"In one sense, this is the first worthy successor to Mario 64," bellowed a typically belligerent Reggie Fils-Aime at E3. We all knew what he meant. "We know you thought Mario Sunshine was a bit crap. We hope this one sells better," he might as well have said. Fine: we hope he's right. But in one sense, Reggie's remark does Super Mario Galaxy a disservice.
Many people have taken it to mean that Galaxy is a footstep-following sequel to the N64 classic. It's not. After a lengthy hands-on with the E3 demo (plus a couple of extra levels), it becomes clear that Super Mario Galaxy is its own game: a blend of some of the best bits from both 3D and 2D Mario tradition, with a number of very distinctive twists. It's far more New than New Super Mario Bros ever was.
It's no coincidence that Galaxy is the first major Mario title ever to be made outside of Nintendo's Kyoto HQ. It's being developed by the team in Tokyo that made the brilliant, bongo-controlled Donkey Kong's Jungle Beat. Letting go was a brave move on Miyamoto's part, but it looks like it's paying off, because the six stages of Galaxy we played were pure bliss.
It's drop-dead gorgeous, for starters. This is not just the best-looking Wii title by miles, it's one of the best-looking games in the world full stop, HD or no HD. It's as smooth and shiny as silk, the colours are unbelievably vibrant, it's smothered in lustrous effects, and you feel like you can reach out and touch its chunky, cute and tactile designs. Super Mario Galaxy makes most hi-def games look about as solid and convincing as photographs pasted onto empty cereal packets. The sound is superb too: a riot of bright tinkles, radiophonic zings and zaps, and electro-funk remixes of vintage Mario tunes.
The controls are based very closely on Mario 64's. The double and triple jumps, long jump, wall kick, backflip, ground pound and side somersault are all present and correct, and executed with the same combinations of stick moves, A and Z. They're as fluid and versatile as ever, and a little easier to use - in particular, you can pull back on long jumps in mid-air if it looks like you're going to overshoot. The dive is gone, but in its place is a hugely useful Super Mario World-style spin attack, pulled off by shaking the remote. This upends and stuns enemies, who can then marvelously be booted into space, Mario Bros style.
Bizarrely, you can also stun enemies by shooting them with the remote. Coloured blobs are collected by Mario, or just by passing the remote cursor over them, and then aimed and shot, or saved for a 1up. We didn't find a use for this beyond giving Goombas concussion, and it feels rather tacked-on, although it is a novel and way to interact with Mario's world. A second player with a second remote can help with all this, as well as with certain obstacles (for example, holding a rolling boulder out of the way). The remote cursor is also used to lock onto sequences of 'beam stars', which haul Mario across gaps in space with a kind of elasticated tractor-beam.