Monster Hunter is all about the multiplayer, which is why I think it never really took off on PSP in the US the way that it did in Japan — American PSP owners are just too selfish for the buddy system.
Monster Hunter Tri, however, is going for a different audience with its exclusive Wii release. By streamlining the Wii friend code process and adding features other multiplayer games rely on — such as a chat window — Tri is trying to jump start the online ecosystem that's already built into the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
But how does that impact that actual monster hunting?
What Is It? Monster Hunter Tri is a multiplayer adventure game where up to four players can team up to hunt down monsters. The game skips over friend codes, instead using a lobby system where you can easily find other players and send friend requests. Additionally, there's a chat window in-game that can be accessed with a USB keyboard if you don't feel like pointing and clicking. Currently, Wii Speak is not in the game — but Capcom is "looking into it".
There's also a singleplayer mode built into the game, but details on it are scarce.
What We Saw I played three missions during the University event using both the Wii Remote/Nunchuck configuration and the Classic Controller Pro because they had one handy.
Note: It's unconfirmed if the Classic Controller Pro will be brought to the US along with Monster Hunter Tri.
How Far Along Is It? The game is due out early 2010. I didn't notice any major show-stopping bugs — but I was sad to see that the Wii was hooked up to computer monitors which have a nasty reputation of making even very good Wii graphics look fugly. So I can't speak to the graphics which are apparently supposed to be pretty.
What Needs Improvement? There's No Lock On: Normally, this doesn't matter in Monster Hunter because you pan the camera toward a monster, press attack and bam! You've hit it. However, Tri introduces underwater combat where the monsters can change depth quickly during a fight. Panning the camera a la ground combat under water takes a little extra work and can be totally disorienting. So, yeah, a lock-on would be preferable.
At Tiddy Bit Fiddly: On the Classic Controller Pro, I had a lot of problems getting the Bowgun to aim right. Not only do you have to have the weapon out and cocked before you can attack — you also have to choose between shooting from the hip or going into sniper mode with a targeting reticule. Given that battles move very quickly and monsters can charge across a field right at you while you're reloading and re-cocking, it would be nice if the button controls for un-slinging, cocking and aiming your Bowgun were perhaps a little streamlined. Or if there were a Panicked Dodge button that would snap you out of sniper mode at the last second.
Constant Loads: Every time you leave an area of a map — which you will, because the monsters move around — you've got to endure a loading screen. It gets tedious.
What Should Stay The Same? Wow, It's Multiplayer! I'm not used to more than two people in my multiplayer on the Wii, so I was excited to see four people in the same place, attacking the same thing with no lag — on the Wii! If Monster Hunter Tri can work things out such that people actually buy this game and play it, it's going to be a lot of fun team up with people and make new friends among strangers the way I would on other consoles.
Swimming Is Fun: Once you get the hang of the quick-swim button and the dive button, moving around underwater feels pretty pleasant. I kind of wonder how the lancer doesn't drown under the weight of her weapon, though…
Final Thoughts Two things will probably make or break this game: Wii Speak and pay-to-play subscriptions. In Japan, they don't have the former, but they do have the latter — and a long history of loving Monster Hunter. Here, we're sad because there are only like two games that use Wii Speak and I really don't think we'd stand for a subscription Wii game no matter how awesome it might be. Also, we're not as fond of or familiar with Monster Hunter — but with any luck and a little attention to these two make-or-breaks, Capcom could be changing that.