1996 was a great year for Mario.
The smash hit Super Mario 64 launched September 29 in North America (June 23 in Japan), and it was immediately hailed as a masterpiece. In fact, Next Generation magazine gave it the #1 slot on their list of “Top 100 Games of All Time” before the game was even out in the US (they’d received an early copy for review, so they had played it by then).
In their 92nd issue (Holiday ’96), Ultra Game Players magazine called Super Mario 64 “The Best Overall Game of the Year,” and they acknowledged that folks (such as those writing for Next Generation) had already taken to calling it “the greatest videogame of all time.”
Ultra Game Players praised its depth, the hugeness of its 3D world, and its clean visual aesthetic, among other things. When you compare the game to its contemporaries (its most noteworthy competitors would have been Crash Bandicoot, Bubsy 3D, and Jumping Flash!), it possesses a mastery of the 3D realm that the others couldn’t quite accomplish. I would even go so far as to argue that it holds up beautifully today.
So it should probably come as no surprise that it landed on Game of the Year lists in 1996. It was a milestone of a game that signals an enormous, exciting change in the game industry.
If you want to explore the magazine’s opinion more deeply, here’s a full scan of Ultra Game Players‘ Game of the Year entry for Super Mario 64:
And here’s the full page (page 16):