As one of the first games announced for the Nintendo Wii, the original Red Steel carried with it a heavy burden. The Wii, to many people, was seen as the perfect system for a first-person shooter, and the remote was the best tool out there to control a sword. Red Steel combined both of these elements into what looked like the perfect launch title... and completely and utterly failed to bring them to fruition. Nearly everything about the original feel short and, for many, the game’s failure was seen as a definitive moment for the system. It was proof that the motion controls weren’t really all they were promoted to be, cutting off some gamers' support for the system very, very early. It wasn't all Ubisoft's fault - the Wii just couldn't do what Nintendo had promised, something supposedly fixed with the Wii MotionPlus. Now, history has a chance of repeating itself in a big, bad way. Red Steel 2 has been released, and with it comes renewed promises of 1:1 controls. Again, Ubisoft finds itself at the forefront, ready to either prove the promise of Nintendo’s controller, or condemn it.
Ubisoft has taken great strides to repair the reputation of Red Steel. Instead of attempting to pull-off realism, they've opted for a comic book feel, cell-shading the world of Red Steel 2 to match the over-the-top gameplay. The approach works wonders to set the game apart from others in the genre, and helps hide the system’s flaws under sleek, stylish visuals. It manages not only to look as good as some games on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but does so while running at 60FPS without any slowdowns. The Toyko setting of the original is gone as well, and replaced with a fictional, futuristic Old West. Characters use six shooters, rifles, and swords, while hacking computer systems and unlocking doors with electric keys. The developers have created an interesting, unique world, with a story that feels ripped straight out of an anime. It follows an unnamed protagonist and member of the Kusagari-clan, who, after being dragged into town, finds that a group called the Jackals have taken over, killing nearly all members of his clan.
On his quest for revenge and justice, he runs into a number of characters at different locations, each offering him assistance. The locations come in a wide variety of settings, from old, dusty town to older, dustier town. Needless to say, level variety isn't the game's strong point, and players should expect to spend most of the game in an area that looks like Tombstone, Arizona in 1890. Each character met offers the player a number of tasks, including some optional side-quests that can be completed while pursuing the main story missions. In general, the story’s missions amount to traveling from place to place in a city and fighting a number of enemies, before returning back to the original spot to turn in the quest. As a narrative, it fails to impress, as the characters are simply unmemorable, and the story lacks any twists or turns.
This would be a death-note for the game if not for one, important fact: the combat is fantastic. Whereas the original Red Steel was a first-person shooter with brief, scripted sword battles, this game truly blends the two together. Fighting with foes no longer feels like two cavemen going to battle with clubs. Sword slashes are accomplished by swinging to remote at any time, and holding the weapon out blocks bullets, allowing players to use the melee attacks almost exclusively. That's not to say that the FPS controls are bad, since they're not, it's just that it usually ends up playing second fiddle to the swordplay. Nary a moment goes by without the player unlocking several new abilities to make battles even more varied, and it’s one of the best first-person melee system in gaming, held back only by the content of Red Steel 2 itself.
While it’s still blissfully entertaining, fighting the same enemies over and over again in uninteresting missions becomes tiring by the end of the eight-hour long game, which is an issue no matter how good the combat itself is. There’s simply not enough to break up the monotony. Occasional minigames do little to add variety, especially since they, too, aren't varied. Using the Wii MotionPlus and internal speaker to unlock a safe is only entertaining so many times, and that number of times is three. It's not mandatory, but it's necessary to do everything possible in order to purchase upgrades, and much of the fun in the game comes from the over-the-top upgrades. Beyond this minigame, there’s an early game quick-time event battle that, while fun, is the only one to be found. At all. It feels as though there should have been at least a few more, but it's obvious that Ubisoft put all of their eggs in the the swordplay basket. Luckily, while it feels as though there should be more to do besides slice up Jackals, the swordplay is fun enough to carry the game.
The only glaring "issue" that can't be chalked up to a design choice comes from the game's load times, which are hidden in doors in the same way Retro did with the Metroid Prime series. It's a smart tactic, and helps keep the gameplay going without dropping to an actial load screen, but that's only when it's used sparingly. Too often, players will find themselves standing in front of doors for ten seconds longer than expected as the Wii attempts to catch up. The disk will spin loudly, the character will bash against the door as if it's stuck, and the game comes to a screeching halt. If it were less frequent it wouldn’t be so much of an issue, but it happens so frequently that it throws a roadblock in the otherwise action-packed adventure. Beyond that, the lack of multiplayer definitely hurts the game, though I doubt anyone is realistically picking up a Wii shooter with stellar multiplayer in mind. It's not the system's strong point, and Ubisoft decided to, instead, focus on what worked. It's hard to blame them.
Red Steel 2 isn’t just the game everyone wished Red Steel was, it’s better than that. It single handedly proves the Wii MotionPlus’s value for adventure games, while providing one of the best action experiences on the system. That said, it’s almost a tech demo for the hardware, lacking in terms of story and gameplay variety. That shouldn’t stop anyone from picking it up, however, as the game definitely lives up to the hype, and is a must-own for anyone interested in cutting up some Jackals.