Monster Hunter Tri: Another Solid Installment Hampered By Familiar Flaws

MH3_FOB_psd_jpgcopy.jpg Monster Hunter is one of those weird series that is a phenomenon in Japan, yet has been consistently greeted by a lukewarm reception in the West, at best. I’ve always tried my hardest to embrace the franchise, but one thing keeps turning me away with each new installment: poor controls. Unfortunately, nothing has changed with Monster Hunter Tri for the Wii.

Now I don’t want to give the impression that Monster Hunter Tri (or any of the previous games) is somehow broken or unplayable, because it most certainly is not. In fact, it’s a very solid game with beautiful graphics (for a Wii game), a believable world, detailed and realistically animated monsters, exciting new underwater combat and exploration, gameplay that can be highly addictive at peak moments, and cooperative play that finally treats the Wii like a serious online platform. I do like the game as it is, but, as with previous installments, I think it could have been a whole lot better with some extra control and interface tuning.

Clearly Monster Hunter Tri is a game that requires patience and an eagerness to learn how to adapt to what is, and has been, a flawed control system. The Monster Hunter games have always had stiff controls, and at this point it is clear that Capcom is deliberate in this design approach. I understand that and give the developers credit for sticking to their guns, but I still can’t excuse what I consider a user-unfriendly control scheme.

I’m not one to shy away from hardcore grind-it-out games or those requiring a steep learning curve – I usually love games of that sort, in fact — but something about the Monster Hunter games just never feels right to me. I know purists scoff at the idea, but this game really needs some form of lock-on system. The argument against lock-on targeting is always that it would make the game too easy, but I don’t see it that way. Games are supposed to be challenging because of properly balanced AI and other factors, not because a design flaw makes it a pain in the ass to land attacks and combos with a reasonable rate of consistency. Seriously, if your manual aim is a smidgen off and you don’t have the camera positioned correctly, you wind up slashing into thin air, and the attack animations are often so methodical that you can’t immediately adjust your angle of attack. By then, your target either has a wide open shot at you or is free to scurry off. This is very, very frustrating.

Perhaps Monster Hunter Tri handles better with the new Classic Controller Pro (I don’t have one so I’m not sure), but it just isn’t the type of game I enjoy playing with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. Even after hours and hours of play, I regularly have to stop and think about which button to press to open a certain menu or use an item because the control layout lacks a natural feel. It’s worse with Wii waggle too – swiping the Remote attacks and shaking the Nunchuk can be used to loot dead monster carcasses and harvest materials – but thankfully Capcom built in the option to turn off the motion controls. Even with waggle deactivated, though, the position you hold the remote while attacking with regular buttons still dictates the style of attack – tilting the remote upwards while attacking performs a lunging strike while holding the remote level allows you to perform standard combos. So, that’s just one more thing you have to keep in mind.

Cataloging monsters is also somewhat cumbersome with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk scheme. You have to stop, open the menu, cycle to the Hunter’s Notes heading and then hold Z to bring up the remote pointer, target a creature, hold A and drag to a little book graphic in the bottom right corner of the screen. The pointer controls work fine through all this, but the process is way more laborious than it needs to be, and sadly there isn’t an alternate method.

Something else I have to question is Capcom’s choice of platforms in its attempts to reach a larger audience in the US. In my opinion, the PSP and Wii are the two worst platforms to choose for a Monster Hunter game to thrive on — the PSP because of its limited control options and the fact that even great games rarely sell well on the platform, and the Wii because more hardcore games of this type have been proven to be failed efforts time and time again. Of course, over in Japan the PSP and Wii perform much better, so from that angle it makes sense.

Early estimates also indicate that Monster Hunter Tri has sold somewhere in the range of 125-150,000 copies in its first month in the US, and those numbers are very respectable compared to other third-party titles for the Wii. And in all seriousness, if you own a Wii and are into action-RPGs, Monster Hunter Tri is totally worth playing…as long as you aren’t expecting instant accessibility. With patience it can be great fun.

But still, I would really love to see what Capcom could do with a PS3 and/or Xbox 360 Monster Hunter (Frontier is coming to Xbox 360 in Japan this summer, but it’s a port of an old PC game and a Western release seems unlikely, so I’m not sure it counts), because until then I don’t see the series ever living up to its full potential outside the Land of the Rising Sun.

Source: A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for coverage purposes.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!