F-Zero by Nintendo, a launch title for the SNES - late 1990 in JPN, Fall 1991 in NA, and the following summer in EU.
When Nintendo started to roll out the hype wagon for their anticipated 16-Bit console, all eyes were on them. Would they merely match the power of the competition (Sega's Genesis) or go them one better? Screenshots of games like F-Zero, a futuristic arcade racer, started to dribble out, slowly. The game looked alright in screenshots - a small car, a stark raceway. Sure, there were a lot of colors on the screen, but why should someone get excited about "another choppy racer?" The name didn't reveal much to get excited over either.
The game (and system) launched and I picked them both up on the same day. By now I was very excited to have my hands on this new hardware, and despite my cautious feelings, I was eager to see what it was capable of. I hooked up the unit and plugged in the game. What happened next? F-Zero blew my mind!
Never mind what the pictures showed - F-Zero was all about what the game was doing in motion. Never before had I seen a game that really felt this close to an arcade racer before - the intense feeling of speed, the incredible scaling backgrounds, the cheesy (though complicated) J-Metal music. It wasn't perfect, it was better!
This was the very definition of an arcade racer. You didn't meddle about with stats and upgrades, you picked a general car style (each with strengths/weaknesses), a difficulty, and off you went to the races. The game was packed with several tracks in different themed "worlds," and each felt unique and interesting. The game had some flaws, but at the time this released it was really much more enjoyable than any other racer (console OR arcade!) I'd experienced before.
The game launched a somewhat successful franchise, and moreover a new genre - popular games like WipEout obviously crew direct inspiration from this title. Interestingly, this is the only F-Zero series game I have played to any large degree, I suppose I should really pony up for the N64 version at some point.