Putting aside, for a second, the fact that proper 1:1 waggling is what we all thought we were getting with the Wii in the first place, Nintendo's Wii MotionPlus supposedly makes possible a dream long held by boys who love their toys: virtual sword fighting. Red Steel 2, which only works if you've got one of Nintendo's curious cuboid peripherals plugged into your Wii Remote, sets out to be the game that finally makes that dream a reality. The result - predictably - isn't quite as good as we'd hoped. But it's a right blast, all the same.
Usually at this point in a review of a sequel we start going through what's new and what's better. With Red Steel 2, however, there's no point, because it bears so little resemblance to the Wii launch title that you'd think no-one at Ubisoft Paris had played it. In Red Steel you played Scott Monroe, who found himself embroiled in a Yakuza-fuelled thriller set in contemporary USA and Japan. In Red Steel 2 you play the mysterious, silent Hero, a samurai cowboy plunged into a sci-fi Wild West clan war with only his superhuman sword skills to save him from death in the desert. There are no links to the past. No revisited themes, settings or characters. It feels, for all intent and purpose, as if Ubisoft Paris has wiped the bad memory that was Red Steel from its brain and started over.
Still, Red Steel 2 is unmistakeably Red Steel's follow up. It betters its predecessor's failed fusing of first-person shooting and sword fighting in almost every way. It's meaty, mostly responsive, and hugely satisfying. Transitioning from slicing and dicing to shooting is seamless, and combos and finishers flow into each other with the fluidity normally associated with third-person hack and slashers. Some of the attacks are positively brutal; point blank headshots and savage stabbings are Red Steel's bread and butter (which makes the lack of blood all the more jarring). The game does a great job of making you feel as cool, slick and powerful as you'd imagine the greatest samurai cowboy to ever walk a sci-fi Wild West world would feel, if such a being and such a place were to exist.
It works like this: shooting is a simple case of pointing the Wii Remote and pulling the trigger, but any slicing or stabbing action instantly draws the sword in front of the camera and mimics the angle and power of your real world strike. In this sense, Red Steel 2 simulates that motion controlling holy grail: 1:1 movement (albeit with a little bit of lag and flaky precision). You can twist the remote and the in-game sword will twist accordingly - although doing so has little bearing on combat. But it is only the illusion of 1:1 movement. The game is still translating your motion into an on-screen attack. You can't, for example, turn the Wii Remote around and stab yourself in the belly. But Red Steel 2 does do waggle-based sword fighting better than any game before it, and that's good enough for us.
Your strikes are registered as being horizontal or vertical, and quick or powerful - and you need to make sure you're performing the right combination in order to counter the impressively varied and relentless enemies. Holding the Wii Remote horizontally causes Hero to hold his katana horizontally. Holding the Wii Remote vertically causes Hero to hold his katana vertically. In this way, Red Steel 2 actually has sort of realistic blade blocking; horizontally holding the Wii Remote and holding A blocks vertical strikes, and, conversely, vertically holding the Wii Remote and holding A blocks horizontal strikes. When you nail the timing and start to block attacks with joyous abandon, you really do feel as if you're actually wielding a katana.
Supplementing these player-mimicked attacks are more traditional command-based Hidden Strikes and Kusagari Powers. Holding A and B and thrusting downward, for example, triggers The Bear, which slams your katana into the ground and stuns enemies in an area of effect. Tapping left or right with the stick and pressing A, then slicing horizontally in a wide arc, performs the Matador - great for quickly getting behind enemies who have strong front defence. Thrusting the Wii Remote and the Nunchuck forward while holding A triggers the Tiger - the katana is held horizontally for a second and glows gold; any enemy attack that hits your blade while in this state causes a stun parry, giving you the opportunity to do some damage. Red Steel 2's combat system is surprisingly deep, and requires quick reflexes and perhaps more physical effort than any game in the Wii's short history. After a session, expect aching arms.
The Hidden Strikes and Kusagari Powers have nothing to do with mapping your movement on screen. Instead, they're all about registering your input, whether it's back and A then a wide arc slash, or double tap A then downward thrust. These attacks, while meaty and satisfying, remind you that, despite the Wii MotionPlus, you're playing a video game based on translating button presses and motions into in-game animations. This isn't a criticism, more an observation that Red Steel 2 isn't a sword fighting simulator.
The combat's only let down by the occasional bout of unresponsiveness, lag, and frustration. The MotionPlus can't save Red Steel 2 from lapses in concentration. Sometimes as you frantically slice downwards trying to trigger a finisher, you get the impression that the game is off on holiday laying out on a deck chair catching some rays. Towards the end of the game, when you find yourself going up against loads of enemies at once, some of which move very quickly and skilfully block your attacks, the waggling makes you want to tear your arms off just so you have something to throw at the telly. And, while you get used to having to move the camera by pushing the pointer to the edges of the screen, you can't help but long for dual analogue stick controls. The precision on offer here is good - for a Wii game - but the Wii's single stick control scheme simply can't compare with dual stick offerings.