Retro-Review: Red Steel

Red Steel

Over the years, I have collected quite a lot of games for my various consoles. But none of my libraries are as big as the one I have for my Wii, where I’m getting closer and closer to 100 games. I feel that I don’t play those games enough, so I want to start this little series of blog articles, where I cover those games one after another. Some of them will be mainstream titles, others will be rarities, so there’ll be a nice mixture.

For this first article, I’m going to start off with Red Steel, a game that got a lot of attention back in 2006 when it first came out. One of the reasons why it got that much attention is simply the fact that it was the very first third party game to be revealed for the Wii, which wasn’t even out yet at that moment. Ubisoft spend a lot of time and money on promoting the game and made some very awesome looking first trailers that made the game seem like the best thing ever.

I’m still amazed about what the game looked like in that first trailer for E3 2006 and what it ended up looking like for real. Here’s the Gamescom trailer of the same year, showing a version that is a lot closer to what you could buy in the store:

Suffice to say that expectations were high. Back then, nobody really knew what the new motion controls Nintendo had in mind for us really could bring to the table. There was a nice amount of buzz surrounding the game and besides Zelda, there wasn’t a whole lot around launch time that we could get excited about.

So, why am I telling you all this upfront? It’s simple: Red Steel is not a bad game, but the disappointment surrounding its many failures make it seem like one of the worst games for the system. If you pick up and play Red Steel today, you’ll be having some fun, even though there are many flaws to be found.

Let’s start with the controls: You aim with the Wii-Remote and you move with the nunchuck. Aiming works as long as you don’t have to move the reticle to the edges of your screen in order to push it to one direction or the other. That means that shooting is a fun and swift affair as long as your enemies are all on the screen and you can just strafe around and pick them off one by one. But this is rarely the case, as the level design forces you to look around a lot. No matter how long you play, there will always be this annoyance in terms of controls. It also doesn’t help that the reload function, melee attacks and opening doors are mapped to shacking your nunchuck. At moments, it can be a confusing mess.

Swordfights suffer from bad design and controls. Swinging your sword works fine enough, but blocking or pulling off special moves, which involves holding a button while moving the controller, are very inconsistent to pull off. To be fair thought, the swordfights themselves are quite easy and fall into three categories: Constantly waggle to defeat your enemy, block each of their moves and attack and last but not least spam you special attacks. Sometimes you have to use two of those tactics, but overall, I was fine just using those three.

Even though the game has these mechanical problems, it can be fun to play. Especially the first third of the game can be a blast, with quick shootouts with interesting setpieces that don’t overstay their welcome. Shooting feels good, the guns give a nice kick back and I really dig the reloading effects that come through the wiimote’s speaker. Unfortunately, the swordfights bring the pacing to a halt and the story is so bad that it kind of distracts from the good stuff. It also doesn’t help that cutscenes are not skippable and checkpoints are often placed right in front of those cutscenes. Badly written dialogue is already something I hate to listen to, but believe me, you’ll feel like you’re in hell when you listen to them for the 12th time.

Even though the game only takes 6-8 hours to be completed, it drags on. After the first third, you get to choose your own mission, which doesn’t change anything and thus is utterly pointless. The amount of swordfights increase, so expect your patience to be tested. The last third of the game then throws completely overpowered enemies at you, so you have to use your time freezing abilities to the max. See, after the first third, you’re going to be able to freeze time in order to fire several shots at your enemy. You have a lot of time in order to aim, which is great, but the game does not always register your shots correctly. Ideally, you should be able to fire at the guns of your enemies and thus disarm them, earning you more points for an utterly underused and pointless experience points system. Unfortunately, even if the game shows you where to shoot in order to do that, that does not automatically mean you can actually shoot there. A number of times I had those boxes appearing and I tried to shoot inside of them and nothing happened.

Many complaints back in the day focused on the graphics. As I’m writing this in the year of 2015, I can understand a lot of the negative comments from back then, but I think all those claims that the game looks like an N64 game are a bit over the top. Most of the time, the game looks tolerable. Sometimes, especially in small corridors, it looks bad. And sometimes, especially in outside settings, it actually looks good, with some neat minor details added. If you’re playing it on the Wii U nowadays, the quality of the picture is actually surprisingly good.

I feel like I should also mention the multiplayer here. Back when I got the game in 2007, a couple of friends and I played a few rounds of it, but it wasn’t all that much fun. Many had problems with the controls and even when they could get past it, there were only a handful of maps. Multiplayer clearly was not the focus here and is pretty much forgettable.

So yes, Red Steel is mediocre. The few strengths it has are outweighed by the many flaws and back in the day, you could have invested your 60 bucks in a better game. However, if you’re collecting for the Wii, you should get it. It’s an exclusive and prices are normally under 10 bucks, which is about as much as I can justify to pay for it.

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One thought on “Retro-Review: Red Steel

  1. I have played this game and actually enjoyed it. I remember hearing it was one of the first games released on the Wii. I liked the story, I liked the idea of the villain trying to take control of the Tokyo underworld and the way the game explores different parts of the Yakuza activities. I also enjoyed the varied settings used in the game. I found the game was fun to play, but I do agree it did have some annoying aspects. I did find it was difficult to turn the player and using the nunchuk for different actions was annoying. I also found the swordfights were enjoyable, but sometimes the game did not register my slashes.
    What was the point of the experience points? Were they just to let the player learn new sword techniques?


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