Imagine if Steven Spielberg had designed Pokémon and you'd be in Monster Hunter Tri's postcode. It's a true blockbuster adventure, full of jaw-slackening moments that will have you scrabbling around the back of your Wii to make sure it hasn't sprouted a high-powered PC.
Nintendo has given the game so much attention because Monster Hunter has every chance of being a big hit here. The concept of tooling up and lamping large toothy beasts is universal. And the Pokémon reference is accurate thanks to the completist's dream of finding and cataloguing every monster in the game.
It's an adventure that you have to invest heavily in. Creating a hunter you're happy to have represent you through countless hours of game time takes hours, days, even weeks. It's not something you can play for a couple of hours and hope to have cracked. Ten hours or more is what it takes.
Pick Your Battle
The game is divided into two: the offline single player mode which packs in well over 50 hours of game, and the online multiplayer component. Previous Monster Hunter games felt sparse played solo; a series of drab and unconnected quests in a flat world. In Tri, the solo mode provides so much more cohesion.
Moga Village is your homestead for the single player game. You're a little known monster hunter called in to rid the once bustling village of the mighty Lagiacrus - the sea monster terrorising the fishing fleet. The village is home to various traders, a canteen, a farm where you can cultivate your own nourishment to take out with you - everything you need in one compact space. As the effects of your success takes hold, it's rewarding to see new traders dock, or fishing vessels be put under your command.
As the village chief's son and various traders ask for favours, sending you into Moga Woods to hunt and gather, you build up Resource Points which help the village rebuild. Eventually you'll have helped get the base camp up and running, and the Hunter's Guild will get in touch to start offering you work. At this point you'll find you've broken through - you've got the knowledge and the basic skill sets, and now you've got the hunger to carry on.
Gotta Hunt 'Em All
There are 35 monsters in all. If that doesn't seem like a lot, bear in mind that well over half of those are boss monsters, and boss monsters mean well over half an hour of tracking and fighting. Your base camp provides you with supplies (maps, rations, and specific items to lure monsters), so whether you're on your own or fighting with others you'll be back there a lot to replenish health, or even just to take a breather. Plus, more monsters make their presence felt online.
There are distinct advantages to hunting on your own and with friends. Alone, you get to appreciate the stunning visuals around you - the landscape stretching off into the distance, the incredible detail and animation of each monster and the sophisticated AI underpinning it all, with each species showing recognisable behaviour patterns that alter depending on how many of you are poking it with sticks.
Online meanwhile, you get the kick of working together to bring down huge animals, strategising, covering and communicating. Given how broad the online world is, it's amazingly simple to get connected. It's just a case of walking up to someone and then asking to be in their gang, then getting out in the wild and thumping scaly bottom.
Never has there been such a brilliantly realised, inclusive assault right on the Wii's online front door and if there are any complaints, they concern the slightly clunky combat system that suffers for having no lock-on feature, but even this can be overcome with practise. It's got the best monsters on the Wii, the biggest weapons on the Wii and the best online system on the Wii. It's an outstanding achievement that proves the Wii can do epic and that it can do great multiplayer gaming that doesn't involve doing your back in.
This is an edited version of a review that appears in ONM 55 which is on sale now. For the full unedited version with more in-depth analysis, screenshots and boxouts buy the May issue of Official Nintendo Magazine