The first Red Steel failed to give gamers the immersive sword-fighting experience they hoped Nintendo would deliver. In Red Steel 2 the franchise gets a very early reboot, and is all the better for it.
- Much more responsive and enjoyable swordplay
- Fast-paced and fun combat
- Weapon and ability unlocks keep the game fresh
- Controls still aren't perfectly tuned
- Slow doors and training sessions kill the action
- Minimal replay value
At the dawn of the Nintendo Wii, when it was still new and exciting to have a videogame actually do something to reward waving your arms around like an idiot, a little shooter called Red Steel captured the imaginations of millions of gamers and then disappointed most by failing to deliver the immersive gaming experience everyone wanted so badly. That was over three years ago and the franchise is back, but Red Steel 2 shares nothing but the title with its predecessor. It's a reboot that's a huge improvement over the original, but a series of annoyances keep this one from hitting the zenith of first-person action on the platform.
Attack of the Ronin Bikers
Red Steel 2 drops the gritty, urban storyline of the first, instead throwing you into a fanciful southwestern desert where cowboy culture meets samurai skills. It's a mash-up that could work given the overlap between spaghetti westerns and Kurosawa classics, but the blend of cultures and eras never seems to congeal here, and a distant storyline doesn't help. A biker gang has moved in and is ravaging the town. You have to clear them out, which of course you do, but things go on from there getting murkier and less interesting along the way.
Ultimately the narrative seems to exist only for the purpose of feeding a constant stream of ever more difficult enemies to fight, and for the sake of combat, that’s just fine. In this desert wasteland, you visit a bulletin board to pick up new missions in new areas -- areas that are often quite small and heavily partitioned by giant doors that open very, very slowly. This fact is important: it’s how Ubisoft has chosen to hide load times -- with sluggish doors -- and as you sit through one after another after another you’ll find yourself longing for a “Now Loading” screen to break up the tedium.
Thankfully, almost every new passageway contains at least a pair of goons for you to beat up, and this is where the game improves. Gunplay is not drastically different from before, with four individually upgradeable weapons on offer (revolver, rifle, shotgun, and Tommy Gun) all aimed via Wiimote, but unlike the first game, you can now you use your sword whenever you like. Thankfully, the controls are vastly improved.
The MotionPlus Touch
Probably the biggest complaint about Red Steel was that the sword fighting, while somewhat fun, didn't really feel right. The standalone remote simply wasn't precise enough to give the full effect. Now we have MotionPlus, a requirement here, and the boost in allows you to slice the sword in any direction you like and at varying intensities. It’s not perfect, however.
A simple, slow swipe of the sword across the screen won't be enough to register; you need to really wind up and swing your arm to make the game realize you mean business. While you can adjust the sensitivity, it still feels like you're making a motion to trigger an in-game action rather than feeling the game match your real movements. It doesn't help that there are dozens of combos and special moves requiring button combinations. For example, why tap the Z button to do a 360 attack instead of simply swinging the remote around in a circle? You’ll learn new attacks frequently through the first half of the game, all taught by your in-game sensei, and you’ll need execute them successfully again and again and again before he allows you to get back to the game. It’s tedious to say the least.
Despite not being a 1:1 fencing simulator, Red Steel 2’s swordplay and overall combat are hugely fun. The action is fast and furious and while early brawls are simple slugfests, you need to learn tactics and skill to survive later encounters and boss fights. Each new boss is introduced by a freeze-frame comic strip intro, something Borderlands gamers will find very familiar, and while they’re certainly not clones, the aesthetic similarities between the two games will catch the eye of gamers who’ve logged several hours into Gearbox’s world. Gone is the attempt at realistic graphics from the first Red Steel, replaced by a stylized cel-shaded look that seems far better suited to the Wii's visual capabilities.
Not all gameplay is great, though, like semi-interactive cutscenes that have you frantically tapping random buttons to keep your character alive, which reminiscent of early 90s CD-ROM games. There are also a few mini-games for picking locks and opening doors that exist only as gratuitous excuses to shoehorn in MotionPlus functionality. These artificial gameplay moments just don’t seem to fit in with the game at large.
Red Steel 2 is definitely a big step forward when compared to the original. It’s not perfect, and you will find yourself rolling your eyes at the tedious training sessions, groaning while yet another door stands in your way, and wishing the game was just a little bit more responsive to your every move. However, there’s still plenty of fun to be had and the eight to ten hours you'll spend working your way through the campaign will deliver many smiles.