The original Red Steel was a Wii first-person shooter launch title. The excitement for the game was high not only because of the chance to play a shooter with the new Wii pointer controls but also because of the unique (at the time) Wii gesture sword control. The game did not live up to its hype and was maligned by critics and gamers alike for its unresponsive waggle and pointer controls, game-ending bugs, and low resolution graphics.
Despite its flaws, the original holds a special place in my heart. I enjoyed the interesting backgrounds, great soundtrack, and addictive multiplayer. There were only four maps and abundance of control issues in the multiplayer mode but it had a Goldeneye-like feel. It was so addicting that my friends and I played Red Steel death matches weekly during the first two years of the Wii's life cycle.
Ubisoft took the criticisms of the first game to heart and addressed nearly every one of them in the sequel. Red Steel 2 is much slicker and more polished than the original. But it is also missing some of that game's wonky charm.
RedSteel 2 is a complete reboot of the franchise. The story is not tied at all to the first game. Instead you play as an outcast from the Kusagari Ninja clan. At the start he returns to his hometown just as the rest of his clan is wiped out by a rival clan boss. The exiled Kusagari then seeks revenge for the remainder of the game.
That is it for the bulk of the narrative. What gives some hook to the storyline is the bizarre Wild West/Japanese setting. The physical place appears to be the Old West. It takes place entirely in dusty saloon towns surrounded by rocky cliffs and connected by trains. The characters appear to be in both the Old West and in Japan, with all of the clans having traits of both cowboy posses and ninja clans. The most jarring thing is that the characters look Japanese but talk with Old West accents. The odd dichotomies make the story more engaging than it should be.
The controls have been drastically improved this time around. Pointer controls are still used to shoot, but they are much more accurate than in the original. However, the majority of the game is sword melee combat. Your lone warrior is almost always facing multiple enemies. But you do not simply make slicing motions with your arms to fight back. The game relies less on actual Wii MotionPlus tracking and more on combining various swings with button presses to perform specials. For example, to perform the Bear attack (a move that knocks all enemies in close proximity up in the air) you charge your sword by holding A and B and then swing down.
The moves are simple to learn; none use more than three control inputs. They can also be chained together for more effectiveness. The trick is knowing which moves to use in which situations. For example, some fights have to taken out in the open with a lot of dodging attack moves. Other battles are easier done by choking all the of the enemies in one point and blocking often. This gets frustrating about three quarters through the game. There are a lot of battles against different types of enemies at the same time here, often with some armored ones. These mass battles is where I died and retried the most in the game. At this point though you have not learned any useful armor-breaking attacks or special gun attacks that can hit multiple enemies. You earn these abilities later on, which then makes nearly every battle a cakewalk.
The whole difficulty curve is a bit off. Not only is the last quarter of the game of the game much easier than the middle, the enemies before a boss fight do not ramp up in difficulty. Often you will face some of the easiest enemies right before a boss battle. Finally the boss battles themselves are not as rewarding as they could be. More than once I failed repeatedly before figuring out an attack the boss was weak against. After that it was a simple matter of spamming that attack until the boss was defeated.
Visually the game is a vast improvement over its predecessor. The game is cel-shaded but the characters, backgrounds, and objects have realistic shapes. The color scheme is composed mainly of parchment toned beige, dark red, and dark browns. The shades are bright and varied which keeps the game from looking dull. While the character designs are not very memorable, the details are sharp on all objects. This is easily one of the best looking games on the Wii.
The graphic fidelity comes at a price though; the loads are long and frequent. The loading scenes are hidden as door openings, but that does not make them less frustrating. Each mission generally consists of going through at least three doors on the way to the main mission area and three more on the way back.
The sound design is unimpressive. There is in-game enemy chatter but it is not placed well; it does not give a good feeling of where the enemies are in the game world. The effects are decent but not placed very well. All of the effects are distributed equally through the back and side speakers, there is no direction in them. The soundtrack is the lone sonic highlight. It captures the Old West/Japanese setting well and ramps up and down appropriately.
Red Steel 2 has a decent size story mode. It could take anywhere from 8-15 hours depending on whether you get stuck or not. It is hard to play for more than an hour a today because the Wii motion tires your arms out, so that also extends gameplay time.
There is very little replay value in the game. After beating the story mode, the only thing left to play is Challenge Mode, which consists of beating the story chapters as quickly as possible. You have all the current upgrades for the story profile so that makes blowing through the chapters easier. However, for some bizarre reason you must still do all the tutorials. I dislike this setup for the Challenge Mode. The game would have had more replay value if there was a new game plus mode that allowed you to restart the story over with your current upgrades and change the difficulty and a more traditional Challenge Mode that gave you short missions with specific goals.
The biggest missed opportunity for replay value though was the exclusion of any multi-player modes. With a few tweaks multiplayer could have been a blast in this game, for both online and local split-screen.
Overall Red Steel 2 is vastly superior to its predecessor. It is prettier, it controls better, and it is not as frustratingly buggy. It is also a good example of the right way to program a game for the Wii MotionPlus. But despite all of its qualities Red Steel 2 is lacking a few features that would have pushed the game from a great game to a classic.
Red Steel 2 is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Animated Blood, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence.
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