Monster Hunter Tri - Wii's first superb online experience?

Monster Hunter is one of those game series that, despite the best efforts of everyone involved, has yet to attain the explosive popularity in North America that it has overseas. Part of this has to do with cultural factors %26ndash; the heavily advertised PSP Monster Hunter Freedom Unite%26rsquo;s biggest selling point was its multiplayer%26hellip; which was only do-able via ad hoc until very recently. Getting a bunch of guys to sit around with handhelds isn%26rsquo;t too hard in densely populated, mass-transit-reliant Japan, but a royal pain in the West.

Monster Hunter Tri, however, looks to be the series%26rsquo; best chance yet at achieving the western success it so richly deserves. Not only does it completely shatter the paradigm of the Wii%26rsquo;s usually cumbersome online experience, but it introduces a host of new and interesting features to introduce new warriors to the wild and wonderful world of monster-killing for fun and profit.

Monster Hunter Tri%26rsquo;s backstory has the player working to rebuild a village that was recently decimated by a massive earthquake. Rebuilding the village will take a great deal of effort and raw materials. Said materials are gathered the old-fashioned way: by killing critters, carving them up, and hauling their remains home. You%26rsquo;ll also be tasked with killing some big, bad beasts that threaten the welfare of the land and its people - and believe us when we say that slaying some of these behemoths is hard. Complex AI and individual behaviors imbued into each enemy make every monster-felling expedition its own adventure. To take down the toughest of the tough, planning, teamwork, and coordination are absolutely vital. And the rewards are rich %26ndash; victory grants the ability to loot rare items, weapons, armor, and materials.

The gameplay was built from the ground up to be a fresh experience, both to help introduce new players to the series and to give seasoned veterans a wealth of new content to enjoy. Controls have been improved to reduce the amount of time players will have to spend sifting through their inventory to access resource-collecting equipment. Weapon and armor sets have been redesigned, with some removed (the twin daggers) and some added (the switch-axe). And only a handful of past monsters are present in the game %26ndash; almost all of the beasts you%26rsquo;ll be slashing and carving up are completely new to the Monster Hunter universe. You%26rsquo;ll also have an all-new buddy accompanying you on single-player hunts: a strangely cute voodoo-looking figure called a Cha-cha that can assist in a wide variety of ways.

Visually, the game is amazing %26ndash; and not just with the typical %26ldquo;for a Wii game%26rdquo; qualifier. The aesthetics of Monster Hunter are distinct, from its blend of fantasy and tribal artistic motifs to its lush, varied hunting environments. And then there are the monsters themselves: majestic, fascinating creatures that have very memorable designs. You almost feel bad for killing these noble beasts %26ndash; until they try to violently maim you.

But what is gathering the most buzz among potential players are the game%26rsquo;s online capabilities. We can put all your fears the rest here: Monster Hunter Tri is going to eschew all of the baggage that came with online-enabled Wii games in the past. There are no lengthy Friend or System codes to record and manage and no boring lobby screens to twiddle your thumbs at. Monster Hunter Tri%26rsquo;s online is managed through hubs called cities, which are far more than just waiting and meeting rooms for players looking to quest together. Cities are gathering spots that offer services for buying and selling supplies, crafting equipment, imbibing status-boosting food and drink, and even challenging random passer-bys to impromptu arm wrestling bouts. But if you can%26rsquo;t seem to locate someone you know online, you can easily find friends by using a robust player lookup system that can help you locate your buddies with only partial names. There are numerous improvements over the overseas release, as well. Unlike the Japanese version, which had a monthly subscription fee and only offered text chat, the North American version of Monster Hunter Tri will offer both completely free online play and the ability to use the Wii Speak peripheral for voice coordination with your hunting team %26ndash; an exceptionally valuable asset when you%26rsquo;re working to slay some of MHT%26rsquo;s fiercest fiends.

Both Capcom and Nintendo are putting a lot into Monster Hunter Tri, as evidenced by its prominent placement at the recent Nintendo Media Summit. Capcom wants to give the series the foothold in the West it has so coveted, and Nintendo wants to silence the detractors who say that the Wii is incapable of delivering an excellent online gaming experience. From the strong showing at the event, it looks like they might have a strong chance at achieving both goals. Fans won%26rsquo;t have long to wait to start hunting, either: the game is set to release on April 20th in North America. Capcom%26rsquo;s even throwing in some meaty extras for those who preorder the title at GameStop: not only will you get a free MHT demo disc at the time you reserve the game, but you%26rsquo;ll also get a limited edition Nintendo Points card to put towards any Wii or DSi download content of your choosing. With these bonuses and the promise of a very robust and replayable experience, there%26rsquo;s plenty of incentive for even the most cynical of Wii owners to give Monster Hunter Tri a look.

Feb 25, 2010