TOKYO--Capcom's Monster Hunter series has become a sales juggernaut that has moved PSP hardware for Sony in Japan. The game's solid action and multiplayer emphasis have found it a loyal audience that has picked up each entry in the series by the bucketload. The latest entry in the series, Monster Hunter 3, marks a significant departure from the previous games, which were released exclusively for the PSP, because it's the first appearance for the series on the Wii.
The TGS demo for the game let us pick from three hunting missions. One had us hunting a raptor-like critter named Dos Jagie across plains. Another mission sent us after a creature called Quru Pecco, which was a cross between a bird and a lizard. However, the most interesting mission was probably the third, which had us going after a creature called Lagiacrus and which showed off the new underwater gameplay mechanics. We were able to pick a male or a female hunter and choose from four weapon classes: great sword, one-handed sword and shield, hammer, or bowgun.
Controlling your hunter makes comprehensive use of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combination. While everything maps out pretty well, we can't say we're fans of the Remote and Nunchuk combo when hunting monsters. Thankfully, we're happy to report that the game will also support the Classic Controller, which is the way to go. The only nagging quirk is the lack of a lock-on feature, which we know is a staple of the series, but we live in hope.
As far as the gameplay goes, it's pretty much Monster Hunter. You'll roam around killing things until you find your quarry, at which point you'll stab it until it stops moving. It's a pretty simple formula, but it certainly has its appeal. You'll still navigate using an onscreen map of the region you're in. The locations are still broken up into chunks that will load briefly as you move between them. The monster behavior has been tweaked,as noted in the stage demo, and we were able to see it firsthand. At the moment, the behavior system seems pretty subtle: Injured monsters seem to try to engage in some cannibalism with their fellow creatures to regain their strength. This comes in handy because it leads to convenient infighting, which helps you deal with large mobs. Finally, although there wasn't much information on how they're going to work out, the adorable cat people are back in full force. They appeared in support roles in the demo, most notably wheeling your unconscious body back to your camp if you fall during a mission, but the producers promise extra doses of feline-based eccentricity in the final game.
In terms of overall presentation, Monster Hunter 3 hits all the right notes. The new platform gives the visuals a significant boost over the PSP titles. The game looks great and stands out among Wii games even in its work-in-progress state. Your hunter looks sharp and has a high level of detail, as do the monsters you'll be slicing your way through. The locales have an impressive array of little animation touches, such as running water. The underwater segments have a nice look to them, and Lagiacrus looked right at home. The audio was hard to fully make out, but this definitely sounds like a Monster Hunter game. The creatures' sounds and your own attacks are all in line with what we've heard in the series so far, with some more-robust creature screeching.
Based on what we played, Monster Hunter 3 is shaping up to be a worthy entry in the Monster Hunter series. There's a ton of content to plow through, and the various online and offline co-op features are a smart addition to the mix. As usual, the game's quirks, such as the camera and targeting, make the action a little bumpy. If Monster Hunter 3 can get those rough spots worked out, then the game could become a contender for the best entry in the series to date. Monster Hunter 3 is slated to ship next year in Japan, so look for more on it in the coming months.