In Japan, Monster Hunter is king. It doesn't matter what platform it's on, Capcom's MMO-style adventure series is always one of the top selling games of the year. For whatever reason American gamers have yet to fully jump on board this franchise, but Capcom is hoping to change people's minds with the release of Monster Hunter 3 Tri for the Nintendo Wii. I sat down with a preview build of the game to see what all the hype was about. Let's just say that I had an interesting time.
From the get-go I was relieved to learn that Monster Hunter 3Tri comes with three different control schemes. The default set-up has you using the nunchuk and waving the Wii remote around like a crazy person. If that's not your thing, then you can plug in your Classic Control and play the game in a more traditional way. There's also an option that allows you to control the combat by using the R-stick on the Classic Control. From what I could tell there is no GameCube control support. I chose the default settings and braced myself for an adventure.
The preview build I played offered two different quests, the Great Jaggi Hunt and Qurupeco Hunt. The first had a one-star difficulty rating, while the second had a three-star rating. Seeing as this was my first time playing the game, I opted for the easier quest. From there I'm given a choice of ten different characters, each with their own special weapon. This screen gave me no useful information whatsoever about the characters, instead focusing the detail to the weapon. I chose the character with a long sword. His weapon, although large, didn't seem too unwieldy for a first time player.
With my quest and character selected, it's time to jump into this massive role-playing world. I start my journey next to my hut, a safe location far away from the violent monsters roaming the world. The map is split up into 12 different sections, with small icons pointing you in the direction of a monster. The good news is that there's a dinosaur-like monster right outside of my safe zone. Unfortunately it didn't take long before that creature (and its offspring) took me down for the count. Yeah, this is turning out to be a typical Monster Hunter experience.
Even though I'm killed I am warped (more like wheeled) back to my hut. This time around I decide to spend a few minutes actually learning the controls. I whip my remote around, that seems to unsheathe my sword. Another swing and my sword going into a chopping motion. I discover that I can chop at the characters when I push the "A" button, which will save my arms some trauma. The "-" button lets out a massive sword swing, something so strong that it pushes me back a few inches. The "Z" button gives me a second strong attack, this time in the opposite direction.
Now that I'm a little more confident of the controls, I race for the exit and attempt to take on the dinosaur for a second time. This time around the enemy I'm after is in the 7th area, which means that I need to walk through a number of other areas before coming face to face with the monster I'm trying to take down. Unlike most MMO-like adventure games, Monster Hunter 3 Tri is split up into small areas that are linked not by paths, but rather loading times that masks the animation of you actually walking. In that sense it the area I'm in feels incredibly small, a jarring experience given how wide-open most games in this genre are.
I finally make it to the 7th area and pick up the fight where I left off. Unfortunately the beast kicks me back, sending me into the 6th area. When I go back in the 7th area the monster is nowhere to be found. I check my map and see that he's moved. All of a sudden I fall to the ground dead. Time's up, I lose. The game thanks me for playing and sends me back to the main menu. Needless to say, it left me on something of a sour note.I sit with my Wii remote in hand staring at the TV for what feels like an hour, confused by what just happened. My head was filled with too many unanswered questions. Who am I? What am I doing here? Where is the button to target enemies? Why does it feel like I'm doing no damage to these dinosaurs? How is this series so popular in Japan? I was unable to answer any of these questions, but I felt like I needed to go back in and give this game a fair shot. Perhaps it just leaves a bad first impression.
The second time around I chose the character with the lance, since his weapon appears to be around 15 feet long. In fact, his weapon is so long that it doesn't even fit on my TV set. I worried that maybe people will think I'm overcompensating, but seeing as I don't know anybody in this fictional world, I don't think that's going to be a problem. With my lance in hand, I am ready to have a better time playing Qurupeco Hunt.
I start out in the same village as the first quest, only this time around I don't see any monster icons on my map. As the title suggests, this is going to be a real hunt. I eventually locate the beast flying around in the 11th area. I sneak up on him, ready to take him down once and for all, but he sees me and flies far, far away. It looks like I chose the wrong character to hunt down a bird-like creature. After spending a few more minutes chasing the monster down, I find myself in a terrible situation surrounded by his friends and family. And, just like that, I die.
On Monster Hunter 3 Tri sounds incredible. The game will feature online questing, thousands of items, amazing graphics and rich backgrounds that are simply mesmerizing. There's just one problem: The preview build wasn't much fun to play. Perhaps when I start from the beginning and really develop my character I will start to have fun, but there were far too many things keeping me from having a good time.
I'm utterly baffled by the control set-up. Swinging the remote around to fight felt clumsy, especially when compared to other similar adventure games (Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess springs to mind). Furthermore, I found myself battling the camera controls (which are manual, controlled with the D-pad) more than the monsters themselves. What's more, it wasn't until much later that I realized that I can't down a health potion while my weapon is drawn. That means that I have to put my sword away in just to take a potion. What, can't my guy multitask?
In the end I'm not sure what to think about Monster Hunter 3 Tri. I hate to sound pessimistic in a game preview, but this Wii Monster Hunter left me feeling cold. I still hold out hope that this game will shape up to be something special, though my confidence in the project took a hit with this demo. Will Monster Hunter fans have the same problems I did? I guess we'll have to wait until April to see if this hunt is worth packing for.