When I first got my Wii, I was only excited about the Virtual Console. If there was any game that got me hyped like nothing else, though, it was Twilight Princess. As a Zelda-fan, I was incredibly excited, as it seemed to be an expanded version of Ocarina of Time, with enough originality to stand on its own. However, it was always sold out and that led me to check out lesser titles for the system. Wii Sports was a fun time, and I did enjoy Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz when I got it, but I wanted a true single player experience. This led me to Red Steel. I love Western and Eastern-inspired movies, so this installment by Ubisoft seemed appealing to me. An exclusive title that combined shooting and sword fighting in a game featuring motion-controls was intriguing, to say the least. After watching the Kill Bill-movies with my sister, I felt it was about time to go back and see how enjoyable this title really was.
At a hotel dining room with your future fiance, you play as a guy called Scott who used to be her bodyguard. As she and her father meet up and have a small chat before meeting you, a waiter pulls out an Uzi and an ambush occurs. You might have already predicted that you must save the father and fiance, and find out what is going on. This is how the game basically starts, and it simply goes upwards from here with a Yakuza-story filled with treachery, honor-code, colorful characters, and even an important sword you must protect.
It is incredibly cheesy, but surprisingly memorable with a plot that develops well and a small cast of characters being presented at each plot-point, making it easy to follow and appreciate the story. Characters like your heartwarming mob and future father-in-law Isao Sato, and a flirty but respecting sword-trainer Mariko, really are just a few examples of how simple, but memorable and enjoyable the people you meet can be.
Sadly, your girlfriend is the only character that is dull and one I had a hard time caring for, making me forget that I had to save her on multiple occasions. Another unfortunate issue is that, with the exception of one traitor, many of the bad guys get little to no screen time, which is a terrible shame. These are bizarre and interesting enemies, with one even creating a strange haunted house for me to venture through with Super Sentai and Godzilla included in it, and another had an interesting approach to making Geisha more modern. They have so much potential, so it is a shame they don’t stay longer and become a bigger part of the plot.
The story does seem to be self-aware with over-the-top acting and dialog that can be over-dramatic and even silly at times. Despite this, the tale is far from amazing and there are some major problems. Scott, the main protagonist, doesn’t have a personality at all and while he is supposed to represent you, a voice from someone who clearly has a personality would have been welcome. There was also one part where I suddenly escaped a situation with no clear explanation on how and the final boss just appeared out of nowhere with little build-up.
All of this can be forgiven though, when you travel to different locations inspired by both American and Japanese areas, from the drag-race with garages and exploding cars to the temple of your master with a beautiful garden. Having a story with colorful characters and oozing with cheese helps a lot and it is all popcorn-worthy, even if it is a simple B-movie approach. But good God, damsels in distress can and should be more interesting than this.
Story score: 5.5/10
Guns beat swords
With only a gun in your hand at first, you are set in a linear first-person shooter, with the ability to only carry two weapons at a time. I personally enjoy this mechanic as it makes you choose how you want to deal with the threats, and Red Steel does a good job of balancing each gun. Shotguns pack a great punch, but can’t hit from afar and take time to reload, while an Uzi causes continuous damage and might be ideal for crowd-control, but not much else. This strategy will also be affected by what weapons the enemy uses, as you’ll have to scavenge their bodies for ammo.
Guns come in plenty of different types, so there will definitely be some favorites, but none ever become useless. Aiming with the Wiimote is surprisingly comfy. Pointing and making accurate shots is done easily with a small cursor that you can aim with, which makes headshots an appealing strategy. Pressing the A-button can lock onto enemies and make your aim sturdier and by using B to shoot, it makes the gunfire feel more interactive. Even zooming by thrusting the remote towards the screen feels accurate and good, Turning your character by pointing left and right is fast and smooth, however looking up or down can, unfortunately, take a while. It is not terrible, but a box with turn-sensitivity instead of grades of sensitivity would have been helpful.
