Grab your blades and gear up adventurers--it's time for another helping of barbecue with a side of action in Monster Hunter Tri. The latest entry finally brings the series to the Wii, but that's not the only new trick this Dino has learned. Monster Hunter Tri manages to deliver the best online experience on the Wii to date, and when you consider the numerous other refinements it makes to the formula, this the one hunt you don't want to miss.
In Monster Hunter Tri, you play as an adventurer who's been sent to protect a small coastal village from nasty wildlife. You start off by handling smaller tasks like slaying a few puny lizards or gathering mushrooms, but by game's end, you're a hardened warrior taking on behemoths that would make ordinary men tremble. Quests are dished out by the village sweetheart, and they're broken into various tiers denoting their difficulty. Until you've completed enough quests within a certain rank, you're not able to take on more difficult ones. It's a simple system that makes it easy to jump into the action and get down to slaying beasts.
Progression isn't measured in levels or experience, but rather by the gear you don. Upgrading your weapons and armor is the only way you'll be able to take on tougher quests. While you can manage with the stock gear in the early goings, you'll eventually need to forge your own tools. This is accomplished by carving up felled monsters and gathering materials from each environment. It can be a bit of a grind to earn that new sword or chest plate, but it's certainly satisfying to flaunt your new getup. Your gear aside, there's also heavy emphasis on properly maintaining your hunter's inventory.
If you're in the mood to just mess around, or you want to hone your basic hunting skills, Tri allows players to head out into the wild in a makeshift free play mode. But even here, your actions yield rewards as you can complete side tasks for villagers at your leisure. Also, the indigenous populations of creatures in this zone diversifies the further along you are with your main quests. And if you're having some difficulty getting stuff done alone, an AI companion can come to your aid, making things more manageable than ever.
But the solo experience is only half the equation. Listen well, Nintendo and other Wii developers: this is how you do online right. Monster Hunter Tri's online multiplayer support is unmatched on the platform, allowing players to go online into virtual lobbies and form teams of up to four to take on a multitude of quests. There's no friend code to be seen, but there is full voice chat support, and tons of options that offer an amazing degree of control. It's reminiscent of Phantasy Star Online, and it's just as addictive and fun.
And if that weren't enough, you can also fight monsters with a friend locally in the arena mode. Though you're limited to using pre-selected gear, it still makes for a good challenge. Playing with a friend is also facilitated by the fact you can save any of your characters to your Wii remote and transport them to another friend's console for arena play. There's just an amazing amount of content available here. The single player mode will run you around 30 hours, while the online and arena modes will more than double that.
Monster Hunter has been known for its awkward camera controls, especially on the PSP, but Tri addresses the issue, delivering a more convenient setup. You still can't lock onto targets, but not having to fight the camera is a welcome improvement. The game also supports multiple control styles; the nunchuk style uses some gesture based input, but it's the classic controller option that feels the best. It's one of the few games developed from the ground-up for the Wii to implement traditional controls that work well. Just be warned the controls take some time to get used to due to their complexity.
With several different types of weapons to choose from, the combat system caters to different play styles. They handle differently enough that it'll take some time to master each, but any one of them will get the job done. Once again, combat's all about going into battle with a sound strategy; you have to figure out each monster's attack patterns and behaviors, find and opening and attack, and then get out before you're roughed up. When you have to capture your prey with traps, things gets even more complex by adding yet another layer of strategy.
Therein lies the most polarizing aspect of the game. Simply leaping before you look will result in your demise, reducing your reward and costing you precious time. If you don't have the patience to observe each monster's habits and wait for an opportune moment to strike, you'll have a hard time getting into the game. It's really a war of attrition, and if you can't stand the grind, Monster Hunter Tri probably isn't for you. But on the flip side, it's a really satisfying tactical combat experience and the actual bouts of action are quite exciting.
Monster Hunter Tri looks good, but it doesn't exactly raise the visual bar. The animations for the monsters make it seem like they're actually living, breathing creatures, and environments quickly turn from serene to hostile, with weather effects kicking in to enhance the immersion. On the other hand, the areas don't seamlessly connect to each other, and there are frequent load screens. The score is the same stuff we've heard before, yet it still hits all the right notes. And the game makes good use of natural ambiance, adding some nice subtle effects.
If you're looking for a good single player adventure and the best online experience on the Wii bar none, then look no further than Monster Hunter Tri. Newcomers will find it very easy to get into the action, while the experience is deep enough to satisfy seasoned adventurers.
Reviewed on Nintendo Wii.