Back in May this year, we reviewed Assassin's Creed III Remastered for Switch and didn't have a great deal good to say about it. It's been patched since – and plays a considerably better game for it – but upon release, it was pretty much a buggy, blurry shambles with a stuttering framerate and a pretty big disappointment for Assassin's Creed fans. We may be forgiven then, perhaps, for having not been overly optimistic about this pirate-flavoured Rebel Collection which brings together Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag – arguably the very pinnacle of the "classic" Assassin's Creed games pre-Origins and Odyssey – and Assassin's Creed Rogue, the PS3/Xbox 360 title which is pretty much Black Flag 2 in all but name.
However, any concerns we may have had have been roundly dismissed in short order as this is a mostly fantastic port – especially in the case of Black Flag – that manages to squeeze an absolutely massive amount of rum-soaked high-seas hijinks onto Nintendo's portable console in an impressively smooth fashion and with nary a bug in sight.
Indeed, it's the headline act here – 2014's excellent Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag – that's the star of the show in every way. Locked at 720p in handheld and 1080p when docked, we didn't notice a significant stutter or wobble from its 30fps target whatsoever during our time with the game; even during the busiest of flamboyant chase sequences or thunderous sea-based battles, this port delivers the goods and looks great whilst doing so.
Of course, as is to be expected, there have had to be some graphical sacrifices made on Switch and they're really most noticeable in docked mode – the odd blurred texture here or lack of detail there – but all of the atmospheric volumetric effects, lighting and gloriously evocative open seas have been miraculously kept intact. This is Black Flag how you remember it – OK, perhaps not graphically on a par with the PS4/Xbox One versions of the game but it's close – and we also get lovely Switch exclusive motion-controlled aiming for guns, pistols and ship weapons, as well as HD Rumble and all of the DLC that's been released for the game thus far, including Aveline and the properly excellent Freedom Cry.
Playing through Black Flag in portable mode is actually something of a revelation. With its absolutely enormous world map stuffed to the brim with secrets and treasures, it becomes apparent that this is a game that's actually perfectly suited to dipping in and out of in handheld. Missions tend to be pretty short with a handful of fun additional objectives to give them replayability and you can polish most of them off in twenty minutes or so, give or take the odd long exposition-heavy chapter. So too the seemingly endless islands dotted around the map to discover, each one with a check-list of treasure chests, viewpoints, hostages and other activities that are just perfect for jumping in and cleaning up in a quick portable session.
Experiencing this adventure again, it's easy to see why Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag became such a fan favourite over the years. Besides the beefy main campaign here, starring one of the series' most charismatic and straight-up fun protagonists, you've got an absolute wealth of fun side activities to partake in as you breeze around the Caribbean. Of course, there's the amazing naval combat, the feather in Black Flag's cap, taken from Assassin's Creed III and turned to pure gold here; it just never gets old and still feels and looks amazing. Battling it out with a particularly large enemy ship during a huge storm as the violent dark seas swell around your craft is worth the price of admission alone, to be quite honest. But there's also a ton of side quests, assassin's contracts, naval contracts, ship and weapon upgrades, crafting, hunting, harpooning, rescuing your pirate brethren and treasure maps hunts to get completely lost in as well – and all of it is here on Switch, looking and performing as good as we could ever really have hoped.
Of course, there are some negatives. As good as Black Flag is, it suffers from some of the same problems as many of the series' other outings. Parkour can be sticky and fiddly, scraps can break down into farce very easily and controls can generally feel quite unwieldy at times. You'll find yourself caught out during stealth missions because protagonist Edward decides to get stuck to some bit of scenery, jumps up to grab a branch instead of ducking down into a bush or refuses to jump from a wall in time to hide from your enemies. It's all part of these game really; stuff that didn't ever really get properly ironed out until Origins and Odyssey.
Alongside the swashbuckling adventures of Edward Kenway, you've also got Shay Patrick Cormac's Templar turn in Assassin's Creed Rogue. We won't give away too much in terms of story here, but Rogue was a bit of a departure for the series, with a central protagonist who turns his back on the assassins to walk the path of the series' staple enemies. Shay's adventure was originally released as a bit of a stop-gap on PS3 and 360 as they came to the end of their lives, and in some respects, it shows. It's not graphically as strong as Black Flag, its story and voice-acting (those Irish accents, yeeesh!) pale in comparison and its main campaign doesn't take too long to blast through should you eschew the bevvy of side activities and collectables its got for you to hoover up.
However, this is still, for our money, one of the most entertaining of the main Assassin's Creed games simply by virtue of the fact it takes what made the stellar Black Flag so entertaining and just gives you more of it. In fact Assassin's Creed Rogue knows exactly what it is in this respect and wastes absolutely no time in getting you back into that sweet Black Flag groove, with Shay commandeering his very own set of sea-wheels in the pre-credits sequence, letting players loose on the frigid North Atlantic waters as quickly as it can.
In terms of this particular port, Assassin's Creed Rogue doesn't fare quite as well as its majestic counterpart. Graphically – and again, this could be down to those PS3/360 roots – it's not as strong as Black Flag; fine details on clothes and faces are missing and levels are noticeably drabber. In handheld it still manages to hold that 30fps target for the most part – even during a sequence which sees an entire city spectacularly razed to the ground – but we did notice what we are assuming is resolution scaling working its magic; things becoming blurry here and there as the game struggles to keep things running smoothly.
In docked mode, graphical anomalies stand out more; there's clipping of textures here and there and some odd shadow flickering and pop-in. The framerate too – most noticeably during hectic sword fights with numerous enemies – struggles. We didn't notice any real stuttering, but things definitely felt a little stodgy on the control front from time to time. However, having said all of that, this is nowhere near reaching the level of problems Assassin's Creed III Remastered initially had on Nintendo's little console. Nothing we experienced during our time with any of the content on offer here took us out of the game or stopped us from thoroughly enjoying the experience. There are zero sound problems whatsoever (something that was a huge issue with Assassin's Creed III) and really the issues we have here, certainly in terms of the graphics in Rogue, are things we've seen discussed before in reference to other versions of that particular game.
So in summary, for ye mangy sea-dogs who weren't fully paying attention, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag looks and plays phenomenally well on Switch, and is the complete package with all DLC included. Rogue struggles from time to time, especially in docked, but it still plays a great game and is pretty much perfectly smooth in portable. Aveline and Freedom Cry – between them providing another five or six hours of content, are on a par with Black Flag in terms of performance. Ubisoft Club too, although perhaps not the most exciting thing in the world, has been really smoothly integrated here, with lots of fun challenges to take part in and a ton of cool outfits and ship goodies to work towards unlocking. It just gives the whole package that final little chef's kiss and keeps it on an even keel with other console versions.
Assassin's Creed: The Rebel Collection has come as something of a surprise to us after the disappointment of Assassin's Creed III Remastered. Here are two excellent swashbuckling epics ported to Nintendo's console in fine fashion. Black Flag is a revelation in portable mode and looks and performs almost flawlessly as you blast your way around the Caribbean on Edward Kenway's captivating pirate adventures. Rogue, although it struggles to keep up slightly here and there, is always eminently playable and together with the excellent Freedom Cry, they give Assassin's Creed fans something they've wanted for a very long time now – this is handheld Assassin's Creed at a standard we weren't particularly sure we'd ever see on Switch.