The first Red Steel is a game I have some fond memories of, though is hard to outright recommend to everyone as it was a clear demo of both the Wii’s strengths and weaknesses. However, when Nintendo updated their motion-control gimmick with Wii motion plus, I was very interested in how much more Ubisoft could do if they remade this game. This led me to follow every single update-video on Red Steel 2.
With the sequel, they basically changed every aspect from the last game, making it hard to even see similarities between these titles except for having the main character use firearms and a katana, and the title itself. I loved the mix of western and eastern style, and I was impressed when the developers showcased how much the motion plus improved upon its predecessor, where you now could make accurate and more complex swings with this new add-on. Needless to say: I was excited. I bought Red Steel 2 the day it came out and even got the special edition which included an art-book and an engraved bullet with the game. Let’s see if my hype was justified.
Spaghetti-western and noodle-Japanese
With this installment, they basically don’t even acknowledge its predecessor and present a completely new story. You play as the last Kusagari, which was a clan of warriors protecting the land from thieves and criminals. Banished from the clan for your recklessness, you return home finding your land in ruins and the game even starts up with you tied up and dragged through an apocalyptic city by a gangster on a motorcycle. After a cool getaway, you seek your old companions and are ready to end the reign of criminals.
I love the setup. You find yourself in an urban society that has decayed with both rich areas and some more common places, mixing temples and gardens from Japanese culture and the western desert and saloons, with high technology in an apocalyptic world. This gives a sense of what once was and fits the atmosphere of tension, as you are not sure what to really expect, yet it all seems familiar at the same time. Though the game also makes it clear that it wants to be cheesy and pay tribute to both styles it represents visually. This is easily done through the characters; you are a nameless hero who eventually gets supports from a Japanese swordsmith and master Jian, acquires guns from the American sheriff Judd, and, of course, the story provides a love-interest and tech-chick who is well-versed in stealth. It is all cheesy, but they go far enough to both be familiar and traditional, but also be likable· and entertaining, making it feel like a family to you.
The villains you will be up against change from biker gangs with huge tattoos to ninjas wielding guns and sharp claws, and they are either loud and reckless, or silent and fast, providing a good variety of memorable antagonists. They also add to the setting, similar to the supporting cast, as the villains are just over-the-top and entertaining, but also menacing and relaxed enough to be intimidating. When you can even take a jackal named Jack serious and yet still laugh at the dumb name, that is a good sign. The plot and overall story might not be anything grand or interesting, but it knows what it needs to provide and how to do the inspirations it takes from both old Japanese and western movies justice, while still not being so silly that you can’t be on board with it. It provides charm, entertainment, and pleasant progression through the campaign.
Story Score: 8/10
Swords beat guns?
Playing as the last of your clan, you are set in a first-person hack and slash with some gunfights involved. This might sound odd, but let’s go over what you will be doing the most: using your Wii-remote as a sword. Thanks to the motion plus, it can now detect weak vs strong swings and in which direction you swing, perform stabs, and even block vertically and horizontally. Though the Wii-mote is also used for camera and looking around, you will automatically target an enemy if you look at them or can do so manually and switch between by pressing the Z-button. This makes it easy to transition from looking around and exploring to engaging in combat.
Combat will happen in real time and you will engage any amount of enemies from a single foe to the double-digit, making it exhilarating as you will have to be prepared for fights around every corner. To make things easier, you will have a warning on the bottom left and right should an enemy be close and it turns red if they are getting ready to attack you. You can then quickly change to where they are by a press of the Z button and defend, attack or dodge using the A button. Enemies will try to defend vertically and horizontally, so combat will be engaging and intense.
However, sword-combat does not stop here. You can also purchase upgrades for your sword at certain temples, and while sharpening the blade for making it stronger is nice, what is really cool are the Kusagari powers and the hidden strikes. Let’s start with the hidden strikes. These are basically combos you can perform with the A-button, such as a dodge around the enemy followed by a sideways slice, or dodge back and do a downward swing to destroy the opponent’s armor. These are well implemented for making strategic moves and can also be made into other combos. For example, if you perform a swing for destroying armor and stun the enemy instead, you can perform a finisher, with the motion for doing so being shown above. Every kill will yield gold, but doing it stylishly with plenty of different attacks will provide more money, so there is a lot of room for being creative.
