Release Date: November 19, 2006; March 23, 2010
Ah, Red Steel– Ubisoft’s grand opening gambit to Wii’s launch line-up. With the ability “to replicate real sword and gun movements” with the Wii Remote (thanks, awkwardly-written box instructions!), it promised intense gun-slinging sword-play in the midst of a brutal, yakuza gang war, and it marked Wii’s first big push into the so-called “mature” gaming space. The power was, quite literally, in our hands. All we had to do was master it. So how did we begin this foray into Wii’s brand new, razor-sharp maturity? By staring at a fish-tank. Way to go, Ubisoft; you really know how to start things off with a bang.
I jest, of course. Gawking at fish to make sure we understood how to use the Wii Remote is just a small part of Red Steel‘s opening hour– there’s also the whole attempted assassination of your fiancée’s father (the big cheese in Tokyo’s yakuza circles) to contend with– but for many this was perhaps the first sign that maybe Red Steel wasn’t quite what we had built ourselves up for. The motion controls were slightly sticky, the side-lined sword-play was underwhelming, and the voice-acting was generally pretty terrible throughout.
But while it may not have lived up to its high expectations, there’s still a lot to love about Red Steel, even if it hasn’t aged particularly gracefully in the mean time. The bland corridor textures and thinly populated set-pieces all look and feel rather dated now, but one thing that doesn’t disappoint are the slick, graphic-novel-style cutscenes. Some critics may have labelled them half-baked ideas that are perhaps a telling sign of a rough and hasty push out the door to be ready in time for launch, but considering it’s a game rooted in Japanese culture, what better way to help players forget their “gaijin” (or “foreigner”) ways than a manga-inspired storyline?
Red Steel is an important piece of Wii history.
It also seized every opportunity going to show off Wii’s shiny new motion controls as well, most of which you’d be hard-pushed to find in games nowadays. Instead of simply using the Wii Remote to aim and fire your gun or slice your sword, Red Steel took the idea of motion controls and ran with it, making you shake the nunchuk to reload, parry, pick up weapons, throw over tables, open doors and extend your arm to zoom in on enemy gunfire. The fact that so many of these ideas have disappeared over the course of this generation may be a sign that they simply weren’t very good ideas– a kind of survival of the fittest motion control, so to speak– but considering most games either eschew motion controls altogether these days, or resign themselves to the simple point and waggle approach, the sheer volume of them in Red Steel actually makes it feel incredibly refreshing. Its maps and graphics may be showing their age, but mechanically it represents a unique point in time when developers were still optimistic about what motion controls could achieve, making it one of Wii’s most fascinating and immersive museum pieces.
Of course, one of the many problems about having a disappointing début is dealing with the fallout when it comes to any potential sequels, and Red Steel 2 was perhaps sadly caught in the crossfire slightly thanks to its somewhat lacklustre predecessor. But this, readers, is a crime against gaming, because Red Steel 2 is easily one of the best games on Wii hands down. It was everything Red Steel should have been and more, and thanks to the use of Wii Motion Plus, this handy little device helped it stand head and shoulders above the original.
But it wasn’t just the controls that felt tighter– the combat itself was vastly improved too, as this time you could use both your sword and gun in tandem. Gone were the rigid and sporadic sword-fights of the previous game and in were gun-toting samurai who would just as easily gut you like fish or stick a bullet through your brain. It was the perfect blend of motion control and button-gaming, easily allowing players to switch between the two completely on the fly with pin-point accuracy, and it gave each battle a slick and free-flowing dynamism that its predecessor could only dream of. Okay, so we lost the ability to freeze time and head-shot everyone in the room, but Red Steel 2 more than made up for this with a plethora of stylish finishing moves and exponentially more intelligent bad guys.
It was also the perfect blend of east-meets-west, not only in its stunning cel-shaded art style, but also its character design– I mean, just look at who you’re dealing with! We never got to see what “Scott-san” looked like in the original Red Steel, but this is one guy you don’t want to mess with… especially when he has such a kick-ass hat! The Jackals, too, were equal parts samurai and futuristic cyborg with their metal-plated masks and armour, and the Katakara Clan took it one step further, adding a distinct dash of ninjutsu into the mix as well. What really bound this fusion of cultures together, though, was the music, and by the end of the game you almost can’t imagine hearing the western tang of a jew harp and electric guitar without the altogether more Japanese koto and shakuhachi flute playing somewhere in the background.
You really don’t want to see this guy when he’s hammered! (*cue tumbleweeds…*)
It may not have had as many ideas as the original– Red Steel 2 did, in fact, abandon many of the nunchuk motion controls pioneered by its predecessor– but much like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, it still looks just as impressive now as it did three years ago upon its release. Granted those wretched loading doors are still even slower than those in Metroid Prime, but there’s little to disappoint here three years on. So if you’re hankering for something other than The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword to make use of your Wii Motion Plus Remote, then you really couldn’t do much better than Red Steel 2. Play the original to remind yourself of a time when motion controls were still new and exciting, and play its sequel for some of the finest first-person action this side of the last generation. You certainly won’t regret it.