Monster Hunter Tri is an anomaly, a freak of nature, an exception to the rules. If it were a monster, it'd be an amazingly rare kind of beastie that hides in the darkest, dankest spots of Bodmin Moor. One lonely winter night you're out walking your dog; you hear a strange noise, turn – and there it is. "OMFG!" you gurgle. "WTF is that?" Then it'd bite your head off, claw open your twitching belly, and turn your entrails into some kind of funky hat. Meow.
Monster Hunter Tri is an anomaly for many reasons. For a start, it looks great. Sometimes people will describe a new release as looking "pretty good for a Wii game", much in the same way you might discuss a swimmer who "does pretty well for a chap with no legs". Tri is a genuine beaut, boasting detailed character models and a broad selection of huge, well-animated creatures to battle. But that's not the only point of difference between this and your average Wii release: motion controls are all but ignored, so much so that at this week's press event Nintendo and Capcom had decked out all the test consoles with the new revamped Classic Controllers. Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, Monster Hunter Tri is a seriously hardcore game.
Long-term fans of the MH series will be all too aware of this last point. This isn't your average casual-friendly waggle-fest we're talking about here: Monster Hunter is a ballsy great hulk of a challenge, the kind of game where you can exhaust yourself for the best part of an hour, only to be suddenly crushed by a charging, teethy meat-tank. It's a brutal endeavour, and that's just what the veteran players like. The million dollar question is this: can the game find a broader audience here in the UK, beyond the small (but admittedly very dedicated) fanbase that already exists?
Only time will tell, but what I can say right now is that Monster Hunter Tri has the potential to be one of the best Wii releases of 2010. As with the previous entries in the series, the basic setup here is that you're a young warrior whose job it is to track and hunt down dangerous monsters (hence the title, durrr!). In this case, you've been specifically tasked with finding the creature that's been causing earthquakes around Moga Village – the quiet little village that acts as your hub between assignments. When you're not out trying to slay some towering mass of spines and fangs, you'll be able to explore Moga, chat to the locals (who also act as quest dispensers), sell the loot you've harvested from dead monsters and pick up new equipment. You'll also get to hang out at your snazzy-looking, open-plan shack - a cosy home that comes complete with a set of cat-like servants; these little feline chaps will undertake various tasks for you, including taking care of your own private garden, which can help to provide you with useful plants.
As it happens, you'll only be spending time in Moga in the single-player game. In another significant departure from standard Wii form, Monster Hunter Tri will have a significant focus on multiplayer action. There's an offline, split-screen mode called Team Takedown, in which you and a chum attempt to take down a specified monster within a confined arena, but the real draw here is the "true" co-op multiplayer experience over a network connection, wherein up to four hunters can head out on quests together. In this mode you start out in the stony city of Loc Lac, in a gathering hall where you can hang and chat with other hunters. The game's original Japanese release was restricted to text-based chat here, but the Western version will feature full support for WiiSpeak – allowing you to make friends, discuss tactics, or simply hurl torrents of abuse at your partners when things inevitably go pear-shaped.