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Wii Celebrates Birthday With 'Super Mario Galaxy'

On Black Friday 2006, I wound up being part of one of this nation's great holiday rituals: standing outside a store at 6 a.m., hoping to get my hands on the year's hottest toy.

I got lucky, walking away with the last Nintendo Wii in stock.

People will still be lining up for the Wii this week. A year after its introduction, Nintendo's console isn't easy to find.

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In spot checks of retailers (Target, Best Buy, GameStop) last weekend, I was able to find plenty of Xbox 360s and PlayStation 3s, but not a single Wii.

While the Wii has outsold its competitors, there have only been a few great games — "Super Paper Mario," "Metroid Prime 3: Corruption" — for the system.

That will certainly change as other publishers devote more resources to Wii games and Nintendo brings more of its franchise characters to the console.

And Nintendo has enlisted the biggest video-game star of all to celebrate the Wii's first birthday:

— "Super Mario Galaxy" (Nintendo, for the Wii, $49.99): The cleanup hitter in Nintendo's lineup is, of course, Mario, and "Galaxy" is the first adventure in his flagship "Super Mario" franchise in five years.

Once again, the pudgy plumber is on a mission to rescue Princess Peach, who has been abducted into outer space. Our hero's journey takes him from planet to planet, searching for stars that open the paths to faraway galaxies.

Most of the levels take place on small planetoids that Mario can circumnavigate; usually, when he comes to the "edge" of a planet, he'll simply flip upside-down and keep waddling on its underside. He can also leap in the air and rocket from one planet to the next.

The gameplay changes radically from planet to planet: One minute Mario may be taking on a classic platform-jumping challenge, while the next minute he'll be surfing on the back of a manta ray.

Mario also has some nifty new power-ups, including a bee costume (which lets him fly) and a Boo suit (which lets him float through walls).

"Super Mario Galaxy" is filled with goofy jokes, but I found myself giggling more often at the sheer ingenuity on display whenever I landed on a new planet.

It's absolutely essential for any Wii owner.

Four stars out of four.

— "Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure" (Capcom, for the Wii, $39.99): "Zack & Wiki" may challenge the record for most creative uses of the Wii remote held by "WarioWare: Smooth Moves."

Here, you use Nintendo's magic wand to ring bells, saw wood, open locks, play a piccolo and pull off dozens of other moves.

And you'll need all those moves to solve the devious puzzles here. Most often, you need to ring the bell to turn an animal into an object — say, a bat into an umbrella — that you use in a different part of the puzzle.

Each level consists of one tightly constructed brainteaser in which you're given an assortment of animals, objects and obstacles and have to figure out how to combine them to open a treasure chest.

"Zack & Wiki" may be one of the cutest games on the Wii, but don't let that fool you: It's quite difficult. But the puzzles are always fair and satisfying, making this a treat for fans of old-school adventure games like "Grim Fandango" and "The Secret of Monkey Island."

Three-and-a-half stars.

— "Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn" (Nintendo, for the Wii, $49.99): "Radiant Dawn" is the first Wii installment of Nintendo's turn-based strategy series, but it could just as easily have been published on the GameCube, since it makes no use whatsoever of the Wii remote's motion-sensing capabilities.

You have your usual assortment of fantasy heroes — knights, wizards, archers, healers and such — engaging in battle after battle against the forces of evil.

As always with this series, the difficulty is extraordinarily high, especially since there's no way to revive characters who fall in combat.

"Fire Emblem" fans will be thrilled to find that "Radiant Dawn" is more of the same. But while the formula still works, I wish its Wii debut felt a little fresher.

Two-and-a-half stars.