Wii at Five: The Ecstasy of Punishment

All hail Monster Hunter Tri, that most punishing of Wii games.

By Andrew Hsieh. Posted 11/24/2011 15:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

On November 19, 2006, the Nintendo Wii was released, simultaneously disrupting the traditional evolutionary flow of the industry and launching a new era of gaming defined by more players and less controls. While many, from pundits to gamers, are still debating the merits of such a development, and while the system hasn’t provided the breadth and depth of hardcore gaming experiences that were made available on every previous Nintendo console, there are still a number of magical, must-play titles that have dotted the machine’s library like jewels in a crown.

To commemorate the Wii’s fifth birthday– its last before Nintendo ushers in its sixth(!) system– Nintendojo looks back on the best of these best releases. Five authors, five games, and five years, all in five days.

Let’s a-go!

Game: Monster Hunter Tri
Release date: April 20, 2010

I’m standing alone in the desert, feeling woefully overdressed in my armor of Rathian plate and scale, and incredibly useless with my great sword made of absurdly shaped bone. I take a few swings at the foreboding thin air, pretending that I’m even a wee bit effectual in this harsh environment. (I’m not.) Meanwhile, my stamina continues to decrease drastically, but though I rustle through my bags constantly, I find no water. And as I walk deeper into the desert, trying as hard as I can to look more prepared than I actually am, I steel myself for an unfortunate demise.

Of course, that’s when the Diablos chooses to strike.

Diablos, otherwise known as the creature who haunts your nightmares.

Its roar literally stuns me for a few seconds too long, making me wish I’d scrounged around a little more for an ear-protecting power-up. And so, before I can even wave my hilariously ineffectual sword once, the massive creature gores me on its two horns, screams again, and flings me into the opposite side of the desert. Disoriented, I get up just in time to drink a potion before realizing that the Diablos is nowhere in sight. I hesitate before taking out my sword, shielding myself with its blade as I strafe nervously around the perimeter of the desert. Suddenly, the ground beneath my feet explodes in sand and stone, and I’m screaming in midair as the two-horned demon crushes my body, my spirit, and my pride.

As I hurtle through the air, I wonder briefly if the Guild provides health insurance.

The Nintendo Wii is an interesting console. Initially hailed for its innovative motion controls, which gamers thought might revolutionize otherwise stagnant genres, Wii eventually became vilified by the “hardcore” gamer base for its huge selection of rather underwhelming minigame collections. Ignore the fact, of course, that many of these so-called “casual” games routinely receive high marks on Amazon or Target from people who actually play these games; Wii Cheer, Carnival Games, and licensed games like High School Musical 3: Senior Year Dance! (natch) may be despised and shunned by experienced I-Only-Play-Games-Magazines-Tell-Me-to-Play gamers, but other people seem to like them. Is it elitism or actual discerning taste that makes gamers so darn picky about the games they play? Who knows.

But though most gamers may automatically associate Wii with flinging remotes around willy-nilly, in doing so they’re usually not looking hard enough. They’ll show you games like ExerBeat and bemoan the death of games that benefit nothing more than your pride; they’ll throw PokéPark Wii: Pikachu’s Adventure at you and scream about how time-tested franchises are horribly disfigured by pandering to the very demographic that made them popular in the first place. Meanwhile, other games stand patiently at the corners of the proverbial dance floor– games like Super Mario Galaxy, Xenoblade Chronicles, and Monster Hunter Tri.

I’m not afraid to say this first boss killed me more than a few times.

Oh, Monster Hunter Tri.

If there’s one game that defines addiction, Tri is it. Here’s a game that revolves around the signature conceit of videogames– making a character, lowly and humble in his leather rags, and steadily adding to him bit by bit until he’s practically godly in his sheer fighting prowess. Except here it’s a lot more difficult; instead of repetitiously tapping the A button until a Slime dies, hunters roll, dash, and flee– shamelessly– until they emerge, blood-soaked and victorious. There’s a reason most missions have a time limit of a whole hour.

