The notes I scrawled for this review read like a list of comparisons. In fact, they are a list of comparisons. But don't take my word for it: Ubisoft Paris's sequel to their 2006 Wii launch title pushes graphical boundaries a lot like Madworld. The music is Borderlands-esque. You may find the swordplay evocative of Wii Sports Resort. And the short, looping videos showing you how to perform certain maneuvers are (woefully) reminiscent of Wii Fit (or at least the ads for it).
But that's not to say Red Steel 2 is unoriginal. Certainly, the one comparison we can never make is to Red Steel. Number two is a very different (imminently more polished) beast, indeed.
In Red Steel 2 you'll play as the last of the Kusagari, an ancient and revered group responsible for the protection of Caldera. Caldera, a city set in a broken down, futuristic American region known as the Red West, is under the anarchic thumb of the Jackals; a breed of bad bastards who are made up mostly of murderers and thieves.
Following a five-year banishment, your character returns to find Caldera overrun, friends in need of help and his paternally bestowed katana pilfered. Fortunately, you've got a sidearm and some mates who know where you can get a stand-in. A few masked bandits aren't going to stop you from getting all LV Martin & Son on it, now, are they?
At first I thought Red Steel 2 was trying to be too many things at once (not helped by those comparisons that kept coming to mind). Cowboys wear Hawaiian shirts, Japanese girls speak with Texan drawls, and somehow the story's leading man is just as adept using that hallmark shooter of the west - the revolver - as he is razor-sharp samurai steel. On top of that, the game's demonstrably an FPS, but with the addition of weapons requiring a completely unique control scheme, and employs a bizarre mix of story telling, action and quick-time events.
Oh, but: it mostly works.
First off, it's impossible not to adore the graphical style employed here. That alone is reason enough to forgive RS2 a few of its wee sins. Like SEGA's Madworld, technically constrained devs working with the Wii have gone for style over substance. And just like with Madworld, it really pays off. The characters, while often low on personality and with some strange habits in locomotion, look fantastic. The cartoonish style suits the madcap action, and everything from buildings to tumbleweeds to exploding trucks has been rendered with a deft artistic eye. I always feel like I'm forgetting something obvious when I say things like "These are the best graphics I have ever seen on the Wii," so let me be a bit cowardly and say instead these are my favourite graphics ever on the Wii.
Perhaps the first chink in the game's armour comes early, during tutorial. Inexplicably, short videos of a wholesome blonde woman have been included to show you how to swing the Remote or Nunchuk for particular elements of swordplay. These only appear as you stand in a secluded dojo, about to go toe-to-toe with a wooden and burlap dummy. But still, they materialise on screen in little boxes - right in the middle of the HUD - and push you out of the action like someone sneezing on the back of your neck in the cinema during Bridge to Terabithia. The moves aren't that complex! The animations used in-game that tell you when to execute a finishing move should have sufficed, and failing that, animated videos in the same style as the game's graphics would have been far better. Ugh, even still diagrams. She haunts me. That blonde woman. She haunts me.
That aside, the tutorial does a good job of explaining how you play, and you'll need to visit the dojo several times early in the game as you complete missions and expand your repertoire of abilities. Getting to grips with the controls is very easy, even if you've never used the highly sensitive Wii Motion Plus attachment before (required to play, and included with some versions). I am equally impressed with the ease-of-use here as I was with Wii Sports Resort, in which the swordplay game was very much a highlight. Things work in a similar fashion here, apart from all the additional violence of course. The mechanic for swapping between steel and shooter is seamless, and all-in-all the control system is highly developed and a key function of the game's success. No one likes feeling like they're waving a very expensive piece of Weet-Bix at that little black sensor. There are options for toying with the sensitivity also, requiring a differing level of precision for each, and depending on how much of purist you want to be in attack and defence.
On the atmosphere front, things can get a little choppy. At one point the game's music ceased in the middle of a furious battle, for example, while swords clanged, bullets ricocheted, and the Jackal grunts grunted. But while no one was shooting, stabbing or grunting, there was only silence. A shame, because it really highlighted just how shallow the sound effects in Red Steel 2 are. And when they're not shallow, they're downright awful: some of the voice acting, particularly that of lead villain Payne, is cringe-worthy. However, the music kicked in again after a while, and the desolate western style backing track wiped the slate clean. Just as with the airy, slow-paced music of Borderlands helping set the scene for a vast and open world, the old-time flavour of the music in Red Steel 2 (with a few surprises thrown in) is perfectly suited.
Apart from a few other niggles (doors taking so long to open once you have activated them that you'll think the game has hung) Red Steel 2 is a very good game. It's more or less the same as I remember it following Monaco's E3 night in July last year, too, only more responsive and far prettier (same amount of pretty - blame that on my poor recall).
Red Steel 2 has a fantastic control system, finally delivering on the promises made by the original, and the Samurai and cowboy sensibilities make for an interesting mashup and a fun premise. There are few quality titles giving the Wii a bit of edge, but this is surely one - an edge of cold, red steel.
If only my swordplay was as deft and subtle as my wordplay.