Review: Red Steel 2 (Nintendo Wii)

Red Steel 2
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer: Ubisoft Paris
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: 3/23/2010

Everyone remembers the Wii launch title Red Steel. Unfortunately for Ubisoft, it’s for all the wrong reasons. Many people expected the game to show off the capabilities of the then new Wiimote in enriching the gameplay experience with its sword fighting mechanics but instead we got a subpar first person shooter with waggle inducing gesture based (instead of 1:1) sword fighting that showed the limitations of the Wiimote.

Now both Nintendo AND Ubisoft are trying to make amends: Nintendo with the Wiimotion Plus and Ubisoft with Red Steel 2. So, do they both finally show us what the Wii is capable of?

1. Story/Modes

You are one of the Kusagari clan protectors, the elite warriors of a noble clan. However, you were exiled for an unknown reason five years prior to the game’s beginning and you’ve just returned to your hometown (err…for another unknown reason). You are captured and you start the game tied by your hands to the back of a motorbike and dragged across the desert for the amusement of some gangsters. You manage to free yourself and escape and find your old master Jian as well as the Sheriff Judd and a local girl named Tamiko. Apparently, the Jackal gang had (at the behest of the Katakara clan) invaded the town and slaughtered all the Kusagari in order to steal their secret Katana making techniques and keep it from ever being known again.

So you go out and kill everyone in the name of revenge.

Yeah… that’s pretty much it. That’s what most western stories ARE about: revenge. However, movies have you know… dialogue and characters and other things of that nature. Red Steel 2? Just kill everyone. Every once in a while you get a cool story scene or an epic set piece but most of the characters such as Tamiko and Judd are completely disposable and Jian’s only use is to introduce you to new moves you need to learn.

The protagonist isn’t given a name (everyone just calls him Kusagari or Hero) and he rarely speaks (I think he only does two or three times total in the game). I can understand the no name thing, as the classic Have Gun- Will Travel‘s main character is only known as “Paladin” and never by his real name and most cool heroes (especially in videogames) are silent. To be honest, it doesn’t really bother me at all since he just seems cooler that way but that fact really doesn’t help fill the void created by the nonexistent side characters.

Story/Modes rating: Below Average

2. Graphics

It’s kinda disappointing to think that the original Red Steel was criticized for its poor graphics but here we are in 2010 and it’s still one of the better looking games on the Wii. At least Red Steel 2 manages to really push the boundaries of the system.

The game uses the “LyN” engine that they previously used with Rabbids go Home. Our own Alex Lucard didn’t have many nice things to say about the graphics in that game but it seems it was down to the developer’s lack of effort rather than any limitation of the engine as Red Steel 2 is one of the prettiest games on the Wii.

The Celshaded graphics are excellent and unlike games such as Okami, they’re quite detailed and intricate so it’s not just a big blur. The areas of the game are always flooded in the red glow of sunset (of course, except for the levels that take place at night); perfect for a western setting. The game also suffers no slowdown whatsoever (it’s helped by the fact that no more than 5 enemies are onscreen at the same time) no matter what cool moves you do. In addition, your weapons are excellently modeled and look quite sexy, especially your sword.

The only downside is the backgrounds; anything like distant buildings or landscapes outside the immediate game area look quite bad. One mission has you climb a tower overlooking town and the view from up top is… underwhelming to say the least. Why Ubisoft couldn’t use pre-rendered backgrounds like the upcoming Xenoblade is beyond me.

Graphics rating: Classic

3. Sound

As mentioned before, most characters in the game are stereotypical but the voice actors do their part well enough. Your master Jian sounds like what you’d expect a stereotypical Old Samurai/Ninja master to sound (i.e., Mr. Miyagi), Judd the sheriff sounds like a Texas sheriff and Taniko also has a southern accent. I found the fact that all the characters are Asian (following the Old West in Japan theme) yet they all speak with Southern accents, other than Jian and the villains who either speak in an Asian accent or if they’re the Jackals they sound like your average Saturday morning cartoon villains. It’s not bad overall; I didn’t find myself cringing at any of the lines but Bioshock this is not.

The music on the other hand is quite good and continues the whole Spaghetti Western meets 17th century Japan theme with acoustic guitars mixed up with shamishens and other eastern instruments. The music is quite and somber when you’re exploring but picks up speed during fighting sequences but it does its best not to get too loud and overpower the action.

Sound rating: Decent

4. Control/Gameplay

Remember the hype the first Red Steel created? How we were finally going to get 1:1 swordfights in games and all that motion control nonsense that would revolutionize games and being sorely disappointed at the result? Well, Red Steel 2 finally gets that feeling right! (After 4 damn years) Now, it’s not 1:1 sword fighting like in Wiisports Resort but there is a good reason for that. Your main character is a super powered videogame character wielding a magical Katana, not a clumsy Mii that’s wielding a wooden Kendo sword. The difference is obvious from the get go, you can perform some completely over the top moves such as “The Bear” which has you smash the ground to create a shockwave or “The Dragon” which is a long range sword stack that’s reminiscent of One Piece’s Roronoa Zoro’s long range sword attacks (and anyone who has seen One Piece can tell you how over the top it is). All this is wouldn’t work on a 1:1 system but Red Steel 2 does a good job of keeping the system as close to that as possible. (let’s say 0.9:1 or whatever) It can detect which direction you’re slashing towards, the strength you’re slashing with and whether you’re slashing or jabbing.

