With the exception of Link’s rumoured reappearance later this year, and the glorious-looking Metroid: Other M, Monster Hunter Tri is far and away the most eagerly anticipated Nintendo Wii game of 2010. Although the Monster Hunter series found monumental success early its homeland of Japan (where it continues to reign as the most popular videogame franchise of them all) Western audiences were a little slower to catch on, and publisher Capcom understandably treated it as a small, niche prospect until a substantial fanbase had emerged. Last year’s extremely well-received PSP iteration continued to tune more and more people into the Monster Hunter phenomenon in the US and Europe, and this latest Wii iteration now arrives on a monumental wave of word-of-mouth buzz.
After breaking all sorts of records in its homeland (where it is already the biggest-selling third-party Wii game of all time) and earning some genuinely substantial critical plaudits (the legendary Weekly Famitsu made it only the 11th game in their 20-year history to receive the highest possible marks) Monster Hunter Tri is making its move to push the franchise into the Western mainstream. And though its quintessentially Japanese sensibilities (and art style) may prevent this from happening on the scale it would deserve, the overpowering quality of the title (including a terrific plot that has been localised rather brilliantly) coupled with the extraordinary vastness of its world and variety of its campaign, should definitely ensure a break-out from the shackles marked ‘cult’.
It’s also easily the most forward-thinking title on Nintendo’s console. The company have always seemed to have open contempt for online play, and this attitude (along with the lack of high definition visuals) has caused its wares to be received increasingly sniffily by many of the hardcore. Most of their online policies (including the much-lambasted requirement of game-specific friend codes) are irritating but largely sensible (given the predominantly pre-teen Wii audience) and all of the titles that actually did bother to include a substantial online component suffered greatly by comparison to similar releases on the other two machines. For Sony and Microsoft online was the future, and for Nintendo it was always something included only occasionally, and merely to appease. Until now.
Monster Hunter Tri is, by quite an embarrassingly wide margin, the best online experience available on the Wii. The single-player game is stellar and addictive, but like SEGA’s path-paving classic Phantasy Star Online (the series to which Monster Hunter has always most resembled) this is a game so faultlessly tailored to encourage gracious and tactical teamwork, that tackling it alone feels like considerably less than half the potential fun. Whilst the climax of a near-hour long battle with a colossal beast can often be tinged with exhaustion when playing alone, doing it with friends will perpetually inspire you to leap from your chair or scan your empty living room for hanging high-fives. There are said to be 80+ hours of multiplayer gameplay in Monster Hunter Tri, and for a sizable number of people who embark upon it, that isn’t going to be anywhere near enough. Oh, and friend codes are nowhere to be found.
The control scheme (which has always been something of an unspoken quandary on the PSP) has been sharpened up to pleasing effect, and (conversely) the difficulty has been blunted, which works massively in the game’s favour. As opposed to viewing the campaign’s later bouts as potentially knife-edge encounters that are liable to result in smashed peripherals, here you’re encouraged to relax and experiment a bit. Monster Tri also involves a lot less grinding than previous iterations did, and your path to the jaw-droppingly gargantuan brutes that the older games saved until far too late in the game (for some) is much shorter here. But the laid-back, trial-and-error attitude to difficulty is what really makes this sequel so much more inviting than previous editions. As your local village chief tells you in the game’s opening half-hour, “Don’t be afraid to take risks!”
There has been a bit of debate recently involving just how essential Nintendo’s Classic Controller Pro is for complete enjoyment the game, but the argument is pretty much moot. Much in the same way as Street Fighter IV can be mastered perfectly well with a standard 360 or PS3 pad (with the extremely pricey arcade sticks being required only for the truly fanatical) Monster Hunter Tri can be enjoyed just as easily with the standard Wiimote and Nunchuck set-up. Certainly, the extra controller is the ideal way to play the game – the fact that the development team originally wanted to create the title for the Playstation 3 is frequently obvious – but the standard one will only dampen the experience if you plan on sinking several hundred hours into it.
As far as problems go, there is still no lock-on targeting method which seems a trifle strange, the item management system isn’t properly explained in-game and will basically need to be learned without the aid of a tutorial, and the camera, though much improved, can occasionally become a nightmare to manoeuvre at the least appropriate moments. But these quibbles have arguably always been an intrinsic part of the Monster Hunter phenomenon; odd, avertible imperfections that somehow inarguably contribute to the bewildering charm of it. They’re niggles that simply cannot detract from something this engrossing, this well-designed, and this susceptible to thrilling grassroots co-operative teamwork. Monster Hunter is truly one of a kind, and Tri is the best place yet to acquaint yourself with it.
Watch the Monster Hunter Tri trailer here…