The most curious thing about Red Steel 2 is the fact that it’s named “Red Steel 2.” The first game was so poorly received by critics that the name became synonymous with people’s disappointment with the Wii. This sequel has no relation to the original at all. It’s a sequel in name only, so why burden this new game with the name “Red Steel?” I don’t know, but what I do know is that unlike its predecessor Red Steel 2 is everything a gamer could want out of a motion-controlled sword fighting game.
Red Steel 2 is one of the few games that requires the Wii Motion Plus peripheral, and it makes an important difference. Most Wii games you can play sitting down, leaning back, and flicking your wrist to simulate the full-body motion that you’re supposed to be doing but not this time. Throughout training, the game tells you to “Use your whole arm”, and it’s good advice. You can still just use your wrist, but the Wiimote is now sensitive enough to judge the arc of your swing, and if the arc isn’t wide enough, nothing happens. Using just your wrist forces you to twist your hand at painfully extreme angles, and even then, it’s not guaranteed to always work. Use your arm, and it works every time. You can still play sitting down, granted there are no armrests to get in the way, but with all the demanding swinging, you can’t lean back. You’ll always find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat for balance, so you may as well just stand. And then everything will suddenly click. Every swing, every stab, it all feels perfectly natural and you’ll actually want to keep playing this way.
But that kind of sensitive motion control would just be annoying if it was poorly implemented. Thankfully, that’s not the case. Your movements flow into one another so that you can dispatch an enemy with just a few well-timed swings. Special attacks are easy to pull off, so when you learn a new move, you will use it. Both sword and gun are always equipped: press B to shoot or swing to slash, then mix them up as much as you want. There’s no fussing about with weapon menus (though you can switch between four types of guns). This leads to some great moments of “gun-fu.” When an enemy jumps at you, blade raised for the kill, just pop him in the head with your trusty six-shooter and stab him when he hits the ground. Blast a guy with your shotgun to knock him off balance, then dodge behind him and run him through. Time it all right, and it’ll feel like one fluid motion.
The fluidity and ease of combat makes it easy to master, but the downside to this is that for the first few hours you’ll outclass your opponents and the game feels too easy. You might even consider upping the difficulty but hold off. After a few hours the difficulty finally begins to curve upwards and provide a real challenge. By then, you’ll be starved for it and not quite properly prepared. In the beginning, you can hack through foes easily, but timing and patience become more important when you fight enemies that can switch between blade and gun just as fast as you. Once you adjust to the new and far more satisfying challenge, the game becomes more addictive and hard to put down.
Red Steel 2 abandons the modern day setting of its predecessor in favor of a far more distinctive mix of genres, part sci-fi, part cowboy western, and part samurai revenge story. Tumbleweeds drift through a town of pagodas and communication towers. The cast consists of an Asian sheriff sporting a cowboy hat and Hawaiian shirt, a scantly clad hacker chick, and a stereotypical ninja master with a thin, white beard who sits cross-legged on a stack of boxes while shouting at you during training sessions, and none it of it seems out of place. Some towns look more Western than Eastern, others more Eastern than Western, but despite this combination of such dichotomous styles, the world feels like a fully realized place and not just a random mixing of aesthetics. One character describes you as a “swordslinger,” and I immediately fell in love with that apt title.
Unfortunately, the story is only passable, something about a clan war and special sword. You’d think a world with such interesting aesthetics would have an equally interesting history, but it doesn’t. You’ll get into a lot of fights without knowing why, but the combat is enough fun that you won’t care. When you’re fighting, nothing else matters. The game is at its best when it’s at its hardest. It just takes a while to get there.
Red Steel 2 proves that every game deserves a sequel even if it’s only to fix what went wrong in the first place.