Silhouetted in cowboy boots and a broad-brimmed hat, with a katana flaring out alongside his duster, the hero on the cover of Red Steel 2 looks like he’s ready to kill whatever life is left in the fusion of Western and Eastern imagery — the same mix of cultural clichés that the movie Sukiyaki Western Django did too well and anime like Afro Samurai have done too much.
But there’s something elegant about the way that Red Steel 2 presents its cultural mashup. Cacti grow alongside bamboo. Tumbleweeds roll past torii. The breathy tones of a shakuhachi weave among the jangles of a guitar on the soundtrack. The juxtaposition of the two cultures isn’t the starting point of the game — it’s merely the backdrop to a form of combat that merges the two distinct styles of control made possible by the Wii Remote: shooting and swording.
The Wii has had its share of shooters. The Wii Remote, as its name suggests, is designed to be a pointer, and games such as Metroid Prime 3 and The Conduit have taken advantage of its precise aiming. Without the need to twiddle a thumbstick, pointing and shooting on the Wii becomes an instinctive act.
Swordfighting hasn’t fared as well, however. The Wii Remote’s motion sensitivity is uncertain at best, and most of the games that have tried to translate real-world gestures into in-game actions have ended up resorting to pre-programmed approximations. Both Dragon Quest Swords and No More Heroes, which feature swordplay, have limited players to basic up-and-down and side-to-side gestures.
Red Steel 2’s innovation is to combine both kinds of action. The Remote serves as a firearm when I pull its trigger button, and as a sword when I swing it through the air. Despite the fusion fighting system built into the Remote, the game rarely confused my frantic aiming with my sword-slinging. Perhaps its discernment was assisted by the Wii MotionPlus attachment, which is required for the game.
Both styles of combat are drawn on throughout the game. Heavily armored enemies, invulnerable to my gun, often fight with lightweight sidekicks who can be picked off with bullets while I dodge around, stabbing at their sturdier comrades. And even with the game’s blocky graphics, there’s a violent thrill in shooting an attacker in the legs, dropping them to their knees and then slicing neatly through their neck. Red Steel 2 isn’t original in its mix of samurai and showdowns, but it’s the first game to offer a satisfying Wild West slice-’em-up.
THE GOOD: Not only do enemies appear in cunning configurations, but they fight with admirable variety, forcing me to study their sword positions closely, changing from horizontal to vertical blocking positions even as I adjust my tactics to break through their own shifting defenses.
THE BAD: While the Wii MotionPlus accurately makes my onscreen sword shift with every minute tilt of my hand, my attacks are always shown launching from the same old pre-programmed horizontal and vertical angles that have already sliced through every other Wii sword game.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Red Steel 2 sports a smooth samurai-and-Western style with fighting mechanics to match.