Not that it matters too much, as the enemies are clear targets that have uneven accuracy. They will pop out of cover or simply move around, similar to an on-rails shooter. This makes the enemy easy to deal with until they begin to take 3 shotgun-blasts to their faces in order to kill them. Luckily, they can also deal heavy damage to you, giving the game a sense of challenge. Because of this, cover is a heavily utilized mechanic in this game, as there are plenty of objects to hide behind that can be destroyed or even explode. As an added ability, you can flick with the nunchuck to tip over tables to make a cove and it works wonders. Your character also has regenerating health, and with no health pick-ups being available, it is important to utilize this. The armor pick-ups you can acquire for additional help won’t last long either, so it is clear that taking cover and being defensive in shoot-outs has more of a focus, despite the poor enemy AI. To give an example, they can blow themselves up with their own grenades and make pinpoint accurate shots in the same level.
Speaking of which, Scott can also pick up upwards of 6 grenades and either toss them in an arc or roll them on the floor, using nunchuck-motions replicating the different throws. This works perfectly and is fun to do; a shame there isn’t a Bomberman-version of this. Unfortunately, while the gunplay can be hectic and satisfying with plenty of enemies, there are times when you must follow the code of honor and fight one on one with your swords. I think that must be the only reason as for why I can’t just shoot the enemy, but this is both what I was most excited about and what turned into the game’s downfall. When you enter a sword-fight, you will be locked unto one other character and use the Wiimote to swing the sword, dodge with the C-button and the analog-stick, and swing the nunchuck to block and maybe do a combo.
Dodging heavy attacks and blocking minors is quite fun, with blocking at the right moment stunning the enemy you’re fighting. However, when it comes to attacking, it really doesn’t matter where you swing. If you keep swinging and maybe dodge once or twice, you can basically spam the normal attack without any consideration for where you hit. This makes about 95% of the sword-fights simply terrible, as the Wiimote only registers where you point with the sword and not where you swing with it. The only couple of enemies that required me to dodge and block some more, where those with stamina bars as they needed to become exhausted from hitting the air.
There are some combos you can pull off and skills to break the opponent’s sword or cause huge damage, but they register only 60% of the time, making them hard to rely on. To give a perfect example on how underdeveloped the fights are, you learn about breaking poisonous swords in the next to the last fight, when you have had the ability since the earlier parts of the game. The only fun parts with the sword were in the shooter-segments where I could stab an enemy with the nunchuck when he or she was too close to me.
Thankfully, the gunplay takes up about 80% of the game, which I am all for as they include a lot of variations to the gameplay. The objectives don’t change much from shooting and killing enemies, but due to the different locations and weapons, it makes each encounter engaging, with both high and low grounds to be aware of and it does throw in smaller events such as surviving for a limited time or getting a keycard to venture further. The added explosive objects and minor platforming for finding more goodies like ammo and weapons, add enough to make the areas engaging.
However, the best addition is the time-stop move. By killing enemies and sparing others, you will fill up a bar around your ammo-counter and whenever it has some charge, you can freeze time and place marks on their bodies to kill them and/or on their guns to shock them. When they take a bullet to their guns, you can make them surrender by swinging Wiimote downwards and if you do so to a leader, the enemies will be so confused, they will follow as well. This is a great and unique addition, giving the game an original personality. The only off thing about the stages is when the game saves. The checkpoints are good, setting you right before a big battle, but auto-saving happens infrequently, making me have to backtrack a bit whenever a checkpoint doesn’t save the game. It is not a huge deal-breaker, but noticeable.
At the end of each stage, you get ranked on accuracy, time, and how many you spared in swordfights. If you wonder what happens if you kill an enemy, basically nothing. From ranks, you can get respect-points, which the game does a terrible job at telling you what they are for. These are for unlocking training-sessions with a gunslinger to get more guns, and for more training-session with your swordmaster for more moves and benefits. While these are great extras, the unpolished gameplay with poor AI and terrible sword-fights can be a drag. These are luckily smaller issues compared the fun gunplay and great levels, but I just wish there was more focus on what they made work.
