The packaging of Red Steel 2, the latest attempt at turning the Wii controller into a virtual katana, claims that gamers will be able to “strike with deadly precision.” That’s a bold statement, considering how terrible the original Red Steel was. But this time, Ubisoft has the Wii MotionPlus on its side, a one-inch plastic attachment that supposedly banishes the you-swing-then-your-avatar-swings lag that plagued the original Red Steel.
The star of Red Steel 2 is a nameless, faceless being known as The Hero. His job is to battle a nameless, faceless band of thugs known as The Jackals in a nameless, faceless town that resembles a half-built Old West amusement park. The Hero acquires Missions in the most pedestrian way imaginable: via a bulletin board. Most Missions consist of the “go here and fight these guys” variety, and are consistently so unremarkable that it’s challenging to distinguish one from the next. Between missions, The Hero can upgrade his katana and shotgun in one of the nearby shops. Destroying anything in the game, including the bizarrely oversized trash bags, earns coins. He can also train with a Mr. Miyagi-type in a nearby courtyard, acquiring new skills like The Rush, The Storm, or The Matador, all of which require memorizing new Wii-mote motions and button-presses.
Though there are some supposedly friendly faces in the game world, like sheriff Steve Judd and the big-boobed cliché Tamiko, Red Steel 2 is ultimately lonely and banal. In the name of earning a Teen rating, it’s strangely bloodless, too. A little personality and more narrative backbone would have gone a long way. Now and then, you’ll see glimpses of a better game. You’ll chain together a series of horizontal, vertical, and strong strikes, ending with a stylish Finisher, and suddenly the game feels empowering and vital.
But for every moment like this, when the fiction of the experience starts to come together, there are countless other moments when everything feels utterly beyond your control. So can one “strike with deadly precision” in Red Steel 2? Sort of, sometimes. Though the pesky lag is largely gone, all too often, gameplay still devolves into breathless, embarrassing exercises in flailing.