Overall, sword fighting in the game is excellent and well thought out with things like counter enemy’s guard stances, parrying , dodging and finishing moves all implemented so well…. I don’t really know if we need another sword fighting game on the Wii! It almost makes you forget that you have guns at your disposal as well!

That’s right! Red Steel 2 has guns as well! Some people might be disappointed that there are only 4 guns (A magnum revolver, a sawed off double barreled shotgun, a Tommy gun and finally a lever action rifle) but that’s missing the point: Red Steel 2 is built around using your sword, the guns simply complement that.

Is the gunplay any good though? Well after this game, as well as Metroid Prime 3, The Conduit, Medal of Honor: Heroes 2 and Modern Warfare: Reflex, no first person shooter can sport poor controls on the Wii. The Wiimote-nunchuck combo is the best possible method control FPSes outside of a mouse and keyboard and makes dual stick controls look like awkward finger yoga. So to summarize, the shooting is sharp and precise and should satisfy you with plenty of customization options Wii shooter fanatics have gotten used to (Dead zone size, sensitive of the axis and so on) so you can get it “just right” for your particular tastes.

The game itself has been criticized for being linear but I think that’s an unfair accusation: First of all, pretty much every first person shooter is pretty linear (including all those Halo and Call of Duty games that reviewers drool over and plaster 9s and 10s on their reviews) and second of all, the game does attempt some sort of non linearity. The levels aren’t just a long straight line to the end but rather a sort of hub world that you backtrack through and can explore in a rudimentary way.

Now I have two problems with this; first the implementation is half assed. There isn’t really much of an incentive to do any exploring since the rewards aren’t really worth it: just some cash or one of the things for the endless collecting sidequests (I’ll touch on them in a later section of the review). In games like Metroid Prime and Bioshock you’d always find something interesting if you poked around like an energy tank or a voice log or something worth your trouble but not in Red Steel 2. It shouldn’t have wasted it’s time trying to be something it’s not and just focused on making some more great action set pieces.

Second, what’s the point of exploring if you don’t have a map? Sure, there’s a minimap in the bottom right but it only shows a small section of the area you are in and as soon as you move to the border of that map the entire minimap loads ANOTHER small piece of map with no way of showing the whole map at once to chart your course so I ended up stumbling around to find some coins or a truck I had to blow up so it’s just best if you follow the main story as much as possible.

Control/Gameplay rating: Good

5. Replayability

This is Red Steel 2’s biggest Achilles heel; the game is anywhere between seven to ten hours long depending on how fast you rush through it. Ubisoft Paris also made the bold decision to not include a half assed multiplayer in order to focus on making a better single player mode. I truly believe that the game came out better with this decision but it does take a hit in Replayability.

The only thing other than the main storyline is a “challenge” mode which….is basically you going through certain chapters of the main storyline again and the only difference is that you are rated afterward.

This must have really hurt Red Steel 2‘s sales, it’s the most rented Wii game on Gamefly for a reason and I have a fleeting feeling people bought this, completed it within a week and sold it used for other gamers to buy it with no profit going to Ubi.

Replayability rating: Dreadful

6. Balance

There are three main levels of enemies: Jackal gangsters, Katakara clan warriors and Ninjas. As you might imagine , the enemies get progressively stronger the farther you progress in the game, Jackal gangsters might pose trouble in the early stages but later on they’re pretty much used as cannon fodder and can be taken down with one swipe of your sword. You also meet a boss early in the game called “Big Bill” who’s like 8 feet tall and wields a huge hammer, first time you fight him he’s quite difficult but later on he simply becomes an Elite Mook like the Ogres from Dragon Age: Origins and you might face 2 or 3 at once.

The health system is also well designed: Remember when I mentioned that only 5 enemies can be on screen at once? It might seem like a bad thing but it’s likely you wouldn’t survive because even the lowliest grunt can take about twenty percent of your lifebar with one good hit. Once you dispatch all the enemies, you find out why even grunts do so much damage: your health refills fully after every battle. In order to keep the game challenging, your enemies’ strength must be exaggerated and that’s exactly what Ubisoft Paris have done and it all works quite well.

