In this series of articles we'll write about one Mario game every day for 30 days, each representing a different year as part of our Super Mario 30th Anniversary celebrations.
The Nintendo 64 was a revolutionary system in multiple respects. Its unique controller introduced an analogue stick to Nintendo gamers, for one thing, but the biggest revolution was in its approach to graphics. 3D was the new way to play, going beyond in-cartridge chip workarounds that had made some effects possible on the SNES - 64-bit brought the power for unique experiences.
Super Mario 64 launched with the system, and it's easy to forget - or downplay - the incredible impact that it had. We'll come to that, but it's also worth highlighting that anticipation for a new core Mario game was high regardless of its approach. As this series of articles has hopefully demonstrated, the early-to-mid '90s was a period of experimentation and spin-offs, with a notable gap from Super Mario World to the next core Mario platformer. The alternative titles such as Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island were excellent, but Nintendo's mascot was due a fresh adventure.
Of course, the SNES era had been largely 2D as per the technological limitations, with some titles utilising SuperFX to push the hardware further. It was that cartridge technology that apparently drove forward the first prototypes for a 3D Mario title, though Nintendo surely realised early on that the idea wouldn't fly. Shigeru Miyamoto, of course the figurehead of attempts to push new ideas, was nevertheless eager to pursue Nintendo games created in 3D worlds.
The Nintendo 64 made that possible, with a technological leap that was - back in 1996 - hugely impressive. Console gamers had largely been accustomed to pixel-based visuals - though there had been exceptions - yet the N64 put polygons at the core of its look. When Super Mario 64 launched with this new hardware it did, with little exaggeration, change the face of gaming.
From the opening screen in which you could manipulate Mario's face to the beginning of the game outside Peach's castle, it was immediately clear that this title would herald a new era in platforming. With a free camera and fluid movement, Mario could long jump, climb trees, punch and more in fully 3D stages. In 2015 that's all simple and standard fare, but 19 years ago it was a mind-blowing experience.
Unlike previous titles, too, there was an element of freedom to progression, with level design encouraging exploration and puzzle solving. With multiple stars and tasks per level, on occasion figuring out what to do would require some thought as well as skill, all in a quest to unlock more areas of the castle. That sense of freedom, combined with control inputs and moves that were brand new at the time, made this a memorable and intoxicating game to play.
This is a game that's also held up well to the modern day, which is impressive in the context of its trailblazing approach. Fluid animation and some classic, memorable stages also team up with significant degrees of challenge late on. Some of the N64 library has aged badly, yet this industry-changing launch release has done so gracefully.
Of course, the impact of Super Mario 64 on the broader gaming medium is difficult to over-state. It established the potential of 3D environments and gaming, which would not only inform future Nintendo games but also provide the building blocks for many others. It proved what was possible, and also how a dynamic camera can enhance gameplay.
Super Mario 64 is not only one of the greatest video games of all time, but also one of the most influential.
Naturally, it's much loved by speedrun experts, too - below is a great run from Summer Games Done Quick.