Ninja vs. sword

Since our first hands-on play with Red Steel 2 all the way back in June - yes, it really was that long ago - we've had two more chances to get to grips with the game, the most recent at this week's Eurogamer EXPO where a new build was on display. How's the title coming along? Very, very nicely.

Our play-through was on the same level as demoed in Paris - and at October's Ubisoft event - but with a new build in place it played better than ever. With the game's Ninja Mode now available it was time to try out some advanced play and the new features that were promised.

The first big improvement is the addition of body part-specific damage. You can now easily kill an enemy with a headshot, and shots to the chest and arm clearly injure them in those areas, making the need for strategic shooting even more important. It doesn't sound like a big deal but it's endlessly satisfying to pick off charging samurai cowboys with well-aimed headshots, and helps the gun controls feel as accurate as the swordplay, a concern from last time.

Ninja vs. shotgun

The HUD has received a bit of work as well, now clearly displaying remaining ammunition as well as demarcating attacking enemies more intuitively. Enemies that are susceptible to finishing attacks also have a different target surrounding them, and some of the lock-on sections feel tighter, particularly the parts that ask you to hack open a door with your sword: now these events auto lock-on to the door, which you can cancel by walking away. It's a much better system than retaining camera control with the Wii Remote pointer when you're trying to smash open a door. What's interesting is that although this mechanic has been improved, you only use it half as often as before, suggesting a streamlining of the number of sword sections outside of combat.

The MotionPlus-enabled swordplay is every bit as good as ever, picking up the strength and angle of your slashes with no difficulty. There weren't many new moves on offer although there was a new stab move with a forward thrust of the Remote, but sadly the rather fun-looking shockwave and lift moves weren't unlocked in this build.

One slightly worrying impression from playing three versions of Red Steel 2 is that each time only the first level has been available. Having played it for the first time nearly six months ago we would have hoped there'd be a new area to play, and although it's understandable to present the first level as the learning curve would otherwise be quite steep, we must have defeated the hammer-wielding boss a good ten times by now. Hopefully this isn't an indication that the rest of the levels are lagging, just that they're catering for newcomers to Red Steel 2 as the MotionPlus blades and bullets can be a little disorienting at first.

On the evidence we've seen so far, RS2 is still looking like one of the Wii's most promising titles for early next year, and if Jason VandenBerghe and his team can deliver on even half of that promise then Red Steel 2 will be up there with the Wii's best.