If there is such thing as a reverse system-seller - a title that falls so far short of expectations that it actually casts a cloud of doubt over an entire console - then the original Red Steel was that game. Lured in by the promise of visceral motion-controlled swordplay, early adopters instead experienced a hodgepodge of uninspired combat, ugly visuals and, most damning for Nintendo's fledgling console, utterly broken controls. What might have been a rousing proof of concept that the Wii could offer a unique twist on the first-person shooter instead offered evidence that the system was really just an underpowered gimmick.
Now, nearly three and a half years later, Ubisoft has released less a sequel than a do-over, this time with the added precision of the Wii Motion Plus add-on. It's little surprise that the controls have tightened accordingly. What's more shocking is that nearly every other aspect of the game has improved as well.
Red Steel 2 ditches the shoddy realism of its predecessor in favor of a more stylized setting. Instead of taking place in modern-day Tokyo, Red Steel 2's locales are a mashup of Wild West ghost towns, Japanese pagodas and industrial machinery. The game's art direction similarly veers away from the original Red Steel. Gone are the character models resembling those of the N64's GoldenEye, replaced by cel-shaded samurai that wouldn't look out of place in an Eastern version of Borderlands. It's a universally positive change; instead of trying for photorealism and stumbling out of the gate due to the Wii's lack of graphical horsepower, Red Steel 2 carves its own unique atmosphere from relatively limited means.
As dramatic an improvement as the world design is, though, it pales in comparison to the enhancements to Red Steel 2's combat. Once again, Ubisoft threw the original game's stilted combat out the window in favor of something more fluid and natural. In Red Steel 2, both your sword and your arsenal of firearms are available at all times, though you'll find different weapons more suited to different purposes. Some enemies are heavily armored, making them impervious to bullets until you land enough blows to slash off their chestguards; others pester you from a distance with machine gun fire even as you confront other melee combatants. This setup forces you to develop and execute a strategy on the fly or risk repeated failure - and there's no Super Guide to hold your hand through this harrowing experience.