Version tested: Wii
For me, Red Steel 2 began with a mini-game: track down the Wii MotionPlus. Under the sofa? Stuck in a box in the hallway? Lodged behind the dim mahogany bulk of my travel luggage? I spent the best part of 30 minutes searching - 30 minutes that served as a reminder that few developers have chosen to take a risk on Nintendo's handy piece of kit. Granted, Ubisoft's latest, which is a genuine MotionPlus exclusive, is hardly the most foolhardy undertaking in the whole sweep of history: after all, Enrico Fermi once built a nuclear reactor on a squash court. That was pretty stupid. He wasn't hoping to charge people to play with it, however.
In this case, though, Ubisoft's strategy is easy to applaud. While Red Steel 2's relationship with the MotionPlus is faintly troubled - at times, you're revelling in things which would have been impossible with the standard Wii remote, while at other moments you could be forgiven for thinking the magical device is merely a new form of credibility tax - you can't question the developer's intentions. Ubisoft Paris has taken the chance to build a 'proper' action experience for the Wii entirely seriously, and while Red Steel 2 is hardly a perfect game, it's often an extremely enjoyable one.
Don't worry if you've forgotten the first Red Steel: so has the sequel. One game in and it's reboot time for the swords-and-shooters franchise. Red Steel 2 has no returning characters, no mediating subtitle (although having spent the best part of a weekend waving the remote around I reckon You'll Never Play the Accordion Again might have been appropriate) and no real links to the first game at all.
So rather than a Yakuza-riddled tale of modern-day Japan, you'll wake up this time in a weird mish-mash future. It's Kurosawa meets John Wayne, with a little William Gibson slid in between. That's blending films and books together fairly messily, but Red Steel 2 really doesn't seem to have a problem with mess. The game makes no attempt to explain its collision of gunslingers and cyber-ninjas, nor does it ponder why vending machines and black trash bags compete for space with spurs and drafty old saloons, and it's all the better for it.
In fact, the greatest strength of Ubisoft's latest is its curiously entertaining world: wooden temples and Seven-Elevens clip together just as snugly as the Katana you clutch in one hand and the shotgun you wield with the other, and the environments are a sustained pleasure to take in, calling to mind Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath and Borderlands. The character models are equally good too, from the Jackals, who look like S&M farm help, to the Katakara clan, resembling Samurai storm troopers as they spit hot death out of prohibition-era "Johnnyguns".
On top of the smart visual design is a neat quest structure, which sees you moving through most of the game world by taking on missions from sheriff's boards. The objectives themselves soon start to cycle, but it's a system that can exert a unique pull if handled well, and the game is always careful to send you out into the small, warren-like maps with both a story mission and some long-term collection tasks to get on with. Red Steel 2's insistent tug on your attention is definitely not an accomplishment that should be taken for granted: this is one of those games that is very good at giving you a steady sense of achieving something.
Most of the time, the missions lead to combat, and combat is split between the sword and the gun in an entirely free-form manner. Both are decent enough on their own - shots are fired by pointing the remote and pulling the trigger, while the katana requires a proper slashing movement - but the game really wants you to combine attacks as you take on adversaries who know when to come in close and when to move out of reach.