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Super Mario Galaxy

HANDS-ON: Mario heads into orbit, with all signs pointing to a stunning return to form for Nintendo's number one mascot

Sometimes, Nintendo's amazing knack for creating stellar games is its own worst enemy. Just look at Super Mario Sunshine, which had the distinctly unenviable privilege of following Super Mario 64 - one of the most beloved games of all time. Needless to say, its troubling reliance on its predecessor for gameplay ideas, alongside a distinct lack of polish and occasional moments where the game practically stood up and shouted "Oh my god! Somebody forgot to finish me!" had Mario fans frothing at Nintendo's door.

In fact, Sunshine (for all of its charms) lacked so much of the indefinable magic that coursed through Mario's earlier iterations, we were starting to get pretty apprehensive when we learned that Super Mario Galaxy - the plumber's first run-in with the Wii and its new-fangled remote - would be playable on the show floor at this year's E3.

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Truth be told though, it took us approximately, ooh, four seconds to get over our initial doubts. You see, Nintendoids everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief, safe in the knowledge that Mario is back and - if the E3 demo is anything to go by - better than ever. Now, here comes the difficult bit - explaining what the hell's going in Super Mario Galaxy.

Despite superficial similarities with both Mario 64 and Sunshine, Galaxy is really a whole new sack of skittles. If you played either two earlier games, you'll feel right at home with the basic control set-up - Mario's movements are controlled using the nunchuck stick and his jumps are performed with a simple tap of the main remote button. As far as we could tell, all of Mario's usual 3D moves are still intact, with us managing to pull off the infamous triple-jump and back flip with the new set-up within seconds.

In fact, the very first part of the demo was deliberately reminiscent of Mario's classic adventures. You'll traipse through distinctly Mushroom Kingdom-style greenery, chatting to various Toad cohorts under bright blue skies and generally re-familiarising yourself with those Mario controls. It's a neat trick, and probably wise, given the surprising tangent the game shoots off at within seconds.

You see, this time around, all the action appears to be space-based, with Mario flying from one planet to the next throughout the level. Each "planet" is essentially a self-contained sphere featuring some puzzle or task that needs to be solved to progress onto the next section. There's something slightly mind-boggling about Mario's interplanetary hijinx as he tears over and around each sphere, with the entire screen spinning relentlessly to follow - however, it's testament to Nintendo's development prowess that the action never gets confusing, thanks to a gracefully implemented and largely flawless camera system which stays pretty firmly locked into the optimum viewing angle at all times.

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To facilitate all this fancy hoopla, there're a couple of neat remote-powered tricks at your disposal - thankfully all intuitive and beautifully implemented. The most useful of these is Mario's classic spin attack - this time performed by shaking the remote back and forth. While it's definitely handy for immobilising enemies (then finishing them off with the time-honoured head stomp), you'll also need it to blast from one section of the level to the next.

Placed at strategic locations, you'll find star-shaped rings (if that's not an oxymoron). By jumping in then waggling your wand, you'll pirouette through them, gaining enough momentum to blast you into space. You'll find a variety of other obstacles around the place, but these are largely manipulated using the remote's pointer functions. As with both the Wii Zelda and Metroid demos, there's a target reticule on screen at all times - by holding down the remote trigger and jiggling the cross-hair over your target, you'll kickstart it into action.

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