions of Mario games hidden somewhere in the game (Donkey Kong 64 did this too). Some things are better left unchanged, though, such as Mario's bright, cartoony graphics (which would be hindered by added realism).

    ShenMue symbolizes the next step in interactive entertainment. Mario's creators should look to these ,and other revolutionary games, as inspiration for the next Mario game.

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