Most of the upgrades, hidden strikes and Kusagari powers are balanced well, however there is one that breaks the game somewhat. It’s called “The Tiger” and you activate it by shaking both the Wiimote and the Nunchuck while holding the A button, basically what it does is parry any enemy’s attack (it works on bullets too) and stun them for a short period of time allowing to beat the ever living crap out of them. This works on EVERY enemy; Sword wielding enemy, hammer wielding enemy, gun wielding enemy, Tommy gun wielding enemy and even bosses! (Though to be fair, Bosses recover very quickly and attack very quickly making it harder to pull off). The fact that you’re holding the A button to do this (A button is the block button) means you’re in no risk to use this move, you’re blocking before, during AND after using “The Tiger”, unlike other moves like “The Eagle” and “The Bear” where you’re vulnerable for a few seconds before you can activate the move. Frankly, that’s the one thing that damages this game’s balance as everything else was carefully designed to not be overpowered.

Balance Rating: Decent

7. Originality

Now this whole Western/Samurai mashup genre isn’t anything new and has been done in movies before as a lot of Spaghetti Westerns took inspiration from Akira Kurosawa samurai movies and HE took inspiration from John Ford western movies. Let’s face it; Samurais and the old west go together quite well as they deal with a lot of the same themes (lawlessness, revenge, fights…etc).

This isn’t even the first videogame to attempt it. I recall a game called Rising Zan: the Samurai Gunman back on the PSX that attempted it and also a Way of the Samurai spin off named Samurai Western.

Still, it’s a rare style and I don’t recall any game this generation attempting it so I’ll give Ubisoft points for that.

Red Steel 2 also is the first game I know that get sword fighting, a long sought after gameplay element ever since the Wii was announced, right. However, it’s also a First Person Shooter and that genre is overrepresented this generation no matter how you look at it, even on the Wii which has its share of good FPS games.

Originality rating: Great

8. Addictiveness

The simplicity of the story does provide a good thing; there’s nothing to get in-between you and your stylish killing of many minions except a short cutscene or two every once in a while. You also have many upgrades to choose from for nearly everything you have, all your guns, your sword, your techniques and armor as well as health. There’s a shitload of stuff to spend your money on in Red Steel 2 and that always gives you a goal to keep playing for outside the main story (“Oh! I only need 2000 more dollars to buy that reload upgrade for my revolver!”)

The main story also has very short levels so it’s always throwing you into different scenery and enemies and that keeps you from getting bored doing one really long level that becomes tedious and boring with nothing really happening (I’m looking at you Half Life 2).

But Red Steel 2 also has sidequests as well; these usually tend to be quest asking you to look for something hidden in the environment which is very tedious and incredibly boring. Sure, you can skip them at no penalty but they have very nice cash rewards and as mentioned earlier you really want those cool upgrades so you end up doing them anyway and boring yourself along the way.

Addictiveness rating: Good

9. Appeal Factor

“Hardcore” titles and genres such as FPS are somewhat a rarity for the Wii outside of Nintendo’s releases so Red Steel 2 got a little hype from that alone, also being one of Wiimotion plus’ flagship titles doesn’t hurt.

But the most baffling aspect of the game is why they named it “Red Steel 2″? It has almost nothing in common with that game Red Steel other than that you use a sword and shoot people. Ubisoft will point to the fact that Red Steel racked up over 1 million copies sold but it escapes me how they never realized that it was due to A) Being a launch title and B)People being hyped for the Wii’s swordfighting mechanics and being disappointed with the result.

Let’s face it, Red Steel left a sour taste in many people’s mouths and that’s one kind of brand recognition that you don’t want.

Appeal factor rating: Mediocre

10. Miscellaneous

While I commend Ubisoft for creating a “single player” only game and sacrificing the almost requisite multiplayer mode in order to focus on the story mode in the game. I love single player experiences and online modes in games (especially shooters) has you attempting to negotiate with 9 year old kids who have figured out anonymity means they can shoot off any swear word they know without fear of reprisal.

However, if you’re going to sacrifice multiplayer then at the very least put more meat on the single player platter. 50 dollars (or 60 dollars if you bought the version bundled with Wiimotion plus) for an 8 hour experience on average does not cut it anymore. Sure, short games can be fun; just look at Valve’s Portal for example. The difference though is that Valve didn’t sell the game for 50$, they bundled it with Half Life 2: Episode 1 and Team Fortress 2.

If you’re selling a game to the “hardcore” crowd then you better be prepared because they’ve researched your game in detail, they’ll know how long it is and if it’s worth their money: Why buy Red Steel 2 if I can rent it and save money for God of War III, Splinter Cell: Conviction and Final Fantasy XIII?

Hardcore games on Wii don’t sell because they think they’re competing with shovelware when in fact they’re competing with the big AAA titles on PS3 and Xbox360 because no hardcore gamer has only a Wii to keep him occupied.

Miscellaneous rating: Poor

The Scores

Story/modes: Below Average
Graphics: Classic
Sound: Decent
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Dreadful
Balance: Decent
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Poor

FINAL SCORE: Above Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Red Steel 2 is a game that finally delivers on all the promises Nintendo and Ubisoft made back when the Wii was first unveiled all those years ago. Slick graphics and sharp shooting wrap around the excellent sword fighting mechanics to make an excellent core game but unfortunately that’s let down by the short game length, no replayability and mediocre plotline.



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