Assassins and ninjas and giants, oh my!

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      Stealthy assassins take center stage this week; lucky players can take on the mantle in three masterful games. If that’s not your speed, try ripping around an eight-bit town, raising a ruckus. And the giants have arrived, but they are friendly creatures to those who control them.

      Assassin’s Creed III
      (Ubisoft; PS3, Wii U, Windows, Xbox 360; rated mature)
      There’s a lot of story to be told in the latest game in the Assassin’s Creed series, which is why it starts so slow. The first game was released in 2007, and there’s no reason to expect that people playing ACIII are familiar with the extensive backstory. Plus, after spending three games in Renaissance Italy, the scene has shifted to the American Revolution. There’s a lot of context to be set and the developers at Ubisoft Montreal chose to do it at the beginning of the game. In all honesty, it’ll be a few hours before you’ll have fun playing ACIII. Before that, the game simply services the needs of the story. When things do pick up, you’ll find that it plays much the same as previous installments. Free running is at the heart of how you move around the open-world environments, and combat is more fluid and refined here. The world is filled with historical characters (you meet Benjamin Franklin soon after you get to Boston) and based on actual events. But while you spend most of the game playing a protagonist who is half English and half Mohawk, Assassin’s Creed has always been about Desmond, the contemporary assassin who relives the memories of his ancestors. He’s steeped in a tale about the end of the Mayan calendar. Assassin’s Creed III manages to bear up under its own weight, but you can sense it buckling every now and then.

      (Bethesda; PS3, Windows, Xbox 360; rated mature)
      Corvo, once the trusted advisor to the empress, has been framed for her murder. But the resourceful and very clever bodyguard, aided by the Loyalists who have pledged to overthrow the regent who assumed power, is going to get revenge. Set in the steampunk city of Dunwall, infested with rats and under the veil of plague, the game of high-stakes politics plays out however you want. Corvo can follow the path of chaos, killing everything in his path. Or he can stick to the shadows, accomplishing his tasks without ever spilling a drop of blood. And in the exceptional Dishonored, Corvo learns that there are more betters wagering on the outcome than he knew.

      Mark of the Ninja
      (Microsoft; Windows, Xbox 360; rated mature)
      We’ve never seen a side-scrolling stealth game before, and this title sets a high standard. Developed by Klei Entertainment in Vancouver, Mark of the Ninja was informed by the studio’s two Shank games. But this is a more refined and elegant experience. The protagonist is a nameless and tattooed ninja caught up in a high-concept story of revenge and the passing of tradition. You choose how he will complete the missions—using all the tools of a ninja—but you cannot confront enemies directly. The ninja may stick to the shadows but Mark of the Ninja stands boldly, deservedly, in the spotlight.

      Retro City Rampage
      (Vblank; PS Vita, PS3, Windows, Xbox 360; rated teen)
      Talk about a labour of love. Vancouver game designer and developer Brian Provinciano conceived and created this standout title by himself. Loosely based on Grand Theft Auto III, it’s an open-world game set in Retro City, which will be very familiar to people who know Vancouver. It’s gratifying to pick up on the dozens (hundreds?) of references to celebrities, movies, TV shows, and games. There are a variety of mission types, including stealth, platform, shooting, and racing, all woven into the extensive story mode. And you’ll stumble onto arcade challenges throughout Retro City, most of which are based on real games like Super Meat Boy and Bit.Trip Runner. There’s simply too much to call out in this dense delight. Let’s just say this: yes.

      Skylanders: Giants
      (Activision; 3DS, PS3, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360; rated everyone 10+)
      Picking up where 2011’s Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure left off, this game takes place in the floating world of Skylands, and introduces the ancient defenders of the land, the giant Skylanders. The sequel comes with a new line of real-life toys that become virtual characters in the game. There are eight giants and more than 40 new normal-sized Skylanders characters, including a series of “LightCore” figures that glow when placed on the “Portal of Power”. As much fun as it was to adventure as a Skylander, it’s even more fun to stomp around as a giant. They leave footprints in the ground, objects shake every time they take a step, and smaller enemies are squashed underfoot. The giants even feel massive to control. It’s fun, simple when it needs to be, and every bit as wonderful as it should be.