So I just got Red Steel 2 for the Wii and I wanted to convey my impressions of the game to all of you lovely folks who read this blog (all three or four of you). For those unfamiliar, Red Steel 2 is the sequel to the first real first person shooter on the Wii, a game that somehow included pistols, machine guns, rifles, and…swords.

The first game was a “rescue the girl while fighting through hordes of Yakuza-like enemies in modern/future Japan or something” game that was somewhat fun, but ultimately a little lackluster and more of a tech demo than anything else. The sequel is a pseudo-steampunk western with ninjas, completely unrelated to the original except by title. However, the major difference between the two is that RS2 makes use of the Wii MotionPlus, the accessory that attaches to the bottom of the Wiimote in order to allow for 1:1 motion tracking. You may have already used it in Wii Sports Resort.

Anyway, my first impression during my first hour or two of play was, “Holy crap, this is f***ing cool!” The swordplay is genuinely pretty awesome, essentially recognizing nine different slices (up, down, left, right, both diagonals in both directions, and a forward thrust) at three different velocities (not a swing, light swing, and your-arm-is-totally-gonna-hurt-after-this). There are special moves ranging from simple dodges to leaping through the air and slicing down into the enemy’s cranium at inhuman speed. Later, you can even get abilities that let you hit everything around you, knock enemies straight up into the air, and charge in to deliver some pretty brutal finishers. It’s all pretty cool and the style keeps the combat itself from ever feeling too stale.

However, one of the key tenets of the game is making money. You would think that most of this money would be accrued through the game’s mandatory and optional missions, each awarding about $5,000-$15,000. There are, however, two other sources of money: hidden tokens that you either collect or shoot and the destruction of random property scattered throughout the areas you explore. The missions and the tokens make sense, one to reward progress and the other to reward (in theory) a keen eye or the initiative to explore, but as much as I hate to say it, the property destruction does not.

Now I like destroying stuff as much as or more than the next guy. The drive to destroy things in video games goes back as far as smashing blocks in Mario and continues through massive explosive sprees in games like Armored Core and Red Faction and the kill-everything-in-sight in the Painkiller and Just Cause series, for example. Red Steel 2 takes things to another level. Let’s say you’re going to earn $5,000 to complete a mission that involves, say, finding 6 of some random object (e.g. communication towers or bars of gold). Now, you notice on your way that there’s a pile of 6-8 crates, all of which can be smashed. You obliterate said crates and, for whatever reason, inside was a total of, say, $450.This is not an uncommon scenario.

The most common opponent in Red Steel 2

Now you think to yourself, “Gee, I wonder if anything else gives me money when I destroy it?” Lo and behold, just about everything does. You find yourself running from vending machine to pay phone to mailbox to pile of barrels swinging your motion-sensitive sword like a madman, slashing through everything from boxes to bags of garbage and raking in money by the truckload. Soon you realize that the missions are but a paltry source of income compared to wreaking unfettered havoc.

In the process of all of this, you discover that this is also the best way to discover coins and tokens (worth $3k or $5k), incredibly glitchy safe-cracking mini-games (worth $3k), boxes of ammunition, and assorted supply closets that store everything from ammo to more money. The wanton annihilation of every single piece of junk that you come across is inevitably not just a side-track, an optional quest of sorts to keep you occupied when you don’t want to pursue the primary story; it is a central and almost unavoidable component of the Red Steel 2 experience. When you consider all of the money and supplies that you would miss out on, and therefore all of the weapon and ability purchases and upgrades as well, it is almost impossible to pass up this uncontrolled mayhem. To make matters worse, ALL of this junk respawns every single time you enter or exit a base/dojo (the place where you train, upgrade, and receive new missions). Not only do you have to destroy everything, you have to do it repeatedly as you backtrack in and out of each of the locales that you have already visited.

When you realize this, the well-done combat goes almost entirely out the window. At the very least, it takes a back seat to the metal barrel massacre. The game becomes measured not in how many missions you’ve completed or how many nameless thugs have fallen to your sword or firearm, but how many bags of garbage, vending machine, or wooden crates that lie shattered at your feet, their treasure troves of cash now yours to behold.

It really makes me wonder: Is this a special kind of hell, or is it exactly what we all wanted all along?

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