As we near the end of the 2010s, we look back at all that gaming brought to us across the decade. New genres, new ways to play, and new worlds to explore. Few have been more prominent throughout than Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft’s globe-trotting stabbing simulator. While the last two entries rebooted the formula into something more modern, there’s still plenty of interest in the preceding games and their low-key vibe. From ridiculously easy combat to a map full of obtainable objectives, they’re the type of games perfect for killing time or just relaxing. In either scenario, that makes them perfect additions to the Switch library, and ASSASSIN’S CREED: THE REBEL COLLECTION brings two of the best to Nintendo’s handheld hybrid.
Assassin’s Creed: The Rebel Collection Review | Crewing up
Bundling Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, its DLC campaign Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry, and direct follow-up Assassin’s Creed Rogue into one easy package, The Rebel Collection takes players through the pirate era of the series. First, Black Flag has you touring the Caribbean as Edward Kenway. He meets with numerous pirates of legend and works towards a safe harbor for their glorious misdeeds. After that, Rogue lets you explore the other side as Templar character Shay, who operates in Colonial America alongside characters from both Black Flag and Assassin’s Creed 3. Unsurprisingly, there’s also no trace of Black Flag‘s unique stealthy multiplayer mode, which is disappointing as there was nothing else quite like it.
Its narrative is what most people come to the series for and there are certainly plenty of players out there who know the ins and outs of its long, twisting tale. They’ll pick up on every hint and enjoy ever trip to the present day, where you play as a first-person employee in a game development studio run by the evil Templars. For someone without that throughline, the narrative of both games plays out more as window dressing than anything driving the player forward. You get famous figures you recognize talking about made-up sci-fi nonsense like a sort of Kingdom Hearts game for history buffs. Well-acted scenes and good character work can’t overcome the familiar laborious plotting that drags down every entry. It feels complex for complexity’s sake, and it’s not worth diving into for the average player.
Assassin’s Creed: The Rebel Collection Review | Swords and swabbies
Gameplay-wise, however, these two entries are quite satisfying. You get plenty of the stealth and wanton murder the series thrives on. On top of that, there’s a robust naval combat system that makes for a good gameplay variety. No matter which game you’re playing, each session will feature a little of everything, making the games perfect for bite-sized adventures while you’re on the go. Some of these mechanics are hard to go back to after so long away, but the Switch recontextualizes them just as the best Game Boy Advanced ports used to a decade ago.
On the ground, you’ll be trailing contacts, sneaking past guards and trying to take out targets without drawing attention. Or, if you’re up for some fun, you can just bumrush the target and then outrun a conga line of guards as you make your escape. Black Flag and its follow-ups are so far into the franchise that the stealth is mostly encouraged instead of mandatory. Basically, the game won’t punish you too harshly for playing fast and loose. Generally, this would be a negative, but you probably don’t want to redo segments when you’re on the go, so it works out here.
Taking the lack of difficulty into account, there is a large variety of weapons to experiment with. The new (at the time) air rifle is a particular highlight as launching a berserk dart towards a guard and sowing chaos from afar shows a bit of player-generated fun that the series could always use more of. You have your standard hidden blades alongside longer sets of seaworthy swords and flintlock pistols. The firearms auto-aim onto their targets and generally kill in one hit, making them a great option to escape a tight spot. Rogue introduces Arkham-style, one-button counter kills into the otherwise brainless mashing that is melee combat, which is pretty welcome. In fact, the refinements in Rogue here and elsewhere may make it worth playing instead of Black Flag if you only have time for one of them.
Assassin’s Creed: The Rebel Collection Review | Setting sail for adventure
The gameplay loop changes dramatically once you get on your ship. The simple-to-a-fault melee combat doesn’t shine on its own, but it works beautifully in tandem with the cannon fire and boarding you get piloting your vessel. It’s amazing how this one simple addition elevates the entire formula, making these games easily top of the line when it comes to Assassin’s Creed‘s original flavor. You can get your Wind Waker on and explore plenty of uninhabited islands for buried treasure, get into scraps with enemy fleets, or just drift along and listen to the sea shanties you’ve collected for your men on land.
Again, Rogue has the advantage of being a sequel over Black Flag, featuring new mechanics like glaciers that can create massive chop in the water and new kinds of armaments for your ship. The world feels smaller in Rogue, which makes exploring less appealing. This also applies to the out of the Animus segments, which are pretty tedious to play through a second time and barely worth completing for new players. They’re similarly dull in Black Flag, but the story beats there feel somewhat important because of its “mainline” entry status. Simply put, if you care about the story at all or finding the best collectibles, Black Flag is where you should plant your flag.
Assassin’s Creed: The Rebel Collection Review | Treasure off the port bow
Of course, you’re welcome to play both, just be aware that there’s a lot of game here. If you’re going for extras and side stories, you can easily get up to 50 hours out of Black Flag (more if you count Freedom Cry) and another 20 out of Rogue. Since Rebel Collection is on the Switch, that’s a less daunting task than playing at home in 2019, but you will be sacrificing what you expect in terms of visual fidelity. Graphics look serviceable, especially in handheld mode, but you’ll be able to tell the difference if you own either of these games elsewhere. Thankfully, besides that dip in graphics, the games run without a hitch.
Both Black Flag and Rogue are unique among the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Their characters are jollier, their worlds are more interesting, and they seemingly care less about all the Templar and Assassin nonsense. Somewhere in the neverending tale, Ubisoft made a couple of the best pirate games to come out of gaming this decade, and it’s certainly worth revisiting them on the go. Nothing about the design of the open world ages them too much, and the combat is breezy enough to warrant portable play. In the end, The Rebel Collection a perfect stopgap while fans wait for news on whatever happened to Skull and Bones.
GameRevolution reviewed Assassin’s Creed: The Rebel Collection on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the publisher.