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Entering the Twilight Princess zone

Massive hands-on impressions with the Wii controller and Nintendo's biggest Zelda yet

Never before has a moment so clearly sorted the normal, average men from the frothing fanboys; jumping around like a stupid idiot, I made my allegiance clear as I acted like a hooting American and threw my proverbial knickers in the air when we got a personal invite to Nintendo's UK headquarters to play Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.

The version we played this week was not all that different from the E3 build, except for one crucial tweak; updated Wii controls allowing us to swing Link's sword with a flick of the controller and risk accidentally twatting colleagues when the controller-strap wasn't on.

There's no discussion that Wii Twilight Princess is the Gamecube game with an additional wand-waving control scheme, but the question is; is it worth the effort and price of a shiny new Wii? From my hour-long bash I certainly found sword-combat much more enjoyable with the Wii controller; flicking my wrist and slashing with the remote seemed like a far more natural an intuitive method of control than simply punching buttons.

The Z button locks on to foes as normal, while a shake of the Nunchuk expansion performs a devastating spin attack, which certainly felt nice. There's also new finishing moves chucked into the mix which, when executed on a downed-enemy with the A button, send Link into a lunging-stab attack which usually finishes off what's left of your aggressor. Nintendo has previously demonstrated this same move being executed by performing a downwards stabbing motion with the controller, but we're not yet certain which method will make it to the final game.

The crown of Zelda's new Wii tricks however, are the excellent ranged aiming-controls, which allow you to use the Bow and Hookshot as precisely as you like in a lightgun-esque shooting set-up. Ranged controls feel very natural and lend themselves to the Wii controller incredibly well, with a simple point-and-click set-up using an on-screen cursor to mark out your target. Literally from the very moment I lifted the pad, I was sniping enemy-archers from a mile-away and making short work of anyone foolish enough to approach my new toy. It's undeniably more accurate and more enjoyable than vanilla pad controls, and making the sound of an arrow travel from the remote speaker to the television is perhaps the most satisfying thing I've done this week (sadly).

But beyond the control scheme, we know that Twilight Princes is going to be fantastic; Nintendo has touted it as the 'best Zelda game ever', which is no modest promise when half of the series backlog is already hailed as some of the greatest games of all-time. The dungeon I played through was the same fire-based local seen at E3; starting with a small dock area full of archers, crates and a giant crane to exploit the new tricks of my special metal boots.

Perhaps it's the voice of ignorance speaking, but the camera appeared troublesome when navigating tight spots and ladders, though the inclusion of a quick motion-powered first-person view was certainly welcome. Our on-screen pal, Navi helps keep track of where you're pointing, which was useful when in other games I spent most of my time pointing the pad at the ceiling.

The properties of my fancy footwear - presumably the prize of the dungeon - were exploited further in the demo when in true Zelda style I dramatically discovered a giant, flaming dungeon boss - who we're guessing had some kind of sacred stone or crystal lodged into his face.

With the Zelda franchise now in its 15th entry, it can't be easy to come up with new boss concepts, but the bods behind Twilight Princess have come up with an excellent method of dispatch for this baddy. The flaming nasty lashes at Link with two massive chains attached to his ankles, occasionally stopping to perform the odd fire-blasting attack.

(Warning: spoilers ahead) To clobber him, you've got to niftily land an arrow shot in the shiny jewel in his forehead - something we're sure will be far more troublesome without the Wii's excellent light-gun-esque aiming - and then use your new boots somehow to send him flat on his face.

It has to be said; even though the Wii is severely lacking in the horsepower department compared to its rivals, this boss battle is as dazzling and intense as anything higher-abled consoles have offered us so far.

Slowing things down a bit, an equally important part of our Zelda hands-on was the fishing demo, which gave us our first sample of the new hook, line and sinker motion controls which no-doubt have fans of previous series' fishing games very excited. Unlike previous instalments, Twilight' puts you on the open lake in a rugged fishing boat, where you can paddle around freely scouting out the best spots for catching top trout.

This in itself opens up a lot more possibilities than before; after spending so much time casting out in Ocarina of Time's tiny pond, our social lives have little hope of recovering from Twilight Princess's massive lake, which features waterfalls, shorelines and alcoves where different kinds of fish congregate and lie (or er, swim). After unsuccessfully luring flounders in the centre of the lake, my fishing partner - a rather attractive young lady - recommended I cast out by the waterfall, where loe-and-behold I managed to snatch not one, but two bites. If Wii fishing turns out anything like Ocarina of Time's, then we'd also expect fish to deviate depending on the time of day - and perhaps now with Wii's fancy internet-clock features; time of year as well.

Holding the A button and then casting out with a swing, the Wii controller's on-board speaker is really noticeable at this point, winding and clicking with the movement of your line. In fact, if I had my eyes closed - and perhaps had one or two beers in me - I could've fooled myself into thinking I was sitting inside a whet, dinky fishing boating waiting for the Hyrullian Loach to splash his way towards my line.

The whole activity feels a lot more hands-on than in previous games; tugging and waving at the Wii controller gives your lure a realistic nudge - again, giving the illusion that the Wii pad is in fact attached via-string to a hooked-worm in your telly. After a ceremonial wait a fishy bites and the struggle begins; reeling in your catch is a multi-task of motions, using the Nunchuk to wind and the controller to pull - just as if you had a big fishing rod controller nestled between your mitts.

The mix of rumble, on-board controller noises and tugging gestures gives the illusion that you are in fact tugging against some kind of opposing force (even though you're obviously not), and makes landing your catch all the more satisfying. Sure, it's only a 63cm catfish, but after that effort I'd gladly serve it up with some chips and a nice bit of parsley if it weren't but a bunch of triangles and dots on-screen.

And that about wraps up our brief hands on with Nintendo's latest adventure epic. The Japanese giant has promised the best Zelda game yet, and after years of development and delays, and promising hands-on sessions like this one, we're quietly confident that maybe - just maybe - it can deliver on that promise. Stay tuned for more Zelda as Wii's launch date of December 8 approaches.

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