Microsoft's second annual Xbox shindig was presented with as much flash as last year, but far less hyperbole. The venue was a theme park in Andalucia and the entertainment came from the urbane DJs Groove Armada. Ostensibly, the event was to reveal its forthcoming portfolio of games (look out for Splinter Cell, pictured) and announce the European rollout of Xbox Live – the box's online capability. Beta testing starts at the end of October and the retail launch of the online packs (£39.99) will be on 14 March. It's difficult to judge how successful this will be, given current penetration of broadband connectivity, and considering that online gaming is a pretty hardcore subsection of gaming. Still, it would seem Microsoft has developed a sense of its own fallibility over the past year: it admitted it was wrong over its console pricing strategy and has redesigned its handset "for Japanese hands". These smaller controllers are a huge improvement on the old unwieldy chunks of plastic. And now, of course, they've got the Stamper brothers away from Nintendo. This is great news, as Rare are one of the most original developers around. Microsoft seems to have gained humility over the past year. Hopefully, the acquisition of the Stamper brothers will inject a sense of humour to boot.
Super Mario Sunshine, GameCube (Nintendo), £39.99
Available from Friday
Forget Luigi's Mansion and Pikmin, welcome to Isla Delfina and the game that every discerning gamer has been waiting for. Was it worth it? Well, new-generation Mario is certainly a beautiful creature. Marooned on a holiday island with the usual collection of speaking mushrooms and a squeaking princess, the portly plumber is blamed for a crop of graffiti around the island and required to clean it up. This he does with the fludd – the main difference between this game and its forerunner Mario 64. The fludd is a squirting vacuum cleaner affair that Mario carries on his back. Squirt water at enemies to kill them, at graffiti to remove it and at flowers to open new levels; or use it to hover and avoid gaps or particularly nasty island inhabitants. Other innovations include Mario's newly acquired tightrope-walking skills and a new camera system, which you manipulate yourself. It's a sheer joy to play – the controller works like a dream – and the invention at work in the game is a constant delight. If there is any disappointment, it's that Sunshine isn't really an improvement on its predecessor Mario 64, it's only an update. Nevertheless, it's still quite, quite brilliant.
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