In the recent years, many games seem to use a trope where you travel between slightly different realities to progress, either as a core mechanic or in a single level. The examples I can think of are Guacamelee (World of the Living/Dead), Titanfall 2 (past and present time) and most recently in Sayonara Wild Hearts (Parallel Worlds), which made me write this question. Is there a game that could be traced as the origin of this mechanic?

Note: I am not looking for a game where you simply travel between different realities/times as the game progresses, I specifically mean games where you quickly switch between slightly different realities to overcome an obstacle. This can be player-triggered by button press, object interaction or strictly scripted.

  • The concept of time travel existed long before videogames used it. I bet there are Text Adventures out there that are older than any graphical videogame and let you travel to other realms. Just based on the concept of planes existing in DnD and many even of the earliest games taking inspiration of those adventures. Using it as a "fast" game mechanic i could think of timesplitters. In the end its just a evolved version of the regular time/dimension shift. It just evolved to get more user friendly. – Roybin93 Sep 27 '19 at 8:53

The earliest that I know of is The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past in 1992 on the SNES which required users to solve puzzles in the Light & Dark world to progress. Palette swapping was a common technique in video games as well as the concept of alternate realities. However, most games failed to integrate them these into core gameplay mechanics requiring players to interact simultaneously with parallel realities.

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Probably one of the most iconic games that is based on this core mechanic is Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, where you need to switch between the world of the living and the world of the dead/souls to progress in the story/map.

Since it is one of the early (1999) Action-RPGs, the levels listed by you might be a nod to that game.

But maybe there is an even earlier game for this concept.

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    Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past had some puzzles requiring you to switch between the light and dark world. I don't recall thinking it was some groundbreaking idea in LttP either, so I assume there's an even earlier game. – pboss3010 Sep 27 '19 at 11:51

There are quite a few games with the mechanism you're talking about. I've highlighted a few here, ordered chronologically:

  • The beginning of 1993's Day of the Tentacle lets the player alternate freely between its three protagonists in three different time periods.

  • In that same year, Sony Interactive released Sonic CD. By speeding up for a certain amount of time, Sonic is able to travel the same level at different times: the past, the present, and a good and bad version of the future.

  • Getting close to the specificity of the dimension-shifting ability you are referring to, a game that uses a technique similar to that in Guacamelee, is 1999's Soul Reaver. As the protagonist Raziel, you can switch between the material plane and the immaterial spectral plane, where time flows differently.

  • After searching for what you referenced from Titanfall 2, I don't get why Respawn gets so much praise for their mission 'Effect and Cause', as I have seen that instantaneous time-travelling mechanism a few times before. The less known Singularity, a game released in 2010, has the exact same mechanism at its core. It even included an almost identical time-manipulating device, worn on the left hand.
    I think I have seen this more often, although in most cases purely as a storytelling device, but I can't think of another title at the moment.

Other games that have similar time-manipulation as a core mechanism, include Braid, Prey (2017), Quantum Break, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Blinx, and Life is Strange. (For more games, check out these lists on Steam, Wikipedia, or TVTropes.)

The first game to use a time travel mechanic as listed by this Wikipedia article, is 1980's appropriately named Time Traveler, a text adventure that has the player travel to different times in the past, but this might not fit your description, as it doesn't involve interactive shifting to solve puzzles.

In that same looser interpretation, the entire idea of being able to save your game is a variation on this theme. That concept alone could account for the development of time-manipulation as part of a game's in-universe gameplay, and as a possible 'origin'.

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    The question is asking about game mechanics where you can change something about the world (time, dimension, etcetera) on the fly in order to bypass obstacles. – Wrigglenite Sep 27 '19 at 12:38
  • @Wrigglenite I know. All games I mentioned have that too. They all allow for changing dimensions to be able to solve problems. Should I add a description to point that out, for readers unwilling to actually look into it? – Joachim Sep 29 '19 at 21:30

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