The original Red Steel was meant to be one of the titles at the forefront of Nintendo Wii development, a true showcase of what could be achieved on the system. It ultimately didn't live up to expectation though, and was met with lukewarm reception and sales. Not content with this, Ubisoft Paris set to work on realising their initial dreams, something which was made much more achievable with the release of Wii MotionPlus - something which is mandatory to play the game. Development also moved away from the Unreal Engine, in favour of their own LyN engine.
The story takes place in the Nevada desert, starting off in a rather large village called Caldera. Players will instantly notice something different about this village though, and that's the distinct merger of two cultures. Despite being deep in the Nevada desert, Caldera is a hybrid between an American cowboy town, and a rural Japanese one. It's a theme that's extremely prevalent throughout the game: the main character has a samurai sword and six-shooter, the allied characters are a mixture between oriental and redneck and the enemies are bikers and ninjas. It's a melding of cultures that actually works quite well though, and doesn't feel un-natural in the slightest - something that's a testament to the game's design.
That's why it's a shame to learn that the characters, story and setting all have next to no depth or personality. While the protagonist, referred to as 'Hero', does definitely have an air about him, that's all he has. The supporting cast do very little to aid his cause either, providing very minimal dialogue and seemingly appearing in the right place at the right time, with no real explanation and in hideouts that looked identical to their previous ones. Whether this was done intentionally to keep the focus towards the gameplay is unclear, but it's disappointing either way.
Gameplay has been significantly remodelled in Red Steel 2, it's now clearly focused towards the usage of a sword and the gun comes in a clear second for attention. Wii MotionPlus has been fully utilised to make sure that sword swings are much more relevant to the player's gestures - taking into consideration both weight and direction of the swings. Despite this though, there isn't a huge amount of depth to the animations that are shown or the amount of effort required. Normal attacks either come across as weak or strong, and players (even on the regular strength setting) can still perform strong attacks without really using their arm at all. To say it feels like real sword fighting is a bit of a stretch, it still feels like waggling a Wii Remote around. There's simply a lack of immersion from that perspective, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun.
Hunting down the various enemies and seeing them fall is actually rather gratifying. There's nothing like facing a foe with a strong guard, only to see his guard broken and his torso smashed to smithereens. The various types of enemies found throughout the game really do help to keep the challenge interesting, as they all have their own strengths and weaknesses. While the Jackals aren't the most nimble, they excel in strength; the Ninja are much more defensive. Learning how to deal with each foe quickly and effectively is crucial, and fortunately the Hero has a few tricks up his sleeve. He can learn various moves, and also certain Kusagari powers. They're fun and look pretty, but they're pretty unbalanced and can make the game ridiculously easy - especially after utilising a move called "The Tiger" effectively.
The problem with these moves, aside from them really turning the tide in combat, is that there's essentially no skill to pulling them off. It really takes away some of the satisfaction, as once all the moves have been learnt, players know that by pressing A in combination with a random swing, they'll perform a move that will seriously help their cause. This also applies to the Kusagari special moves, which are performed by holding down A + B, then performing a swing. It's clearly been done to make the game more accessible, but it feels like it's to the game's detriment. Enemy strikes are pretty easy to block and even easier to counter. Most enemies can be beaten simply by going on the offensive and battering them down, or by performing a string of special moves. It's still fun, but it doesn't really present any kind of challenge - even the various boss fights follow the same pattern.
The structure of the game doesn't really help things either. Players are sent from town to town performing tasks which all revolve around doing pretty much the same thing. There are essential quests to the plot, which generally don't leave much to the imagination, but there are also supplementary side-quests which are even less inspired. For example, destroying wanted posters, finding an object or re-commissioning communication towers. It would be ok if these missions came up once, but they come up multiple times.
The game actually looks quite appealing and there are very problems to be seen with the LyN engine. Everything has a pseudo cel-shaded look and it works well, for both aesthetics and complimenting the gameplay style. The music also provides a decent amount of atmosphere for ambling around the desolate environments, while also seamlessly integrating into the back-drop for combat. There are a few glitches here and there though which can become a bit annoying, like enemies firing straight though walls. Smoke and fire effects also look rather unconvincing.
There's also very little incentive to play through the game again, and considering the game is actually on the fairly short side (clocking around eight-ten hours if doing all side-quests) this is quite a disappointment. There are challenges available, but these essentially involve playing through the main story campaigns again as quickly as possible.
Red Steel 2 definitely improves on its predecessor, but it's still not in the echelons of being a "must have" title. The gameplay is definitely fun, but it's still a bit of a stretch to say it's like real sword fighting. And while there's a good range of enemies and moves, this is complimented by a very forgettable story and generic structure. It makes for an experience which is sometimes fun, but often ends up being pretty average.