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This wildly successful Japanese PSP game has always fascinated me from afar with its tales of over 500 hours of content and addictive co-op play. As a family gamer that should put me off straight awaym but once I involved my son and embarked on our first quest together I was suddenly under this game's spell.
Played alone, Monster Hunter felt like wandering around World of Warcraft without anyone online and without any lore or atmosphere to give a sense of place. I quickly became very bored with this approach. Despite the inclusion of AI buddies in the form of the adorable Felyne's, I felt as if something essential was missing or I wasn't playing the game correctly.
It turned out that Monster Hunter should always be played with someone else and once I had persuaded my son to give it a go, the game opened into a completely different beast. With a real person beside me in the virtual world and also in the room, the quests became much more enjoyable and interesting.
but once I involved my son and embarked on our first quest together I was suddenly under this game's spell.
Our Monster Hunter sessions became far more than just grinding through levels or collecting loot. They became social moments where we'd talk about our day, how far he got in Mario Kart or what was going to be for tea. It sounds terribly inane but the game did a marvellous job of providing a background for just being social.
That's not to say it doesn't have any depth to it. Its simple premise hides a huge complex web of weapon crafting, farming and combat strategy that we barely touched on after weeks of play. Not that we missed out on anything by just dipping into its systems with our hourly sessions. The quest structure and the bite-sized nature of their tasks meant they soon became very addictive. Just like Civilisation's 'one more turn' syndrome, Monster Hunter has a similar vibe that would have kept me going all night had my son not demanded to go to bed.
This compulsive urge helped me to overlook some of the more shaky parts of the game - namely the controls. It seemed very odd and irritating to have to constantly nanny the camera to where I wanted it to go. Although I could snap the camera back behind me with the tap of the left bumper, it all felt far too cumbersome to be intuitive. When I had more than a few enemies to deal with at a time, this control system really started to be a pain. The frustration of dying because the camera was embedded inside a rock brought me close to audibly swearing and spraying the wall with PSP components - not a trait I want to pass onto my son.
Kept me going all night had my son not demanded to go to bed.
This control system is one of the series foibles and it's only going to be a problem if you're new to the game like me. The lack of any story also means there's little point in caring too deeply about your character or the world they inhabit.
Not that it matters when it's played as a social experience. It was great fun playing with my son and I only wish I was playing this in Japan. The game's success in that country means playing 4-player sessions is easily available at any coffee shop or bar. If the enjoyment I had with my son in this game could be doubled then it's no wonder that it's such a phenomenon. It won't be to everyone's taste but as a social gaming experience I can't think of anything better.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: