Super Mario Galaxy - Wii
A lot had changed since I last played Super Mario Galaxy at E3 2006. This appeared to be the final retail version, and featured a hub world that revealed the structure of the overall game. Mario now has access to a big diorama of the solar system where he can blast off to his choice of planetoids. Each one had three star objectives as far as I could tell (might be more to unlock), and it looked like there was room for many a planetoid to choose from later on in the game. There were five or six already unlocked at my demo station. I was off to my destination, the Bee Planet.
The first star objective was simply to reach the top of the planet-hive to meet the Queen Bee. Mario quickly gains access to a bee powerup, which enables him to fly for short stretches of time before the bee-meter must recharge, almost like the FLUDD in Mario Sunshine. Get caught with an empty meter in mid-flight, and it's down baby, down. Scaling the heights of the hive involves alternately flying and grabbing onto the sticky honied sides. At different key areas, you would reach an orange "star flower" that would propel Mario up to the next part of the world.
It's very cool to get rocketed up and see the huge level you were just playing on shrink below you in the distance while simulataneously catapulting towards a new section. Besides bee-meter flight management, the other source of peril in the demo were these little blue bug critters, which could attach themselves to Mario and weigh him down. Fortunately, another difference from the E3 2006 demo is that now you have collectible star shards at your disposal, not collectible like a collect-a-thon, collectible like ammo. Fire them off with the B trigger and they shoot wherever your star pointer is aimed. So if an enemy is bothering you but Mario can't get to it at the moment, just snipe that sucker with a few shards. It gives the star pointer another great function and adds a dimension to the control that is unique to the Wii remote. A lot is also accomplished by twirling the star pointer in a circular motion. This opens powerup containers, performes a spin attack, and even sends Mario hurtling across vines that spring up in the bee world in key locations.
Another level I played featured a Surf Ray challenge, which had a lot in common with "Blooper Surfing" from Mario Sunshine, with a dash of Wave Race thrown in. Mario balances atop a manta ray and must navigate a huge racetrack of water suspended in mid-air, launching off ramps, leaning through tough turns, and avoiding obstacles while steering towards power up opportunities.
The course is well designed and the sense of speed, while not F-zero ridiculous, was enjoyable and made staying on the track just challenging enough. That's just a little taste, there were a ton of other levels on display that I didn't have time to play, all amazing looking. The graphics are the best so far on the Wii, the controls are intuitive, the Wii remote functionality never seems tacked on, and the level design exudes creative polish. Overall, Super Mario Galaxy seems every bit the consummate Nintendo tentpole mascot game everyone was hoping for after the disappointing Mario Sunshine.
Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword (DS)
The demo on hand was a Japanese build, making the in-game instructions a bit difficult to follow. If you're not familiar with its unique setup on the DS, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword reads like a book, literally turning the DS on its side so that the screen is oriented heightwise. The top screen (on the left) is used as a map, while the touchscreen is where the action takes place, and also the sole means of control via stylus. Tap an enemy to send Ryu after him with a sword strike. Double tap a distant enemy to throw shuriken at him. Tap a location on the screen to run Ryu towards it.
The graphics for this game have been touted as the best on the handheld, but they still looked a bit blocky and low-poly. It's a limitation of the hardware, true, but I'm not sure if the tall screen orientation does it any favors. The action seems cramped and the control is a bit too simplified to the point where it's clunky. I have to admit I only fought a couple enemies, because I couldn't figure out where the game was telling me to go in Japanese and didn't know how to reset the demo, but I'm not sold on this quite yet. The map screen is underused, and I don't know if the offbeat book-grip, stylus-only approach was the best way to go for this action game.