When I first got a whiff of Capcom’s Monster Hunter series and its cooperative dispatching of wild creatures, a tinge of that old Phantasy Star Online feeling came back. I can’t possibly overstate what a dangerous power that is, considering I invested over 200 hours into PSO, and I’m pretty sure my grades in college suffered as a result. Sega’s not-so-massively multiplayer sci-fi hack ‘n slash may be a far cry from Monster Hunter, stylistically speaking, but the spirit of working together to take down monsters brings back some truly grand console-based online memories. Monster Hunter Tri was already Big in Japan last year, will it find similar success in America?
The premise is as simple and straightforward as can be. As a selectable style of hunter, you traverse the map in pursuit of whatever creature the current mission has set as the target. The game’s demo highlights two specific hunts of varying difficulty, allowing you to choose the weapon setup beforehand, and stock up on items at camp at the beginning of the map. Each weapon has different attacks and strengths, but they control pretty similarly, using the Wiimote and Nunchuk in tandem to either physically swing the blades and clubs, or go about it the old-fashioned button-pressing way.
I tend to go with the latter. Playing Twilight Princess with motion controls, however slight, was enough to last me a lifetime. It’s nice that Capcom offers up options as far as this is concerned, because even tiny baby swings tend to get old fast. Aside from general movement, the Nunchuk also dashes, centers the camera, and opens up the item window—something you’ll be doing often to heal and deploy items like poisoned meat and other traps to aid in the hunt.
If the standard schemes still seem too convoluted for your taste, there’s always the Classic Controller option for a more traditional experience.
Taking down these beasties isn’t as easy as finding them, hacking away, and collecting spoils. Well, you do find them and hack away, that’s for sure, but it takes more than a few swipes to earn that fist pump of victory. Once you run into the target on the map, the desperate struggle kicks in, and more common pests certainly aren’t kind enough to leave you alone while you tangle with the task at hand.
Most impressive about the fights is the intensity, coupled with genuine—but not game-breaking—frustration when a monster inevitably flees elsewhere on the map in the middle of a showdown. Add to the mix a time limit in which the hunt must go down, and the demo had me scrambling to deal what I could only hope would be the final blows, and ultimately breathing a sigh of relief and joy once it was all over.
My only real issue so far has to do with the Wii itself. It’s not an ugly game at all, but the scale might be better served on a more visually capable console. Tri simply wades through occasionally muddy waters here. The Monster Hunter series isn’t historically a graphical showcase, with most of the entries hitting Playstation 2 and PSP, but the potential there is exciting. Relatively speaking, though, Capcom still manages to pull off an intriguing environment here, and the solid design of the world and ecosystem speaks more boldly than a few graphical enhancements.
The ultimate test for Monster Hunter Tri will be its cooperative play, which lets up to four players work together… there’s that PSO feeling again! Though I wasn’t able to sample how the online component works, the service is apparently coming free of charge, and will incorporate Wii Speak chat capabilities in its domestic release. If Capcom strikes just right, the Monster Hunter series could really light up on Wii. It’ll be tough to top its reception in Japan—which made it the highest-selling third-party Wii title last year—but the series will definitely have legs if a solid community develops around it.
System: Nintendo Wii
Available: April 20, 2010