Your band of Felyne companions no longer accompanies you, sadly - replaced by the mildly annoying but ultimately more useful Cha-Cha. This little chap, introduced a few hours in, offers support in a number of ways, from buffing dances to direct melee attacks, as well as helping with gathering. His weird, quasi-Shakespearian childish patter grates, but he's more flexible and customisable than the Felynes were, with changeable masks and dances fine-tuning his combat style. Plus you can still batter him with a great sword if he rubs you up the wrong way.
The Wii's extra processing power and freedom from the PSP's small screen mean that even more enemies can now pile in simultaneously, with encounters with three large wyverns at once far from unusual. Obviously, when this happens it's basically time to show them your backside; even Tri's much-improved camera still gets stuck behind monsters sometimes, especially when there are a lot of them kicking around.
Multiple monsters do give players the chance to see the ecology system in action, however. Ecology might be a bit of an overstatement for the occasional bit of monster-on-monster action it produces, but the addition of (hidden) stamina gauges for large beasts mean that they'll sometimes need to nip off for a quick snack to recharge their energy. Prevent them from doing so and many of their attacks will start to falter and fail, making them far easier targets.
In terms of big changes, though, it's the addition of water environments which is most notable. Swimming is easily controlled and feels natural, with a generous oxygen bar refillable from numerous streams of bubbles from the sea or lake floor. Fighting underwater takes on a more measured, gradual pace - albeit no less exacting for that. In fact, some of the underwater enemies and battles are real highlights, the three-dimensional manoeuvrability and pacing they offer a welcome change from the generally chaotic land encounters.
What really stymied Freedom and Freedom Unite for many people was the difficulty of arranging online meetings, even with the PS3's Ad Hoc party system. Rest assured that, whilst Tri's online lobbies are a little antiquated, the system works extremely well. Players can warp to each other once they have the requisite IDs, names or friend codes, and four-player instances within the larger online areas mean that groups are easy to form and maintain. Obviously the servers weren't particularly thriving during my visits, two weeks before launch, but the impression was that once things get busy there's potential for a fantastic atmosphere. Pick yourself up a WiiSpeak and the experience steps up another notch, especially given the frantic nature of the game's battles.
There's so much more to talk about, but it's almost impossible to do justice to the scope of Monster Hunter without getting tiresome. If you've played any of the games before, and enjoyed them, then you'll find very little to fault here. Many of the frustrations and much of the wilful obfuscation are gone. Tri is noticeably slicker, smoother and more polished than any of its predecessors. Newcomers will probably be divided; Tri has certainly kept enough of its niggling peccadilloes and moments of tooth-shattering unfairness to annoy the less patient, but Tri is definitely the best way to introduce yourself to this incredibly involving and rewarding series.
Just remember, the bigger they come, the more likely they are to crush you mercilessly into a greasy pulp. But you'll go back, again and again, because what Monster Hunter does best is enrage you just enough. To prick your ego right to the point where it's about to burst, before suddenly rolling over for you to tickle its scaly belly with a 14-foot lance. Once it has its claws in you, you're over.