Since the Wii was first announced, the dream of one-to-one swordplay has been sought after by players and developers alike. Attempts have mostly disappointed, and the original Red Steel was no exception. Red Steel 2 has the added benefits of MotionPlus and an extended development schedule, but does it finally deliver the gameplay you've been waiting for?
Red Steel 2 is a sequel in concept, but not story. The seedy Yakuza and dark alleys of the first game have nothing to do with the deserts and ninja-cowboys of its sequel. You play a silent, nameless hero. As the last member of the Kusagari clan, you start your journey chained to a motorcycle as you're dragged through the streets by some psycopath. It's up to you to reclaim the family sword, find out who's behind the massacre, and exact your revenge.
You do learn more about your character's past and the villain's motivations, but the story is pretty straightforward. A handful of allies will meet up with you along the way, but they serve mostly as trainers and quest givers while towns are otherwise deserted.
Discarding multiplayer entirely, Red Steel 2 puts the focus on its single-player campaign. Levels are fairly open with sections unlocking as you accept new quests, and you can wander at will until you proceed to the next chapter. Rather than being seamlessly connected, however, passages are split by huge doors, poorly masking loading times as you wait through long, awkward animations.
You'll have access to several safe houses in each area where you can train, purchase upgrades, or browse bulletin boards for quests. You may need to thin the ranks of the local thugs, blow up their vehicles, or challenge their leaders. More action-heavy scenes are peppered in from time to time, including a train level that has you fighting against gusts of wind as well as wily ninjas. The game also has its share of aimless backtracking, though, as you complete repetitive filler quests like activating communication towers and tearing down wanted posters. You'll also need to smash everything in sight to collect cash for shops, which can get wearisome with motion controls.
Speaking of shops, Red Steel 2 keeps the action fresh by continuously improving your arsenal right until the end of the game. You can purchase additional guns, new attacks, stronger armor, and upgrades to improve weapons and special techniques. In all, the campaign lasts roughly 10 hours, and you can revisit chapters in challenge mode as soon as you complete them.
Of course, the most critical area for Red Steel 2 is combat, and it succeeds in delivering a challenging and variable experience. The game doesn't attempt to mimic the position of your hand at all times, but does allow for a broader range of movement, letting you quickly perform light or heavy swings, and dodge, stab, or block attacks from different angles. It can take a little time to master the timing and nuances, but a gauntlet of training sessions helps get you adjusted.
After you've mastered the basics, you'll continue to learn new techniques that allow you to stun enemies, break defenses, and execute brutal finishers. The pounding motion for the proximity-clearing bear technique is particularly satisfying. Like any good action game, success in battle depends greatly on your ability to read movements and use appropriately timed counterattacks. Mixed groups can be especially challenging as opponents don't simply stand back and wait for you to finish off their buddies, and a smart lock-on system lets you quickly switch between targets to deal with the most immediate threat.
Unlike the original game, which separated guns from swords, firearms are seamlessly integrated in Red Steel 2. You can pull the trigger to fire your pistol at any time and quickly switch to a shotgun or machine gun with a quick tap of the D-pad. On its own, gunplay isn't as deep as sword-clashes, playing more of a support role in your arsenal. You can use firearms to dispatch grunts from afar or use them in combos with sword techniques, stunning an enemy by shooting him in the knee or knocking someone into the air with your sword to juggle and finish him off with your guns.
Combat is king once you sink your teeth into it, but there's not much else happening in the game. You'll occasionally come across switches that need to be twisted to different positions or safes that have to be cracked by listening for clicks as you turn the remote by your ear. However, platforming is entirely automatic, and none of your stylish moves are ever used to do anything interesting in the environment.
Red Steel 2 exhibits a fantastic East-meets-Old-West style that permeates the entire game, granting its characters and environments a distinctive look as tumbleweeds roll down dusty streets lined with Japanese vending machines. The bright cel-shaded visuals help bring the setting to life, and while cut-scenes are pre-rendered, they stick close to the in-game graphics and never feel out of place. Musically, the game leans more toward Western themes, punctuating intense battles and fading to a breezy solitude when you're alone.
While there are some minor technical hitches like framerate stutters and texture seams in specific areas, the most prominent issue is the game's lack of blood. The omission is conspicuous enough in a sword fighting title named "Red" Steel, but it's even more jarring when you see just how intense some of the finishers can be. Ubisoft clearly wanted to produce a palpably violent experience--just as long as it maintained a teen rating.
Red Steel 2 has it where it counts, with a deep combat system that continuously improves as the game progresses. It could do with more interesting tasks outside of battle, but it nails the swordplay like no game before it.
Reviewed on Nintendo Wii.