Back in 2006, Ubisoft was quick on the draw to produce a game that incorporated both point-and-click first-person shooter mechanics with swordplay that utilized the motion sensing capabilities of the Wii remote. Unfortunately, it was during the experimental phase, when developers were learning exactly what the system and its motion controller could do. The original Red Steel was an ambitious effort, but the concept just couldn’t mask the limitations: the game’s controls were sluggish and very unresponsive at times, both in the aiming and in the sword fighting.
Three years later, when Nintendo revealed the Wii MotionPlus attachment, Ubisoft pounced on the chance to give its FPS-with-swordplay concept a second try. To completely separate itself from the original release, Ubisoft started fresh for Red Steel 2; the urban Yakuza scenario from the first Red Steel has been abandoned for an original — and breathtakingly gorgeous — universe that blends Wild West gunslinging with Japanese samurai sword fighting. Once again, it was an ambitious undertaking, seeing how very few developers were embracing Wii MotionPlus as a requirement, but the end result is a great ride from start to finish.
Red Steel 2 is a single-player exclusive experience that follows a nameless, badass warrior — a member of a clan that’s been nearly wiped off the face of the earth. After being dragged to near death by a rival (and much more devious) clan, you make your escape and manage to rush back just in time to rescue your old sinsei who must now retrain you so you can get back your katana — a blade that has deeper significance than just a weapon — and this plot device drives you deep into the Western, Japanese-influenced setting.
While there are certainly some first-person shooter elements to Red Steel 2, I would categorize this as more of a first-person action game almost to the point of being a “brawler.” The game seems to lean more towards the swordplay than the gunplay, and later in the adventure, you’ll unlock some pretty powerful shooting skills that pretty much remove some of the FPS-style elements from play.
Red Steel 2 is entirely mission-based; you work your way through a linear tree of tasks, and it’s all very straightforward in what needs to get done. Simply trigger a mission and head straight for the green arrows on the map. Secondary missions are exactly that: optional tasks like destroying wanted signs or activating communication towers. They’re unimportant to the storyline, but they’ll net you some cash to spend on weapon upgrades, techniques, and body armor.
It’s not easy trying a design that requires precise aiming and wild arm-flailing on the same controller, and it’s pretty clear that a lot of the focus in Red Steel 2 was on getting the balance just right. There’s a significant learning curve to the experience; you’ll have to constantly adjust your aim every time you slash the remote arm across your body. The game uses an intelligent camera that stays locked onto the action even when you whisk the remote’s pointer across the screen, but even with this system in place, you’ll still need to work within restrictions so you can keep up with the fast-paced action.
With Red Steel 2, you’ll definitely need to relearn how to play Wii games. After three years of wrist-waggling, this is the first Wii game — apart from Wii Sports Resort — that will give your arm a real workout. Simply flicking your wrist isn’t enough to get the game to register useful sword attacks. Red Steel 2 features an enormous amount of training modes that require participation, and the game won’t let you proceed until you successfully perform the same move multiple times. You’ll understand the need for repetition early on after experiencing even basic moves.
Oh, subtle slashes will certainly have an effect, but you’ll soon encounter heavily armored enemies that require forceful — and rapid — forehand and backhand motions just to shatter their protection. Swipe from right to left and that’s what your sword does, and it takes into account how strong the attack is. The fact that you really have to swing to have beneficial results is both a blessing and a curse; it certainly makes the game much more dynamic, but you can’t really sit back and relax on your most comfortable sofa to play Red Steel 2. You’ve really got to get into a swinging stance to experience and appreciate this game properly.
As accurate as the Wii remote control is in Red Steel 2, it’s still not immune to the unfortunate Wii motion sensing side effects: reel back for a swing and you might find your character stabbing. Even though the game encourages wild motions, you’ll definitely have to tone it down just a tad. It’s not that big of a deal, just no getting cocky.
The early part of the game filled with skillful swordplay and precise gun targeting, and it also encourages a lot of blocking and counterattacking a la Punch-Out!! Just watch out for escalation when you upgrade your character: earned abilities and purchased upgrades definitely add more “oomph” to your abilities, but maybe they get just a little too powerful. The Cobra — a skill you earn that lets you “paint” auto-lock targets over enemies — is amazingly powerful and super helpful when you get surrounded by speedy ninjas, but perhaps it’s just a smidge too unbalanced in your favor. Boss battles — and, more specifically, the final boss battle — are clearly designed around the old school style of pattern recognition/counterattack, but when you spend your gold and fully power-up your character, these encounters can simply be won by going completely on the offensive: rush forward and hard left-right-left slashes.
So while it was a blast going through the several levels in Red Steel 2, the final third of the game felt a little off because you can get so overpowered that brute strength wins out over strategic play. Whatever gets the job done, I guess — it’s still wicked fun taking out the bad guys with physical prowess. And some of the finishing moves are pretty stunning to watch, a few of them surprised me at how much they push the T for Teen rating.
So badass, he’s even considerate during a cold.
Red Steel 2 is a lot longer than I expected it to be, offering a good 10-plus hours of solid first-person action. The team added the ability to return to completed areas in a Challenge Mode that rewards gold, silver, and bronze medals depending on how much money you earned. It’s a nice addition that adds more challenge to the mix, you just have to deal with the fact that you still have to complete the same training missions you already completed in your first playthrough.
While the gameplay’s impressively done, the overall presentation is freakin’ top notch. Red Steel 2 is easily one of the best looking and sounding games on Wii to date. The visual style is incredibly sharp with a graphic novel influence, and its look is reinforced with a game engine that runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second. The awesome background music matches the visuals extremely well – it’s been a long time since I’ve fallen in love with a game’s soundtrack, and Red Steel 2′s atmospheric melodies are incredibly good.
Red Steel 2 is absolutely an “A product.” It’s clear that the development team wanted to right the wrongs of the original game and produced an all new design with controls that actually work. There are still some issues, both in game balance as well as wishy-washy motion sensing control, but the awesome style and energetic gameplay are enough to make this one of the top titles on Wii.