Even before we get to such dull matters as graphics and gameplay, Red Steel 2 would score high just for rarity value. How many brilliant Wii action games are there? Erm, well, it doesn't look like you're in danger or running out of fingers to count on quite yet. What about Wii games that make use of the MotionPlus accessory? Again, we're not getting into double figures. And how about games on any system that are first-person sci-fi samurai Westerns? Borderlands? Maybe. Any others? Nope. In short, Red Steel 2 is the best MotionPlus-enabled first-person sci-fi samurai Western on the Wii, of a field of approximately one.
Still, the good news is that it's also one of the best games on Wii, full-stop. It's not quite in the same league as Super Mario Galaxy or the Metroid Prime Trilogy, but it's definitely good enough to make dusting off the little console worthwhile.
Let's get the tricky explanations out of the way right now. First, Red Steel 2 is set in a vaguely futuristic/post-apocalyptic Western world, which just happens to be populated with Oriental architecture, a primarily Japanese cast and warring Samurai clans. While you might be gunning down outlaws or facing a showdown in the saloon, the outlaws will be Mad Max rejects covered in Yakuza tattoos, and the saloon will have a weird mix of Eastern and Western styles and 21st century tech. None of this is explained, so you'll just have to take it at face value. You're an outlaw samurai, the city is in trouble, your clan has gone AWOL and you have a job to do. Get used to it.
Second, Red Steel 2 might look like an FPS, but in this game your six-shooter won't get as much use as your samurai sword. Here's where MotionPlus comes in (there are solus and bundled versions of the game). While you're exploring the maps you use the Wii's Nunchuk to move forwards and backwards and strafe, and the remote to move your view, aim and shoot. Close in on an enemy, however, and the auto-lock kicks in and the trusty remote becomes the handle of your virtual katana.
Slashing horizontally or vertically will trigger the expected attack, as will thrusting forwards. You can block with a press of the A button, but strong attacks need you to block with the remote tilted in the right position. Red Steel might not offer true 1:1 tracking, but it's definitely close enough to feel convincing, and the ferocity of your strikes in the real world is reflected in the world in-game. In fact, this is arguably the game's biggest downfall: it demands so much effort that your shoulders might only take an hour or so of play at a time.
Up to a point this works amazingly well, and even more so once the game starts to teach you more advanced techniques, that have you scooping enemies into the air with a powerful, button-assisted upward swing, then diving after them to finish them before they hit the ground. At first, the levels seem sparsely populated and delivered in piecemeal chunks, but after a while you begin to see the sense of the pacing, and the way Red Steel 2 puts together explosive little scuffles that use different combinations of enemies to test and grow your fighting skills.
Enemies are distinctive and well-designed, and the cool comic-book visuals - similar to Borderlands in style - make for one of the Wii's best-looking games. In fact, some of the scenery is gorgeous. What's more, the levels get less and less linear as time goes on, with side-quests and bonus objectives to complete on top of the main story missions.
All the same, the game shows a tendency in later stages to spam you with too many enemies or multiple armoured enemies (who require special treatment), and at this point you begin to wonder whether Red Steel 2 is asking too much of you and of MotionPlus. The auto-targeting begins to struggle with the numbers on the screen, the view shifts wildly, and it becomes very difficult to pull off the moves you need to in the heat of battle. Learning and mastering special moves and upgrading your sword will help, but Red Steel 2 can be an immensely frustrating game on the higher difficulty settings, while on the lower ones it might not be tough enough.
Frustrating however, doesn't mean impossible, and the last good thing about Red Steel 2 is that it's very hard to leave alone. Try, try again, change your tactics, and eventually you will win through, and you'll find you're repaid for your efforts. As gamers and game aficionados, we often lambast the Wii for its me-too, shovelware titles and short-term novelty hits, then rue the lack of original visions and gameplay ideas. Red Steel 2 deserves our praise. Not only is it one of the most unique and distinctive games we've seen in ages, on this or any other platform - it's also a huge amount of fun to play. Give your arms a good warm-up, hook up your Wii, move anything (or anyone) breakable out of reach and then give it a spin.