Before the days when every child plays videogames the board game ruled. One particular favourite was 'Game of Life', where you had a few opportunities to go one way round a section of the board or another. One part you had the option to go over a hill, or maybe just go alongside it... just me that finds it oddly fascinating?
I even get a buzz from driving up the M6 where it and the M6 Toll merge northbound - you have the option of going up a hill if you are in the right hand lane or going alonside and joining a little further up the road if you stay in the left and centre lanes - yet it all meets up together merely half a kilometre up the road.
I'm not talking about gaming decsions such as seen in the likes of Fable and Mass Effect here - of course those such games are all about choices and how each one effects the character and story - but I'm more interested in the more simple & straightforward multiple routes that a player can take in many games, those that end up at the same location regardless of which way you go. Importantly, these different paths also have to be physically taken - simply choosing which way to go by selecting it from a menu (as seen in Guardian Heroes, Probotector/Contra Hard Corps for example) isn't good enough.
A classic example is on Outrun. If the route through the game completely changed based on the first decision of left or right, then it wouldn't be half as fun. It is the way you can always 'meet up' again later down the line that I find strangely appealing. Likewise, the player has to actually physically manouvre their car either down the left or the right lane to take them to the next level - there is no 'break' to the action. Golden Axe 3 is another good example - there were occasional opportunties to take a different path through the level & game where the player had to jump down into different playing field to carry on a different path.
One of the most comprehensive multiple path games is San Francisco Rush 2049, which I mainly played on the dear old Sega Dreamcast. I absolutely loved this game, and while it could be argued that this was practically a free roaming driving game based around a 'map', the core racetrack is well defined, so I found having so many multiple paths was mind-blowing. Hydro Thunder shared many of these qualities too. Well done Midway...
And finally, not to be forgotten, the alternative route shouldn't ever really be simply a 'short-cut'. Sure, there is always an element of risk & reward, but some of best alternative routes actually have no benefit to going on them whatsoever - in fact the best are just there for the sake of it and may actually take more effort and have less benefit (Super Off Road, I'm thinking of you...)
So here is to the alternative path - in my eyes arcade gaming's most underrated thing of genius.