Games 4/6/10: Red Steel 2, Rooms: The Main Building, Save the Turtles

Red Steel 2
For: Wii
From: Ubisoft
ESRB Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild language, mild suggestive themes, violence)

Remember how awesome “Red Steel” was going to be, and how the amazingly immersive mix of first-person shooting and motion-controlled swordplay promised to take action games to an entirely new plane? And remember how none of that happened at all? Oh, you do? Well “Red Steel 2” would rather you didn’t, because three years later, all those empty promises finally have a game on which to hang their hats.

Fundamentally, what “RS2” does is similar enough to its predecessor to bear the franchise name. It’s still a first-person shooter and motion-controlled swordfighting game cobbled together as one.

But everything about “RS2’s” methods stands in stark, and entirely welcome, contrast to its predecessor.

For starters, and maybe finishers, it’s just plain fun. Unlike the first game, “RS2” allows players to switch between gunplay and swordplay whenever they want instead of when the game dictates, and Ubisoft puts all the pieces together to make what should be a complete controller nightmare into a slightly unwieldy but astonishingly pleasant ride. The cursor-based shooting feels considerably more intuitive this time around, and switching from gun to sword and back, while inevitably a bit disorienting given the disparity in control styles, works plenty well enough to avoid becoming the source of frustration it so easily could have been.

Though some inevitably won’t like it, Ubisoft’s decision to not just support but flat-out require Nintendo’s MotionPlus controller attachment pays off enourmously on the swordplay side. The game guides players’ movements to a small degree, but overwhelmingly, striking, thrusting and parrying are mapped precisely to how players hold the Wii remote.

The extra precision allows “RS2” to introduce a surprisingly large arsenal of swordfighting moves as the story advances, and the combat is very gratifyingly active — arguably to a fault if active gaming isn’t your thing. Lazy flicks of the wrist won’t suffice the way they did in the first game, and if you can’t get into the idea of swinging the remote with the full might you would a sword, you should just find a game that isn’t as committed to the Wii’s original vision as this one so satisfyingly is.

Superficially, the story isn’t much different. The bland, overly serious storyline from the first game is scrapped in favor of an exuberant mix of Asian cinema, post-apocalyptic dark comedy and spaghetti western, and “RS2’s” narrative structure now breaks down, “Borderlands”-style, into bite-sized missions that players eventually can accept by the handful.

The “Borderlands” approach extends to “RS2’s” visual presentation, which combines realistic and cel-shaded graphic design to create a game that would look good on any system and stands head and shoulders above most of its Wii counterparts. That the art style also suits the storyline and action so perfectly — everything about “RS2’s” approach in all three departments seems developed with a brazenly fun-first spirit in mind — certainly doesn’t hurt matters.

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Rooms: The Main Building
Reviewed for: Wii
Also available for: Nintendo DS
From: Hudson
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild violence)

Considering the main objective of “Rooms: The Main Building” is to rearrange the game world in order to help the onscreen character escape the room, is it fitting or ironic that the game’s biggest problem might be its inability to get out of its own way?

Conceptually, “Rooms” is sound, if something of an odd fit for a big-screen console game. The overriding objective is to move pieces of a room around, sliding puzzle style, in such a way that allows the onscreen character to reach the exit and head to the next room. The number of pieces increases as the story progresses, and the game occasionally introduces new items and situations to mix things up a bit, but the general gist doesn’t change. “Rooms” gives players point-and-click control over the onscreen character’s movements, but the tile sliding is where the game’s real action lies.

The idea of “Rooms” being little more than a string of ornate sliding puzzles — precisely the kind of toy people invented video games to get away from — would make it a pretty hard sell in its $30 Nintendo DS form, to say nothing of its $30 Wii form.

But whether “Rooms” helps or hurts itself with the extra frills it piles on is legitimately arguable. Some will adore, possibly for all the wrong reasons, the story and overall design, which incorporate full-motion video animation and the kind of sound effects that would make 1993 proud. But anyone who wasn’t around during the CD-ROM game heyday (or was, but wishes they weren’t) likely won’t see the story as anything but intrusive and confusingly designed for no real benefit.

Those who do, meanwhile, will find it hard to endure the 100 levels it takes to see “Rooms” to its conclusion. The high level count obviously is a must for Hudson to justify the high price, but all the items and special level circumstances can do only so much to spice up what essentially is the same trick repeated ad nauseam.

“Rooms'” multiplayer suite engenders a similar lack of fulfillment. The battle mode, which pits two players in a race to complete the same puzzle at the same time, is fun for a while, but only so long as the basic gameplay holds interest in the first place.

The existence of a level design tool, meanwhile, is thoroughly puzzling. It’s sufficiently robust and probably the most polished facet of the entire game, but it includes no way to share the level with other players unless they play it on your console. Having the ability to trade more sliding puzzles online with others probably wouldn’t do much to help a game whose concept runs out of steam long before the single-player supply is tapped out, but if you’re going to these lengths to give players a means to create, why neuter the process by quashing the ability to share?

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Save the Turtles
For: Nintendo DSi via DSiWare shop
From: Sabarasa
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Price: $5

Devising clever scenarios for match-three puzzle games is about as easy these days as inventing new uses for a glass of orange juice, so Sabarasa gets credit out of the gate for doing exactly that. The goal in “Save the Turtles” is indeed to match three of a kind. But instead of sliding gems or shapes, players have to guide cartoon turtles into matching rows in order for the ocean to send a wave to pick them up. The act of guiding living objects is novel on its own, and “Turtles” builds on that novelty by populating the beach with crabs, debris and other obstacles the turtles must avoid. The sun, and its ability to give the turtles sunburn, poses an additional threat to players who don’t make matches quickly and consistently. “Turtles'” stylus controls occasionally hiccup when creating a path for a turtle to follow, but for the most part, the controls and interface function exactly as they should. Players who get used to the mechanics might be surprised how intricate the seemingly basic gameplay eventually becomes, and “Turtles” rewards those who do so with enough content — a 32-level story mode, an endless survival mode, a quick-play mode that changes certain story mode rules, unlockable achievement-like trophies — to easily justify the $5 asking price.