An assassin is only as good as the blade he wields. Unsheathing a butter knife might get a laugh, but slide out a sharp scimitar and people pay attention.
Gameloft wields a mighty impressive sword in Assassin's Creed: Altair's Chronicles, the sheen of its 3D graphics and slick action enough to catch anyone's eye. Sharpened from an original DS release, this agile action-platformer packs a rousing adventure despite needing more time against the whetstone.
A slide of the finger, a slit of a throat - it's all part of a day's work for a touchscreen assassin. As the assassin Altair, you're tasked with tracking down a legendary artefact called the Chalice.
It just so happens that the illustrious Knights Templar don't want you to locate the relic since they need it for their holy crusade across the Middle East. Finding it is a matter of extracting vital information from shady characters, picking pockets to nab key objects, and dispatching any Templars that stand in your way.
Altair isn't the stealthiest of assassins and much of his adventure is dominated by direct combat. The few situations in which you're able to sneak up on an archer or sleeping guard and issue a silent execution are satisfying, but most of your time is spent clashing swords with the Templars.
Whipping out your sword involves tapping light and heavy attack buttons in the lower-right. A digital analogue stick lets you move about, although the game does an admirable job of automatically honing in on the nearest enemy. Most foes pose little threat: a couple of jabs is enough to send them off.
More dangerous than any Crusader is the surrounding environment. Altair finds himself surrounded by an array of obstacles and traps that make getting from one point to another a tricky task.
Hissing cobras, crumbling platforms, jets of sewage - there's an enormous variety of challenges to overcome that grow progressively more difficult.
Helping you surmount these and other obstacles are special abilities and equipment acquired through the course of the adventure. Wall running, for instance, launches you up vertical surfaces, while the grappling hook swings you across gaps.
Wrangling with the analogue stick is more challenging than figuring out how to bypass platform challenges, unfortunately. The analogue stick has a problem with responsiveness, sometimes working fine and at other times sticking or amplifying the intended direction.
Obviously, this causes frustration when you end up falling off a rooftop or walking into a floor full of spikes as a result of the analogue stick not responding as expected.
Thankfully, the checkpoints are generous and you never have to restart far from where you fall. It's also worth noting that none of the platform challenges are so tough that they can't be overcome after a few attempts. While a tune up would benefit play, the controls work well enough to get you through this harrowing quest.
Its compelling mix of action and platforming, not to mention phenomenal visuals, are enough to cut through the annoyances of its controls. Assassin's Creed isn't as sharp as it could be, but it provides so much varied, entertaining gameplay that it's worth putting up with its shortcomings.