The Kusagari powers will be given to you throughout the game and are stronger powers that are represented by mythical creatures such as a dragon, bear and so on. These are almost like superpowers, with the eagle being able to launch the enemy up in the air, the tiger defending any attacks and causing the opponent to get stunned, and the bear creating a shockwave by punching the ground, for example. All of these can be upgraded and provide great additions to the sword-combat to give you plenty of fighting styles and turn you into an overall badass with the interactivity of the motion plus adding to the immersion. Your sword can even block bullets, making it a powerful tool to have available at all time.
Speaking of which, you will also be able to use guns and switching between using your firearms and the katana is simply done by swinging the remote or pressing B to shoot. You will start out the adventure with only your revolver and already there is a lot of creativity. You are, of course, able to headshot enemies, but can also, for example, stun them by hitting them in the knee and make them fall if they jump at you with a well-placed shot. Later on, you will be able to purchase a twin barrel shotgun, a tommy gun, and a sidewinder, all having specific uses and upgrades from stores, making them interesting and entertaining additions. Though the game makes it clear that the guns play second fiddle to the sword, with only your revolver getting one Kusagari power. They are still an important asset and can be used alongside your katana for making combos. For example, I can dodge an attack and use my shotgun to blast away the opponent’s armor before I slice to knock him over and then stab while he lays on the ground.
This is what makes Red Steel 2 so wonderful: the immersion of making you into a complete badass. As mentioned before, you can acquire money from doing impressive attacks and combos in fights, but also by doing missions, which can be main objectives that progress the story or one for the area you are in, such as shoot down wanted-posters or kill a bunch of ninjas. You will always be told when you move to the next area, so you can easily choose if you want to stay and earn more money or if you are confident enough to venture further. Exploration, in general, is also a good thing, as you can traverse around and look for more hidden goodies in chests, tombs or destructible objects. While the mini-map will be helpful at showing where you can go, you must look carefully for specific cases that require a gunshot or sword-swing to open, which might lead to money, ammo or both. My favorite of these boxes with hidden loot are the safes, as you must turn the Wii-mote until you hear a click, again adding to the immersion. Besides these, there are tokens to pick up or shoot at that will provide extra cash, so should you be exploring, you will be handsomely rewarded.
Moving through the stages will require a bunch of shooting and slicing for activating machinery or opening doors. Even the platforming is context-sensitive, as it focuses more on you exploring and engaging in combat, which makes me happy. It has a clear focus on what it wishes to provide and I applaud the developers for this. However, while I have been praising this game to no end by now, there is one unfortunate part. This is an incredibly easy game and while some new enemies might take you off guard, you will quickly find strategies to take them down. It is still fun to fight them as you will fight multiple ones and they are varied, such as the ninjas dodging your attacks or the heavy-armored Katakara being difficult to get down, though thanks to the moves you can acquire, you will be ready for any encounter. You also heal after every fight, which might have been better to actually neglect to make fights harder. If that was not enough, you can even upgrade your health, the time enemies remain stunned, armor and purchase extra-lives, though I never found the need for the last one.
While the enemies are entertaining to fight, they won’t give you much problem as long as you remember your moves and upgrades. The bosses do provide a good challenge, but are also easy once you figure out their pattern and will become regular enemies later. The worst, though, is the last boss which can be a joke if you upgraded the right tools. There are also some silly parts that are almost QTE’s, such as how you must hit a door to open it or hold the Wii-mote in specific directions to activate constructions. One cutscene was actually a QTE, but this never appeared again, which was also odd. However, while it is too easy, Red Steel 2 never forgets the most important part: provide good entertainment and interactivity. With such fantastic immersion thanks to the controls and varied movesets, you will find yourself using different tactics and have a blast, even if the enemies will be easy to dispatch. The varied side missions for exploring will also be enjoyable, despite combat being at the forefront. If it hadn’t been for how fun and interactive it was, the score would have been lowered significantly.
