After the awkward and misguided mess that was Ubisoft's Red Steel, it must sound like damning praise to say, "Well, the sequel's much better." After all, Nintendo's newfangled MotionPlus attachment has come to save the day, introducing one-to-one movement and finally delivering the sword fighting extravaganza that all those energetic Wii players have been enjoying in the commercials.
Unfortunately, MotionPlus' binding to Red Steel 2 doesn't feel particularly effective in combating the original game's flaws. It's a miss, like sticking a band-aid on someone's knee after they've been poisoned. If the MotionPlus makes a fundamental difference to the gameplay, it's not immediately apparent within the framework of a pretty insipid combat system.
Unlike the franchise as a whole, Red Steel 2 does make a good first impression. The realistic and drab locales of the first game are gone, replaced with a cartoonish, Western milieu, complete with subtle cel-shading and a mishmash of cinema-cool cultures. Doing away with realism has some great side effects: you can jump farther; climb higher; and smash a whole lot of things to bits. It's a great and necessary departure from Red Steel -- but the Samurai Sam aesthetic can only get you so far.
The point-and-shoot gunplay seems to be the most satisfying element of combat. Being able to instantly switch between your two primary weapons (B-button for shooting, a solid swing to summon the sword) is a wonderful addition, but enemy armor will compel you to stow your six-shooter and start swinging. The MotionPlus's biggest enhancement here appears to be the detection of swing strength -- a limp-wristed mini waggle will just result in your sword bouncing harmlessly off metallic surfaces.
There's a neat blocking mechanic that tasks you with orienting the Wii remote either horizontally or vertically in order to deflect specially marked attacks, but beyond that and a simple dodging maneuver, there's not a whole lot of depth to the swordplay. When it comes to the enemies in the E3 demo, the direction of your swings simply doesn't matter. If you swing hard enough, you'll get 'em. Couple that with fairly disposable AI and you have fights that aren't particularly interesting or engaging.
Still, there's the promise of unlockable combos and a variety special attacks later on (including some Devil May Cry-esque launching and juggling), so perhaps Red Steel 2's combat will prove more substantial in the long run. For now, well ... at least it's much better than the first game, right?