2. Super Mario World
Amazing because it allows you to reshape reality
Super Mario Bros. 3 was the first game in the series to use a hub map for more free-form exploration of the game world, but to classify Super Mario World’s map as just an evolution of that idea is like saying that cocktails are just an evolution of the idea of drinking the fermented juice of rotten fruit. Where Super Mario Bros. 3's map simply provided a couple of different level options at a time in order to avoid repetition fatigue, and facilitated a few spot-challenges like the multiple one-on-one Hammer and Boomerang Brother fights, Super Mario World expanded and deepened its map to make it as much a part of the gameplay as the individual levels themselves.
The last word of Super Mario World’s title, you see, wasn’t just a throwaway addition. It was fundamental to the way the whole game was experienced. Super Mario World was a Super Mario RPG long before Squaresoft ever thought of suckling on the plumber’s pre-rendered teat. It was packed with secret areas (unlockable through clever play in the main levels) which could fundamentally reshape the way the game played. The giant Switch Palaces would put extra blocks into platform stages right across the world, opening up new routes, new power-up opportunities and creating whole new areas. In turn, navigating those new routes and areas led to new level exits, which themselves led to new levels and more new secret areas on the map.
Above: And it's really pretty and everywhere is named after food. You would go here on holiday
The constant back-and-forth interplay between overworld and individual levels gave Super Mario World an almost Zelda-like sense of discovery and progression. Doubly so, when you consider that switching between the two parts of the game was made all the more easy via the ability to jump out of any completed level by pressing Start and Select together. This made tactical power-up harvesting a standard technique, promoting smart, RPG-style inventory management in order to tackle the different gameplay approaches needed to unlock further secrets.
And then there were the super-secret, often bitch-hard Star Road levels, which opened secret new paths through the map when completed, allowing completion of the game without even unlocking every level. You know, just like using a real map to work out a sneaky short-cut.
1. Driver: San Francisco
Amazing because of its insane upgradable real-time zoombility
There isn’t any real shock in Driver: San Francisco's humongous map – after all, pretty much every open world game involving cars has one. Just look at the GTA IV entry in this list for more proof. But this has one unique difference – it’s upgradable.
Yup, in the same way you can unlock speed boosts and ram attacks for your car in Driver SF, you can also heighten the powers of your map. Literally. It might not seem a like much, but being able to unlock different tiers of skywardness to reach the heavens and see more of San Francisco helps you to ‘shift’ (read: teleport) to new missions. And it's all played out with the style and satellite mapped aplomb of a real-time Google Maps.
The map contains so much detail that you can zoom right into individual cars travelling the roads, which is pretty special when you try to do it. You feel like a mighty hawk swooping in on its prey. Or, y’ know, just a comatose man imagining the whole thing.