The arrival of any new Zelda game is always guaranteed to send millions of diehard fans squeeing in unison. The arrival of an official sequel to 1991's legendary A Link to the Past might well have caused a dangerous serotonin overload.
And at Nintendo's hand-on event today in London, we got an unexpected early opportunity to sample one of the game's levels ahead of the title's release, later this year.
Dropped in at the ground level of a non-descript dungeon, it becomes immediately apparent that the task at hand is to ascend to higher floors.
Armed with a sword, hammer, and a bow & arrow, you find your path obstructed by a row of smiley-faced red blocks. But their chuckles of derision quickly change to desolate frowns if you whack them into the ground with your enormous mallet.
Better still, this temporarily removes the obstacle, allowing you to pass unhindered and explore more of your surroundings. Of course, being a Zelda game, there are plenty of switches to flick and buttons to press, and a modicum of experimentation soon reveals that hitting buttons of a given colour causes the corresponding row of same-coloured blocks to lower.
But pressing switches only gets you so far in this unusually designed title. Move Link up to a wall, and the game invites the player to press A to ‘merge', which transforms our green-hatted hero into a two dimensional sketch.
At this point the game's isometric perspective automatically shifts slightly to give you a better view, and you're able to move left or right around the walls.
This not only looks pretty cool, but is an integral part of the level design, and allows Link to access parts of the level that are otherwise out of reach.
But this ability to switch into ‘sketch form' is somewhat limited, because you can only remain in 2D for about ten seconds. Once the green time meter in the bottom left of the screen is depleted, Link pops back into his default form, and you have to wait a few more seconds for the time meter to replenish.
Once you've managed to progress to a previously inaccessible part of the level, you'll find more smiley faces to hammer down. But smacking them in the face has another purpose, because if you stand on top of them once they're flat, they'll eventually spring back and launch Link into the air in the process.
Naturally, when you come across an bigger version of these smiley faces, you'll know what to expect, and over the course of this level's 10 floors, you'll repeatedly utilise them to launch Link up another floor.
Edge of time
Sometimes, though, you have to venture outside of the confines of the perimeter of the dungeon, and clamber onto moving floorways that work their way around the edges.
As you might expect, you also come across walls that block your path, and disrupt your ride around the building. But by utilising your sketch form, you can run around the wall that blocks you, and rejoin the moving floor when it appears on the other side.
It's this kind of unexpected design excellence that instantly endears you to the game, and the rest of the level is chock full of similar moments of genius that leave you sporting a satisfied grin.
Later on, you find yourself having to attach Link's sketch form onto the side of a moving lift, before switching back to his 3D form in time to sneak onto a nearby ledge.
With the usual level of exploration and persistence, you'll swat skeletons into oblivion, dodge spinning spike traps, and grab the keys necessary to grant access to higher floors.
Once you ascend to the top floor of the dungeon, the inevitable boss battle kick in - in this case, an angry whirling, segmented caterpillar, complete with ‘hit me' red tail. After half a dozen well-placed swats with Link's sword, it reels in agony, explodes and our work is done for the day. Hurrah.
From this all-too-brief demo, it's safe to assume that 3DS owners are in for a real treat. With its form-switching mechanics woven into the traditional puzzle-laced dungeon design, there's an instant freshness to the gameplay that dispels any notion of Nintendo delivering a by-the-numbers experience.
Although there's no word on other new mechanics, or how other dungeon types will work, or the more traditional overworld gameplay, there's likely to be much more to the new Zelda than we've seen so far.
In terms of the game's visual signature, it's apparent that Nintendo hasn't merely tried to slavishly replicate the SNES-era top-down visuals of A Link to the Past.
In many respects, the top-down isometric approach is certainly reminiscent of the 16-bit style, but reinterpreted using 3D character models and textured environments. It's an approach that should keep diehard followers happy, without looking too dated.
Overall, we came away very excited about what Nintendo has in store for us, and can't wait to see more of the game later this year.