(Review archived from January 31, 2018)
Do you have any particular games or game series that you enjoy despite some commonly held negative consensus? Assassin’s Creed is that for me. I won’t try to defend it, because many of those common criticisms ring true (occasionally janky controls, artificial extension of playtime through open world shenanigans, “Ubisoft: The Game”, etc, etc.). But at the end of the day, I just don’t care. AC is one of those series that constitutes a guilty pleasure for me. In my quest to beat every game in the series (excluding the mobile phone games), I had to dial back the clock to pick up a couple of the handheld games I had missed, the most recent of which was Assassin’s Creed II: Discovery for Nintendo DS.
So what we have here is a 2D stealth platformer which often emphasizes speed and highly dynamic means of traversing levels. Although I have yet to play any of the Assassin’s Creed Chronicles games, this really seems like a spiritual predecessor to those games based on what I have seen. Part of what I enjoy about the AC series is that it visits interesting historical locales not often explored in gaming. And in regards to story and setting, I was very pleased with ACII: Discovery. In this capacity I’d even say that it comes close to holding its own with the console titles in the series; pretty impressive for a humble handheld platformer. Here we see the return of perennial favorite assassin, Ezio. In the grand scheme of the Ezio saga this game slots in near the end of the core Assassin’s Creed II game, prior to Ezio’s recovery of an essential artifact (the essential artifact to the whole series in fact). As a fan of the series it’s always nice to see third party developers building knowledgably upon existing series canon rather than churning out some loosely related side-story/dream sequence/whatever. In ACII: Discovery, a series of escalating events necessitates that Ezio travel to Renaissance Spain where he interacts with principle members in the court of Queen Isabella I, the Catholic clergy involved in the Spanish Inquisition, and a notable plot thread involving the voyage of Christopher Columbus. All dialog is fully voiced and well executed. Ezio sounds recognizably like himself despite the fact that it’s not the principle voice actor.
Gameplay is almost equally divided between moments of stealth and moments of high speed, acrobatic parkour. In terms of the stealth elements I was vaguely reminded of Mark of the Ninja which I consider to be one of the gold standards in the 2D stealth genre. Much like MotN, stealth kills take place in a slick looking zoomed in perspective, and if you’re a fan of Ezio’s other adventures, you’ll likely recognize some of his “signature assassination” moves. Unfortunately the comparison to MotN starts to fall apart quickly. You have only two means of assassination at your disposal; backstabing from behind or pulling an enemy from a ledge. Disappointingly, there are no air assassinations or ‘death from above’ maneuvers both of which are mainstays of the entire series. More damningly, the game is extremely limited in the “peek mechanics” used to locate your targets. You can look around slightly, but only slightly which makes this mechanic next to useless. The lower screen of the DS is primarily dedicated to radar, but once again it’s so close in proximity that it’s only slightly more useful than the peek mechanic.
Believe it or not, the parkour segments feel quite a bit like a 16 bit Sonic game … except decidedly less fun. But much like Sonic this game emphasizes conservation of momentum in order to make huge leaps of incredible distance. Unfortunately the conservation of momentum here is finicky and leads to some frequent issues; not enough momentum and you’ll land yourself in hot water 9/10 times; same goes for too much momentum. And the game ramps up the momentum so quickly that it often impedes the stealth elements. “Oh you meant to simply hang off the ledge above your target? How about you just run completely off ledge so you land right in front of him?” More often than not, these control issues lead into moments of direct combat which is one of the areas in which the game falters most egregiously. Especially in the latter half of the game almost every enemy is capable of air juggling you to your death while you’re powerless to do anything but watch it happen.
In the end these minor flaws start to taint the experience in such a way that the entire game begins to feel flawed. And that sucks, because there are some undeniably fun and promising aspects of the game! But ultimately I’d say this one is best left for hardcore fans of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Requiescat in pace, Assassin’s Creed II: Discovery.