Gameplay score: 5.5/10
Beauty that ages
I usually start this segment with talking about the game’s visuals, but I really want to go into the soundtrack first as it is incredibly effective. Each composition fits the environment perfectly, such as the neon-lit streets of Tokyo having more energetic pop, or the shoot-out in a museum-building using a choir, el-guitar and hard drums, giving it an epic and intense atmosphere. Even the simpler tunes, like the piano melody in the bar you can visit between certain missions, adds to the setting and immersion. This diverse soundtrack complements the locations as they are varied and vast, yet connected in the theme of Japanese and American settings, whether it be urban locations or naturalistic areas.
However, it is not just how personal and unique the locations can be, with a sketchy masseuse-hotel or a shooting-arena being some favorites of mine, but also how the stages themselves change and feel realistic. A great example is the first stage itself. It takes you all over the place, with dining-halls, a bar, the electricity room, rooftops, hallways, dorms, the laundry-basement and ending in the parking lot. All stages have the same variation in progression, making each stage a treat to venture through. The environmental objects as well make the areas feel real, as they fill up the place and you can destroy them. I also love minor additions, such as how a masseuse-parlor has high-quality cameras hidden behind mirrors. I really miss the times when being a mature shooter did not mean lacking in colors and creativity.
I start by appreciating the environments as the character models are at best average, but can easily drop to terrible. The lighting makes them look plastic with terrible pixelated lines and while the textures are decent, they have flat and stiff movements. The artistic designs fair much better as they are clothed appropriately for the areas they are in, with Yakuza dressed up as waitresses in hotels, car-mechanics have overalls, and people are half-naked in the shower-rooms. It, unfortunately, gets worse in the presentation. There are often graphical glitches where characters will stand in their T-pose and due to the ragdoll-physics, they can easily glitch through doors or obstacles when they die. These are as hilarious as they are disorientating. Another issue is the uneven framerate. It is one thing to have low framerate, but when it is inconsistent, it can easily destroy the immersion. I also wish the checkpoints did not pause the game, which makes me afraid it will freeze every time.
On a more positive note, the sounds are quite impressive. Every shot and swing with the sword sounds fantastic and differs depending on what you attack and with what. Other small details, such as how the Wiimote makes sounds when you reload are satisfying, and who doesn’t love the sound of a shotgun? The voice actors give a cheesy performance, with American-English, Engrish, and Japanese dialogue being all over the place. It works great with the settings and even the enemies shout in their native languages.
The comic-book style cutscenes are an interesting choice, but I do enjoy them as they age better than the in-game graphics, with simple movements and the same quality to dialogues. Overall, the game has a fantastic style, that is unfortunately unpolished. Though holding your gun like a gangster is entertaining for all the dumb reasons.
Presentation score: 7/10
Aim at the screen
Being ranked by the end of the stages doesn’t really give an incentive to replay the stages, though the option is there and the stages are fun to revisit. However, like many other shooters, there is multiplayer for 2-4 players, but only offline sadly. After choosing a character and maybe a bonus-feat to add to your playstyle, such as double damage, there are only three modes to choose from: deathmatch, team deathmatch, and one unique style. The first two are easy to understand, but the last one will have the Wiimote speak and make one player be the target for all others to hunt down. This is very fun and due to how big the levels are, it is a nice feature to have. It is honestly nothing compared to other shooters and is lacking in more creative features, but is an entertaining distraction that is worth revisiting a couple of times.
Extra score: 5.5/10
Red Steel is a problematic game that has a great charm to it. It is clunky, clearly rushed and could definitely use a remake of some sort. However, the shooting is still fun due to engaging gunplay, and the areas you visit and the story you unfold are intriguing and inviting, which makes me care about what is going on and makes me want to explore these environments. If you are okay with an interesting look at how the Wii started out and love some cheesy Yakuza-story, you will definitely enjoy this. Just try not to wreck your controller while using the sword.