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Zelda: Skyward Sword: Scaling new heights or head in the clouds?

We get hands-on to find out...

Having played with the puzzle pieces - Link's incredible sword controls and motion magic kitbag - it's time to insert them into the bigger picture. And pictures come none bigger.

Skyward Sword is a beast of game, incorporating not one, but two dual world mechanics. First up is the sky/ground divide. Link begins the adventure above the clouds, in a Wind Waker-esque overworld. Painterly cloudbanks replace pristine blue oceans in a stratospheric wonderland we've nicknamed the 'whoa-zone layer'.

Spot an island floating on the horizon and Link's loyal bird can be steered over. Not that Link's village, Skyloft, is lacking in stuff to do. Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma says Link's home turf harks back to Majora Mask's Clock Town. Not in a ooh-crikey-the-moon's-fallingdown kind of way, but in how the stories gradually unfold over the course of the adventure.

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There's always impetus to return, whether it's to upgrade items or get side quests from gossiping biddies in the town square. Link may just seek scholarly advice from the local bird knight academy where he is enrolled as a student when the game begins.

Now from home comforts to discomfort. Skydiving into parting clouds drops Link to Hyrule below, where more traditional dungeons reside. Or should that be 'less' traditional? Aonuma aims to blur the line between dungeon and overworld with organic temple design and a more choreographed outside world. For us, it means twice as much of that amazing Nintendo level design.

One Nintendo rep says accessing dungeons is often a dungeon unto itself. And we like ourselves some dungeons.

In just one game, Nintendo promise to reinvent the series and reveal how said series came to be in the first place

One example of this is shown in a new quarry area. Evil mole-men, the Mogmas, break a key and bury the five pieces. Link uses his sword to solve the conundrum. First by sticking it into the Mogmas, secondly by using the mystical spirit within - a girl named Phi - to sniff out the pieces. Holding the sword out acts as a divining rod, with audio clues leading Link to dig sites. These are puzzles in themselves, requiring clever bomb-rolling to excavate. The world feels dense with puzzling opportunity.

Sky and ground worlds are topped off with a third. Hyrule has a dual world of it's own: the Siren World. Like Link to the Past's Dark World it's an alternative Hyrule, physically unchanged, but bathed in striking neon light. If Tron had a baby with Studio Ghibli, this would be their freaky child. In a cool twist, Link enters the Siren World by embedding his sword in the ground. In an uncool twist, it has to stay there. Link is doing this one empty-handed.

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Which is good news for the cloaked guardians who patrol the Siren World. One touch from their eerie glowing fingers and it's game over. One solution: leg it. A new dash button introduces athletic moves for this purpose: longer leaps and a ledge scramble a la Prince of Persia. Aonuma wants us to re-evaluate our surroundings, turning familiar ground into all-new escape puzzles. For a series accused of sticking to old templates, it's a radical, and welcomed, departure.

The question is how the realms interweave. Link collects 'tears of light' inside the Siren World, but how do they factor into his Zelda rescue mission? And how does all this lead to - as Aonuma has promised it will - the creation of the Master Sword? In just one game, Nintendo promise to reinvent the series and reveal how said series came to be in the first place.

Ambitious? Yes. But when Nintendo are involved, the sky's the limit.

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