Monster Hunter Tri Review

By Scott Alan Marriott - Posted Apr 28, 2010

Capcom's beasty baiting franchise makes its anticipated Wii debut with Monster Hunter Tri. Addressing several of its predecessors' shortcomings while expanding on the addictive gameplay, Monster Hunter Tri is the definitive version of the series, one that should finally find its largest U.S. audience to date.

The Pros
  • Exotic environments
  • Epic battles with fantastical creatures
  • Deep gear customization options
  • Enjoyable (and free) online component
The Cons
  • Imprecise motion-sensing controls
  • Wii Speak required for effective team play
  • Some screen tearing and minor visual hiccups
  • Split-screen support limited to an arena mode

For those new to the formerly Sony-centric series, Monster Hunter is an action RPG that takes place in the great outdoors instead of from within the typical dungeon setting. The thrill of hunting enormous dragons and dinosaur-type creatures is the impetus driving the action, so players shouldn't expect quests in the traditional sense; the majority can best be described as "bounties." Instead of progressing through dungeon floors, you instead roam across a series of linked hunting grounds. You'll hunt during the day and at night, through different seasons, and even under water for the first time in a Monster Hunter game.

Monster Hunter Tri

Camp Deadly

Each expedition begins from a base camp, which is either a fishing village or a desert city, depending on whether you're playing the solo campaign or the online multiplayer one. The camp, as you might expect, is a place to acquire new missions; purchase or upgrade weapons and equipment; store items; rest; save progress; and more. Once you are out in the field, the gameplay focuses on two basics: looking for resources to gather and creatures to shoot, stab, slice, spear, slam, or ensnare. The offline game has you hunting alone or with an optional companion named "Cha-Cha," a tiny, tribal mask-wearing creature that will help attack enemies. Cha-Cha also has the unfortunate tendency to get in the way and distract you, but you can leave him behind if he proves to be a liability instead of an asset.

Collecting resources is an important aspect of the game, since they allow you to craft more powerful weapons, create food for status boosts, augment armor to enhance your character's skills, and so forth. You'll fish, mine, catch bugs, go diving, pick plants, and "carve" the carcasses of your prey to acquire meat and other desirables. You'll even sharpen your blade every so often to maintain its effectiveness, but you never have to worry about your weapon breaking. Despite the sheer variety of items to gather, the collection process is simple, requiring little more than holding a button while near a resource.

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New Sights and Tools

Veterans of earlier Monster Hunter games will find that while the core play mechanics have more or less remained the same, everything else has improved. Environments offer more detail, creatures are more animated, and the hunting has now expanded into the briny depths instead of strictly on land, making for a welcome new twist to the gameplay. You now have to monitor your oxygen level, which can be temporarily replenished by swimming toward bubbles, and more skill is involved with trying to hit your prey. Weapon types are the same aside from one key change: the traditional bow has been replaced with an elemental switch-axe, which can morph into a sword or an axe for when you absolutely, positively have to slay every living thing in the area.

Once again a big part of the game's appeal is that each of the seven weapon types has a distinctive feel, requiring technique and user skill to maximize its effectiveness against the assortment of creatures you'll encounter. To fully enjoy the game, however, you'll need the Classic Controller or the new Classic Controller Pro, with the latter available as part of a special bundle with the game. While Monster Hunter Tri supports the motion-sensing controllers, they are not as intuitive or as responsive as they should be, and it's too easy to make gesture-related mistakes. Twin analog sticks are the most natural setup, with the left controlling movement and the right adjusting the camera.

Monster Hunter Tri

Claws Encounters

The camerawork has always been a sticking point for the handheld versions, as the beasts you are trying to bring down aren't exactly the slow or tentative types, and there's no lock-on feature to keep you focused on a single target. Since your prey will fly, burrow, slash, breathe fire, tail-whip, and/or charge, you have to keep moving and be prepared to strike when the opportunity avails itself. With the camera mapped to the right analog stick, it's a heck of a lot easier to maintain control on the battlefield. And these battles are truly the stars of the show. Unlike the traditional boss fight, where the trick is to identify a repetitive pattern, Monster Hunter Tri's creatures exhibit unpredictable behaviors and use a diverse range of attacks that are sure to quicken the pulse and moisten the brow.

Hunting Party

Easily the biggest news for longtime fans is Monster Hunter Tri's online play, as previous handheld efforts required a PSP, a PS3, and a little bit of voodoo to connect to others in different places. The Wii version lets you take your saved character into a choice of lobbies, from which you'll group with three fellow hunters without the need to share friend codes, blood types, and zodiac signs beforehand. The online game follows a similar structure to the offline game, albeit with much stronger enemies, a few new creatures to slay, and a slew of new weapons and crafting materials. While the frame rate sometimes takes a hit when there are a lot of enemies onscreen, online play is generally smooth and enjoyable. The only drawback is that the Wii Speak peripheral is a necessity for effective team play, and you'll have to go through the added hassle of registering people in order to hear them. You can attempt to type using a USB or on-screen keyboard, but good luck trying to get your message across in the heat of battle.

Monster Hunter Tri

A Breed Apart

Monster Hunter Tri's large-scale creatures and exotic environments instill a sense of awe and wonder while you play, which is perhaps the franchise's most alluring trait. The barebones storyline, heavy emphasis on resource gathering, and similarly themed quests may alienate traditional role-playing fans, but its singular focus is precisely what makes this title stand out from others in the genre. The Wii version is easily Capcom's most impressive version to date, and like a slab of fire-roasted wyvern flank, once you sink your teeth in, it's hard to let go.