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Rayman Origins

Rayman Origins

It's akin to that old joke of the pair of Scotsmen, Irishmen and the Englishmen who end up stuck on a desert island together.

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Rare to see in this highly traditional culture-baiting joke type, it's the pair of englishmen that are served up as punchline. Something along the lines of both being too polite to initiate introductions to the other, and are left instead silently mulling over their dilemma.

We find ourselves in the same situation with three other strangers, not tied together by nationality but by profession.

And although the thought processes are likely less than charitable, the setup is still the same; everyone's too polite to speak up. Be it a) to take charge of our group (advisable, given the circumstance) or b) simply telling our collected group what a bunch of game-destroying pillocks they are (less diplomatic, but true).

The reason for the silent fury is our hands-on with Rayman Origins, Ubisoft's beautifully rendered platformer that's been upgraded from digital to dull retail status since its reveal last year, and offers a four-player drop-in/drop-out mode. It's this multiplayer that's causing the headache right now.

We're huddled in a semi half-circle around a single TV, tension clear as each wrestles with a controller. We're navigating a tricky part of the game, and are only successful in getting in each others' way, while simultaneously delighting the ever-growing crowd behind us.

The level we're currently stuck on is labeled Desert. It's one of three on offer in the demo, and sits second on the level option screen, after the lush Jungle level that offers a gentle introduction to the world, its inhabitants, controls and most importantly how to play as a team. Desert sits just in front of Cave, which, we find out, is an extended escape sequence from a underground boss.

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About ten minutes ago the group in front of us traded position and controllers for a chance to attack the Assassin's Creed multiplayer on the show floor just across from this booth, leaving us with this middle level loading in. We'd planned to start our day in Ubisoft's event, which demoed the publisher's upcoming wave of titles for the coming year in relatively sedate fashion. It instead turns into a brutal and rather bizarre event opener.

It's now fifteen minutes in and we're on our fifteenth attempt at working through a section that amounts to a mere handful of screens in length. Where sense would dictate that we reset and start from the opening level, pride, and an unhealthy dose of stubbornness links with peer pressure into trying to conquer the seemingly unconquerable.

Desert is, as previously stated, absolutely beautiful to look at, despite the sandy backgrounds, it has colours so vibrant it looks like someone's splashed a year's worth of Dulux paint on the screen, and animations that echo Castle Crashers for their range and hilarity.

The idea for the section we're on is simple, but tricky to pull off successfully. Our four characters have to leg it through a cave system that's swamped with bats. The flighty critters covering the screen in a fluttering blackness that means instant death if touched.

The only way to push them back to a safe distance is by activating light switches dotted through the cave we're presently in. Activation also encases the switch puller with a circle of light that shrinks with time.

Between each sphere there's a series of small moving plaforms, a vertical funnel that you have to wall-bounce to get up, and a longer platform. To reach the cave's exit at the other end, you also have to navigate a zig-zagging tunnel of spikes that stretches from the top of the cave to the bottom, steering yourself carefully through using your character's floating ability and without touching the sides.

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While we do no favours to ourselves or our colleagues in stating this, that section outlined is, at most, four screens wide. Come the ten minute mark polite silence is broken in the best way possible; a hearty and annoyed cry of "would you stop bloody slapping me?" roaring out of one fellow as their character is bitch-slapped into a bottomless cavern below the moving platforms for the third time.

We also should point out that while this section is tough - even one of the developers jumping on to a spare controller has trouble getting to the exit - we're not making it any easier by actively punching each other. Friendly fire, or whatever Rayman's equivalent is, is turned firmly to on.

Pent up aggression over failed attempts to escape dissolve a Marx Brothers skit, leaving us entirely ignorant of attempts to complete the level as retribution for slaps and cock-ups are dealt out admit laughter.

Attacking in Rayman involves a solid slap to anything that comes at you. Be it enemies, switches...or comrades who step in the way. Mistreatment of friends as they attempt to leap between ledges sees them plunge to death, prick themselves on spikes, or chomped by bats. They'll reappear seconds later as swollen balloon versions of their past selves, with a quick hit from survivors all that's needed to return them to life, but if all die it's a return to the checkpoint start.

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As laughter dies and tension mounts again we witness an amazing slice of psychology. With the light bubbles shrink the instant after activation. Even with a clear run between switches its a close thing and the game is all the better for it. Players repeatedly edge towards the first jump of what needs to be an unbroken run to the next activation point, before losing nerve and returning to the nearest switch to tap the punch button, the speed increase of which is a clear indicator of building their resolve whilst discharging their tension. More Running Man than cute platformer.

Gaming is likely the only medium you break the ice by slapping someone right in the chops, and with social walls crumbling chatter erupts and strategies form. Well, as much as "I'll go first, and don't you bloody hit me when I do" can be labelled strategy.

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We decide to split in two, one couple a turn, and have greater success, leaping off the last wall-bounce to hit the next switch with but a second to spare. Second group plunges, but transports their floating bodies to the first, and we all stand, readying for our last charge to freedom. Of course, we all die straight after.

It's a long, brutal road with a death count well into the double figures before one character hits the exit finally. We're only slightly assured that the developer's having as much difficulty as us, and even then he assures us the game's been tweaked since E3, where a much harder level greeted players.

You could believe the visuals are misleading, but you have to remember that when Rayman first appeared on the PSOne back in 1995, its was no slouch in the difficulty department.

It's a memory that tears itself back up our sub-conscious to not only batter the rogue thought that we're getting too old in the reaction times for this anymore, but also tell us to man the hell up. Or at least communicate with our team. It's good to have a platformer that's born and bred the old way, and we may have a year in which the best example the genre isn't necessarily outfitted in dungarees.

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