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Taking to the Wii, Monster Hunter Tri is a curious mix of epic quests and frustrating design restrictions. In my 50 hours, Monster Hunter Tri delivered some amazing hunting moments but I always felt embattled by the clumsy controls and empty environments.
Confessing you like Monster Hunter in the West is akin to admitting you have a Justin Bieber poster in your bedroom. At least, until Monster Hunter Tri was released for the Wii. It's acceptance in the West, and the successful way the online multiplayer has been implemented onto the Wii, has made the series more of cult hit than a Japanophile embarrassment.
Having lived through those embarrassing times it's good to see Monster Hunter enjoy better times on these shores with Tri. I loved the previous games due to their whimsical blend of serious quests, silly dialogue and addictive equipment levelling.
The premise of each Monster Hunter game is essentially the same. Starting in a small village as a new hunter you take on quests from the townsfolk to rid them of the monsters that plague their settlement. Progression is measured with bigger and better weapons with bigger and meaner enemies to face.
In this instance the meaningful experience comes from the grind, or joining other players in an online hunt.
It's a simple setup that doesn't leave much room for meaning or profundity. But this, oddly for me, works to Monster Hunter's advantage. The absence of a compelling story allows the mechanics and addictive progression shine for what it is.
Meaning in Tri comes from the joy of the grind, or from joining other players in an online hunt. Unlike other more competitive multiplayer experiences, Tri escapes the usual online playgrounds brawls. Instead it's all about working together. Much like Left 4 Dead you become an essential part of a team that has to function in order to survive - and bring back the spoils of the hunt.
This aspect of teamwork is more important considering the limitations of the Wii's online habitat. With poor chat facilities and the game's awkward controls, I found myself flitting between anger and elation as I battled not only Prehistoric monsters but also game-breaking design.
It's typical of Tri's design that no sooner did I start to feel immersed in the world then it threw a design spanner at my head.
Sometimes, even walking towards an NPC or facing a monster takes a level of patience that would drive the most dexterous to ruin. It felt like the PSP's control problems were ported over to the Wii along with empty environments and a bland art-style. The new Pro Controller (supplied with special editions of the game) is just about adequate but even then you have to use the Wii-mote to collect enemy data.
What threatened to become an addictive Pokemon-like collect 'em all, more often devolved into throwing the controller down and having a drink instead. It's typical of Tri's design that no sooner did I start to feel immersed in the world then it threw a design spanner at my head.
With all these faults many will dismiss Tri as a hollow dungeon crawler, lacking the intimacy of the PSP versions which would leave only the compulsive weapon and armour grinding as a positive.
But there are redeeming qualities here. The form of the actual monsters and the brilliant localisation on the Wii portrayed these prehistoric, Final Fantasy XIII-like enemies with the kind of epic scope they've never had before.
This battle between man and nature forms the rock on which the game rises above its faults.
Coming across an enemy which towers over your party and threatens to wipe you out in one fell swoop gives you the kind of fear I had skulking through the dungeons of Demon's Souls. It's nowhere near as atmospheric but it serves to heighten the overriding desire to improve your equipment and take that monster down.
This battle between man and nature forms the rock on which the game rises above its faults. The thrill of the hunt is alive and well within Tri and there's real adulation after taking down a massive monster that's been a thorn in your side for two days that has to be experienced firsthand.
Backing up this essential element is the localisation that adds much-needed flavour to the small number of NPCs you'll come across. Written with a bucket load of devilish humour, these characters have a personality that's been missing from the previous games and made me want to return to the village hub just to see what new dialogue might be offered.
At its core Monster Hunter Tri for the Nintendo Wii manages to build enough epic scope to make the hunting mechanics rise above their irritating design. It lacked the sense of immersion and meaning I really wanted from the game, with no epic story to matched the scope of the monsters. This contributes to the sad fact that no matter how addictive the grinding mechanics became, Tri never rose above its restrictions to become a truly soulful experience.
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