Hands-On, Sword Out With Red Steel 2S

Whether Ubisoft likes it or not, for many Red Steel 2 will define the potential of Nintendo's Wii MotionPlus.

While the sword and gun action title isn't the first game to use Wii's improved motion-sensing add-on, the franchise is inexorably connected to the Wii. The original Red Steel launched in 2006 alongside the Wii. While it sold briskly, it was critically panned.

But I suspect things will be different this time around.

While Red Steel 2's motion controls deliver a more responsive, more entertaining experience, it wasn't the result of one-to-one motion. Instead the game succeeds because of the developer's decision early on to focus on the key elements of this game's particular fantasy: Samurai-like sword play delivered in strong, wide motions.

Red Steel 2 puts you in the shoes of a ousted member of the Kusagari clan, master of the sword and gun. The game opens with the protagonist delivered unceremoniously to the desert-bound town of his old clan. The Jackals have wiped out nearly everyone in the clan and it's up to you to chase them down and kill them.

The game's story is delivered between the missions you select from a bulletin board packed with wanted posters and takes place over a number of maps that spread out from Red Steel 2's four hub maps.

Completing these missions both forwards the plot and rewards you with gold that can be used to unlock new weapons and new abilities.

To play Red Steel 2, gamers use the Wii's remote, with the MotionPlus add-on, and the nunchuk. Players move around with the nunchuk's thumbstick and, very occasionally, swing it during quick-time events. Players aim the remote at the screen and pull the trigger to fire off shots, or swing the remote to attack with the sword. Holding in the A button on the face of the remote pulls the sword out for parries.

The game can detect whether you hold the sword vertically or horizontally to block melee attacks or bullets. It can also detect whether you're swinging side to side or down to trigger the correct sword attack animation. It felt as if the biggest use of MotionPlus wasn't for angle of attack but to detect how hard and quickly you are swinging your virtual sword.

While the game will detect wrist motion it translates that in-game into languid movements of your sword. To do any damage you need to put some strength behind the swing. Swinging at the elbow will typically result in a regular attack, but if you put your hips into a swing your character will deliver a strong, more devastating attack.

Early on that's not an issue, but once you start taking on armored enemies, it's the only way you can win a fight.

The game's controls take a bit of getting used to, but once you come to grips with the fact that your motions are essentially triggers for the animation on the screen, like a fancy button push, the game becomes a lot more fun.

Initially you can take out most of your enemies from a distance with your gun, if you have the ammo, or smack them down with sword attacks. But the difficulty level quickly increases as you make your way through the game. The first real challenge comes when you have to face down an enemy who can only be taken out with backstabs. To do this, you need to dash using the A button and the thumbstick.

Later you face enemies that require skillful combinations of sword and gun attacks, something those enemies will rely heavily on to take you down.

It's when the game expects you to quickly slip between fairly precise gunplay and broad sweeps of your sword, that I had most fun.

I also enjoyed some of the mini-games found in Red Steel 2. For instance, you can hunt for safes and then use your Wii remote to crack them. To do this, you hold the remote up to your ear and turn it back and forth, listening to the speaker for the sound of a click. Then you press a button and move to the next number until you've unlocked the safe. Neat idea and great execution.

Graphically, Red Steel 2 is a fun game to experience. The hard outlines of the characters make their cartoonish appearance pop, which is the best sort of visuals for a Wii game.

I've just played through the first quarter or so of Red Steel 2 so far, but what I've experienced I've liked. My 8-year-old son, Tristan, also likes the teen-rated game. Its combination of broad and precise motion, its colorful aesthetic, come together to deliver an experience far more fun than the original Red Steel. Being only about half-way through the title, it's too early to tell if there will be enough of those complex fights and blending of motions to make the game the sort of deep experience I want, or whether the end result will be a game that feels too light, too easy to be satisfying.

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