Gameplay Score: 8/10
Land of the rising sun mixed with the cold west
This is a fantastic and creative take on mixing two different styles together. By adding temples and buildings in red from Japanese culture, it mixes well with the western’s brown and dark style, adding to a unique look I can’t say I have ever seen before. The world is vast and varied, taking you on a huge-train ride, explore deep canyons, fight through neon-lit streets with small Japanese condos and plenty more, making each place memorable and impressive. It also goes further by adding technology, which makes it more than just mixing two styles. The draw distance each location provides is also amazing and has small details, such as fires coming from an area you are responsible for blowing up. To make it even more significant, your revolver has an engraved dragon on it, while the katana carries the image of an eagle’s wing. Details like these are not few, which shows how much care was given to this Wii-title.
The choice of going with cell-shaded graphics makes this game age fantastically and I am so happy it went with something so original. Each area pops out with plenty colors and tons of details as mentioned above. The same goes for the enemies and the main characters, as they have styles that are just as fitting for the setting, but also pay tribute to old Western and Japanese movies. The sheriff is a traditional cowboy, the jackals have huge tattoos and carry blades and dual-wield pistols, and the Katakara have costumes that are a mix of cowboy and samurai. The effects of dust or steam hindering your vision and masking loading-times with doors you try to open also add to the immersion. Though what might be the most impressive, are the moves you can perform that are on the level of superpowers and the combos being fast and exhilarating. The enemy attacks are also cool, with some even having robotic helicopters to attack or flash red before a strong attack. Lastly, the cutscenes also carry this style and it makes the transition smooth and impressive.
The voice actors pay homage to the stereotypes they represent and are all endearing, charming, yet serious and strong enough to be memorable and interesting. I also love the small touches, such as static when talking through walkie-talkies and also the strength of their voices depending on how far or close you are to a character. The cherry on top of this wonderful presentation is the music by Tom Salta. You might know him from Need for Speed: Underground 2, Cold Fear, Ghost Recon 2 and Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands. He is definitely known for tackling different genres and it shows in all its glory here. The music adds to this wonderful mix, represented by both guitar-strings, pan flutes, and kokyū to name a few instruments, making it very fitting. All songs have a distant and echoey-feel, fitting the empty and hostile land, and I love how intense it becomes the second enemies attack and the subtle change when you win a fight. The sound-effects of weapons slicing and firing are always impressive and adds to the satisfaction, especially when they come from the remote. The worst I can say is that I noticed two framerate-drops when I destroyed everything in two rooms with a single attack.
Presentation Score: 10/10
Where to test my skills now?
The side missions are good distractions to add more to the gameplay and they are required for making you more versatile and stronger. However, when the game is over, the only part left is the challenge mode where you replay segments of the game you already played and get ranked for how you perform. This is an okay idea, but if you are going to play the game again, why not have a new game+ mode instead? It would have been incredibly fun to play through the entire game with a strong character on a harder difficulty than “hard”, which is already unlocked before you start the game. Challenge mode is serviceable, but could have been stronger and more creative. Though if you want a new skin for your revolver or sword, there is a menu to put in pre-order code, which is now easily available online.
Extra Score: 6/10
Red Steel 2 is a fantastic mix of Eastern and Western style. It is wonderfully cheesy and the characters and villains are entertaining, the presentation is amazing and beautiful, and the sword-combat is exhilarating. It might be too easy, though you can put it on a higher difficulty, and thanks to how engaging the combat is, it is a great example of how immersion could work on the Wii, and that depth is not important as long as the game is fun to play. Exploring around adds to the atmosphere, and while the challenge-mode might not be tackled, a second playthrough is easy to recommend. Jason VandenBerghe, you have created the reason to own a motion-plus and I salute you for this.