Red Steel 2 (Wii) review
"When the swordplay comes together as intended, there's no feeling better. You'll face a lot of thugs as you seek your resolution. They come at you from all sides wielding swords of their own, or guns or hammers or protective shields. Routing the evil gang members feels satisfying because you're not simply swinging the Wii Remote around in place of furious 'A' button mashing. The speed and actual motion of each swing is reflected on-screen with surprising precision and with in-game consequences."
The fictional town of Caldera lies deep within the heart of Nevada, circa unknown. In those dusty streets, ninja warriors and cowboy hats mingle with motorcycles, trains and guns to form one of the most curious depictions of the American west to ever appear in a video game developed outside of Japan. The game that binds such disparate elements together is Red Steel 2, a sequel that attempts to reboot a mostly forgotten franchise that made its debut along with Wii itself back in November of 2006. That first Red Steel was poorly received, but the years that followed have been good to the series, good enough that even if you were left feeling underwhelmed by the swordplay and shootouts that first time around, the sequel definitely warrants your attention.
Red Steel 2 begins with the prospect of a motorcycle ride. You're the hero, a fellow wearing a broad-rimmed fedora, a cape-like coat and a frown that would drop a mosquito at fifty paces. A cruise on a motorcycle isn't really your style, but this won't be a joy ride; you've been stripped of your primary weapon—a nasty sword—and your hands are tied ahead of you by rope that extends from the back of the afore-mentioned motorcycle. As you struggle to gain consciousness, the bike's motors rev and the vehicle surges forward. You have no obvious choice but to ride behind it, flopping around in the street like a rag doll until you die.
Except somehow, that death doesn't come. You escape your captors and retreat to what you hope will be the safety of the home you left five years ago. Upon returning, however, you find that the Kusagari clan of warriors that once banished you appears now to have been wiped from the face of the earth by a vicious gang known as the Jackals. You are the only obvious survivor and that makes you a target with a chip on your shoulder. Aided by a ragtag crew of misfits that includes your former swordsmith (a grumpy man with a long beard named Jian), a young techie named Tamiko and an old sheriff by the name of Steve Judd, you'll embark on a quest for vengeance that will find you shooting and slicing your way through a harsh wasteland where unsolicited rides behind motorcycles are the least of your concerns.
Your quest begins as it ends, with two core weapon types at your disposal: swords and guns. You might suppose that you'll use projectiles and melee strikes in equal measure (or maybe that the sword is a mere afterthought), but that's not the case at all. Red Steel 2 was clearly built to serve as a first-person slicer, not a shooter. Large caches of ammo don't change that one bit, especially not when your sword is several times more effective in many cases than all of the bullets in the world. You're going up against warriors who can deflect your shots with their swords, after all.
To facilitate the unusual focus, Ubisoft built the game around Nintendo's new Wii MotionPlus adaptor. The peripheral is absolutely required. You'll find that when it is properly encumbered by the new attachment, the Wii Remote feels much heavier and more substantial than usual. Unless you have tiny hands, those are two qualities that you'll likely appreciate as you play Red Steel 2 because they add to your immersion. You'll wield your lethal plastic in the same way that you might a particularly hefty toy sword as you thrust, swipe and parry your way to greatness. This is as close as you'll likely get to feeling like an adventuring swordsman, at least until the next Zelda game arrives.
When the swordplay comes together as intended, there's no feeling better. You'll face a lot of thugs as you seek your resolution. They come at you from all sides wielding swords of their own, or guns or hammers or protective shields. Routing the evil gang members feels satisfying because you're not simply swinging the Wii Remote around in place of furious 'A' button mashing. The speed and actual motion of each swing is reflected on-screen with surprising precision and with in-game consequences. Foes will shrug aside your blows if you try to get by with minor nudges and jiggles. Instead, you really have to get into the spirit of things and it's best if you don't do it in a crowded room or near a video camera. You don't want footage of your game room heroics showing up on YouTube, but you do want to experience the virtual swordplay.
Deep combat and interface do come with a down side, however: pain. If you let your play sessions last for too long, you will feel the burn. The game's campaign should only last for about 10 or 12 hours if you're in a hurry, perhaps a few more if you're taking your time. You may feel tempted to play through the whole thing on a lazy Sunday just because you can, but the experience will not end on a high note if you do. Do yourself a favor and progress at a slower pace. Take time collecting the numerous trophies and badges and enjoy yourself in bursts of no more than 2 or 3 hours in a given day. Your arm will thank you and you'll live to game another day.
Besides potential muscle fatigue, another concern is that it can sometimes feel like your commands are getting lost in the heat of a ferocious battle. Until you get the hang of things, there may be moments where enemies are ganging up on you and hitting you so ferociously that even though you're inputting your commands properly, your character can't dish out attacks because he's too busy getting pummeled. Particularly in the final few chapters, it can be easy to suppose that the game's controls are failing you. The real issue behind such problems, however, is a lack of preparation.
Red Steel 2 provides the gamer with an assortment of powerful special moves and upgrades . Nearly all of them are quite useful, but those who rush through the game without looking for cash and without fighting well enough to earn financial bonuses from brawls won't have enough money to properly equip themselves throughout much of the game. Choosing between a health upgrade and a slick new move can prove difficult because there's no way to really know how effective a new move is until you've had time to try it in action. By then, you've already paid for it. Some players will err on the side of caution and will go with health and armor upgrades, but that's not usually the right choice. To really enjoy the game and to stand a chance against your wily foes, you need to properly utilize most or all of your special attacks. You need to learn how to break down your opponents' defenses, how to get around their armor and how to overwhelm them so that you can sneak through a killing blow. If you go in swinging your arms like an angry gorilla without a plan, you will get owned with a capital 'P.' That's true of even the easiest difficulty setting.
A final concern is the game's camera, which doesn't always work the way it should. When you're exploring, there's no problem. The minute you're battling a bunch of thugs in cramped quarters, though, problems arise. Your perspective has a tendency to lock on your closest foe and will nudge your attacks in that direction. Things get sloppy if you're trying to eliminate a particularly nasty threat that's just past the inconsequential weakling immediately ahead of you. Cycling through everyone with the 'Z' button doesn't feel quite right, either. Combat likely would have worked better with no lock-on at all, though perhaps that would have brought about new conflicts thanks to all of the added sensitivity. Only the developers know for certain.
Though it does have its share of flaws, and though they absolutely should factor into any purchase decision, Red Steel 2 is still a well-polished sequel with personality and depth (with the exception of a rather slow first hour or so). Most of the game's flaws don't get in the way nearly as much as they would in the clumsy sort of effort that some folks now associate with the Wii software library. Gamers have waited too long for a thoroughly enjoyable game that convincingly turns the Wii Remote into a sword and that wait ends now. Not only that, but the visuals and soundtrack rank among the finest that you'll find on the platform to date. This is one reboot that core gamers should be careful not to miss.
Staff review by Jason Venter (March 23, 2010)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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