Yet despite this massive time-sink, people keep playing Monster Hunter Tri. There’s the drop rate, of course– in order to build greater weapons and forge tougher armor, players must bring down terrible monsters time and time again, hoping that this time, the creature will finally drop some rare jewel or scale to make something new. But more likely, it’s the fights themselves. Unlike in games like Super Smash Bros. Brawl, where the computer eventually becomes eclipsed by the sheer ingenuity of human minds, bosses in MHT don’t care how intelligent or skilled you are– they’ll surprise you relentlessly, never afraid to fight dirty, sometimes teaming with other monsters to kill you again and again and again. For some reason, we like this. (Which brings us to another question: why is it so much harder to get addicted to things that are good for us?)

Of course, this isn’t to say that everyone enjoys Tri. I’m willing to bet that a few of the gamers who fly into a rage every time someone mentions Wii Sports flew into a rage the first time Great Jaggi, the easiest boss monster in the game, chewed their hunter to shreds and then wore their skins like Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. (Or like hunters themselves, now that I think about it. Or people who, uh, wear leather. How disturbing.) Meanwhile, I have a friend who isn’t exactly someone I would call a gamer– though she’s dabbled in Diablo, she spends most of her time doing things that don’t involve sitting down in front of a television for hours at a time– but when she got a Wii last year, the first game she bought was Monster Hunter Tri. I tried to warn her about it, telling her that, as someone who prefers clicking madly with a Barbarian in Diablo II, she might not enjoy MHT‘s somewhat rigorous need for finesse– but she wasn’t having any of it. Well, it was my mistake, after all. Guess which one of us is the higher-ranked hunter online?

Monster Hunter Tri Screenshot
Yeah, lava dude here is scary, but my friend’s hunter is scarier still.

It’s odd when the most defining feature of the game is its difficulty, which makes Tri a game often more fit for masochists (or, apparently, my non-gamer friend) than anybody else. But, more appropriately, Monster Hunter Tri evokes memories of old arcade games– of knowing that, though the odds are stacked against you, you can always prevail. This is especially true in MHT, where your companion– a wee, acorn-masked fellow named Cha-Cha– constantly roots for you. “You can do it!” Capcom seems to say through Cha-Cha. “You’ve bought the game, so you should enjoy it!” Well, we did. And we– most of us– do.

To succeed in Monster Hunter Tri is to succeed in being a gamer. Here, skill is rewarded, not endless button-mashing; there are no level-ups or shortcuts to ensure success, especially if you’re aiming for a high ranking. Though you may eventually garner the strongest weapons and the most durable armor, Deviljho doesn’t give two Well-done Steaks about them. Like in Super Mario Bros., sure, you can get all the power-ups you want– but do you have the skill to use them?

You’ll never be alone here. Thank goodness for free online play.

Tri brings challenge, yes, but it also brings charm and surprise. Even the non-deadly kind. In the middle of a fight with Rathian, Great Jaggi might show up, and proceed to try and attack your nemesis just as you’re trying to kill her; all Quropeco really wants to do, other than reduce you to a pile of smoldering ashes, is to eat some fish from the nearby beach. There’s a shining ecosystem here– these monsters have their own lives, as do you. The difference is they can’t change until a new game comes out.

Perhaps MHT is a commentary on capitalism and the American Dream– pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, facing giant monsters armed with nothing more than a pathetic piece of bone, wood, and steel. Perhaps Cha-Cha, in encouraging us to fight on for everlasting peace, pushes us to face our offline lives with the same kind of steely resolve, knowing that even if we don’t get that Deep Dragongem on our nineteenth Ceadeus run, we’ll get it eventually as long as we keep trying. Or perhaps those Capcom developers intend something completely opposite, arguing that though we may try our best to destroy our greatest foes, they’ll keep coming back, bigger and badder. One thing’s for sure: Monster Hunter Tri is one of the best games on Wii. Naysayers be Diablos’d.

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