The Monster Hunter franchise is a collection of loot-based, action RPGs. Translated, that means some people tell you to kill stuff, you do it and get treasure. The harder the task, the better the treasure and better treasure equals better weapons and gear allowing you to take on greater challenges. In its various iterations, the franchise’s bread and butter is in its multiplayer modes. Gathering friends to take down some monsters is a time-honored tradition in online gaming, but how well would that translate to Nintendo’s little white box?
Traditionally not a bastion of open networks and meeting people online, the Wii’s “Wi-Fi” network hinders socialization through friend codes and until recently, a lack of voice-chat capabilities. Marketed as “protecting the children,” Nintendo is really just leery of third parties using their hardware in a way the Big ‘N’ had not intended (read: had not thought how to monetize yet). With Animal Crossing: City Folk, Nintendo released the Wii Speak, which is simply another first party peripheral forcing anyone that follows to utilize the equipment. So far, no one has, and Animal Crossing: City Folk’s promises of interconnectivity and co-op play fell short of expectations.
With roughly a dozen or so classes/characters to choose from, of course both Binh and I chose the newest class. A heavily armored melee class, this warrior carries around the “Switch Axe.” As you can probably surmise, it is an axe that can change into a sword and back again giving the wielder a completely new and different set of moves to unleash upon enemies. Aside from some ineptitude with the new controller (user error), the controls and combat felt responsive. The Classic Controller Pro feels natural in your hands; it is exactly what you would expect in the current generation. Look for them to be released packaged along with the game for $59.99.
Environments in the game look lush and feel substantive as you run through them. The map is broken into little areas that you access via a load screen. A lot has been and will be said about the load screens in between each area. I will say that in the heat of the battle with our main objective, when the monster retreated to another area and we had to bounce to another area, the load screen did break up the action, giving me an opportunity to lose any amount of immersion I felt. Otherwise, I felt nothing jumping from area to area looking at load screens. I hope that by its April release, they can speed up some of the load times a little, but I don’t feel it will severely limit the game’s presentation for the general populace*.
Where I bought into this title is in Capcom’s plans to create a hub town where people can meet up, socialize and group up for quests. It was still being fleshed out at CES, but the picture painted included a place where you can meet both friends and strangers in order to pick up quests and find other individuals to co-op with regardless of whether or not you are “friended” with them. In this hub town you would also be able to hit the town bar for drinks and mini-games if you want to take a break from adventuring. Between what I heard and what I played, basically this game is everything Animal Crossing should have been on the Wii, only better.
Capcom has only announced Wii Speak integration in Europe, but my hope is to see that here on this continent as well. With the proliferation of Wii Speak negligible and zero voice support outside of that, I am concerned about playing co-op with people I cannot communicate with quickly. Perhaps players will utilize voice chat features over XBox Live or PSN to alleviate the problem. It’s better than giving Nintendo another $30 for yet another peripheral hanging off your TV.
* - Overly critical gamers and Wii haters need not apply.