Wii 25-in-25: Red Steel 1 & 2,
When the promotion and hype for the Wii first began, one of the game’s that dominated the attention of many hardcore gamers was Red Steel. The motion controls of the Wii were such a new and uncertain idea at the time, but right out of the gate was a game that promised players the chance to live out one of the great dreams of childhood that has echoed down the centuries: sword fighting. How many of us can honestly say we never at least once as children picked up a stick and played at sword fighting either alone or with friends? Even in this modern era where guns have become the dominate weapon of personal combat, the allure of two skilled warriors going at it with blades in hand has a primal appeal that crosses countries and cultures alike. And here was a game that promised to allow players to live out such fantasies like never before and all through the lens of a blood-soaked tale of modern day would-be samurai mixing it up with both swords and guns in hand.
It sounded so perfect, but there was just one little catch: the Wii as it was at launch simply could not deliver fully on the promises its creators were making in regards to motion controls. So while Red Steel was supposed to be the ultimate sword fighting fantasy brought to life, the actual reality of the game was far less satisfying, to say the very least.
There is no point in mincing words: Red Steel was not a very good game or even a particularly memorably bad one. Outside of a well done soundtrack, the game was entirely mediocre and with little worthy of note going for it beyond the fact of it being a launch title for its chosen platform. Bad enough that the game featured the kind of boring cliché-ridden story and bland by-the-numbers setting that left it with little in the way of personality or charm to call its own.
No, the real problem that dogged Red Steel was that the sword fighting featured in the game was clumsy, clunky, and simply not very fun to play around with. The title’s gameplay was a huge distance from the “realistic swordplay” that had been promised in the lead up to its release and that more than anything ultimately doomed it to failure from a critical perspective. So while Red Steel did do decent enough as sales go thanks in large part to its status as a launch title, it quickly became little more than a half-remembered footnote at best, seemingly destined for obscurity of the worse kind.
However, this is where Red Steel 2 comes into the picture. Everything Red Steel 1 aspired towards and promised to be? Red Steel 2 managed to truly embody and more. Just as Red Steel 1 was a launch title for the Wii, so too did Red Steel 2 blaze its own new ground by being the first third-party game to make use of Nintendo’s Wii Motion Plus Accessory. This little add-on to the Wii-mote finally allowed the Wii to more or less achieve the one-to-one motion that had long been promised for the system, and with this breakthrough Red Steel 2 would also be set to redeem the failed potential of its predecessor as well.
No bones about it, Red Steel 2 has some of the best implementation of motion controls I have ever run up against. While I would rate Skyward Sword as making better overall use of motion gaming, when it comes to recreating the feel and essence of a life or death sword fight, Red Steel 2 remains without equals. From crossing blades with up to six opponents at a time to deflecting bullets Jedi-style, the gameplay of Red Steel 2 was slick, smooth, and just plain fun to experience. Add in equally well implemented motion-based gunplay and the ability to toggle between the two combat modes with the simple act of flipping the position of the Wiimote in one’s hand and everything needed for a memorable experience on the gameplay side of the equation was present in Red Steel 2.
Yet that is not the only thing the game had going for it. Gone was the generic modern day setting of the first Red Steel and in its place was a vibrant and lively futuristic setting that mixed liberally elements of the old west and the age of the samurai into a hearty and enjoyable stew. While not the first property to make use of such a setting by any means, Red Steel 2’s choice of influences still managed to feel fresh and unique in its own right.
Further helping this aspect of the game out was the choice to move away from the would-be realistic graphics of Red Steel in favor of a cel-shaded aesthetic that helped to truly bring the game’s world to life. It was a visual approach that personally reminded me of me nothing less than the Borderlands series and I was not the only one to pick up on this similarity. So while Red Steel 2 never managed to unspool as memorable of a set of characters or story as the ones seen in those games (particularly Borderlands 2) it is still to the credit of the game just how favorable it comes off when compared to what has become one of THE breakout new IPs of recent years.
Red Steel 2 was not a game without its problems to be sure (not least of which being a mission design and overall approach to exploration that would have benefited immensely from a more open-world structure and greater variety outside of combat), but its strengths ultimately far outweighed it flaws in my opinion. Between the quality of Red Steel 2 and the historical significance of Red Steel as a Wii launch title, this is one series that deserves to not only be remembered but kept going. Red Steel 2 did the hard work of really establishing a basic combat formula and setting for the series that has been subsequently proven can work. In a perfect world Red Steel 3 for the Wii U would be in production even as we speak. Thinking of how such a game could make use of all of that’s systems strengths and unique functionality to really let the series cut loose is enough to get my mouth watering. Still, even if such a game never materializes, Red Steel 2 remains one of the more memorable exclusives to make its way onto the Wii especially in terms of third party releases. Between its combat system, graphics, and setting/story, this is one game more than worthy of a place of honor in any current Wii and/or future Wii U software library.
Be sure to stay tuned to the Wii’s 25-in-25 to see more great Wii games.