13th Aug 2011 | 11:30
When Monster Hunter launched back in 2004, Japanese gamers quickly fell in love with its tribal universe and co-operative focus. Then, with the release of Monster Hunter Tri last year, Nintendo fans the world over were finally introduced to the foultempered Rathlos and all his lizardy friends.
Which begs the question, why after seven years of continued success, have so few studios tried to emulate this winning formula? Maybe it's a reflection of the series' continued quality, but if anyone stands a chance, it has to be Earth Seeker creator Noritaka Funamizu.
Earth Seeker begins rather sombrely as humanity evacuates a dying Earth in search of a new home, but while travelling through deep space their armada is struck by gamma radiation and every living thing in the fleet dies.
The computer systems journey on regardless, and upon discovering a suitable planet, the rickety ships crash land. The computers then reshape the world into a second Earth, but due to the damage sustained in the crash they create a land filled with beasts rather than people. Skip to 1,000 years later and a new species of 'Earthnoid' humans are picking up the pieces.
BRAVE NEW WORLD
The game takes on a structure that's strikingly similar to Monster Hunter Tri, as you're thrust into a central hub and given control of one of three female Earthnoids, all wearing surprisingly practical trousers. You're then summoned before their leader and given the task of recovering the many human artefacts that were lost in the crash.
This recovery process is hindered by the unspeakable (though undeniably cute) creatures that stalk the land, so before you go, well, monster hunting, you first have to enlist the help of the Guardians.
These Ewok wannabes were native to the planet before humanity's ghost dropped in with its size 12s and mucked up the ecosystem. They do, however, have an exploitable love for booze, so once you get them properly hammered they agree to help you out.
This is where Earth Seeker diverges from Monster Hunter, as while Capcom's beast-slayer is designed for multiplayer, this is a single-player RPG where you micromanage a team of up to six Guardians. This means equipping them with makeshift weaponry and teaching them a variety of spells, as your Earthnoid is only good with a blade.
Your sensibly dressed beast-slayer starts out with a knock-off lightsaber, but once she's cobbled together enough parts and visited the weaponsmith with a fistful of dragons' teeth, she'll be able to wield a variety of beam katanas that would make Travis Touchdown blush.
The combat is where Earth Seeker makes its boldest step, as instead of a hands-on approach, you pause the action mid-fight and select attacks from a menu - in a style not too dissimilar to Final Fantasy XII. The attacks depend on the weapon you're wielding, as short swords tend to favour multi-hit combos and somersault swings, while claymores offer torpedo dives and sundering slashes.
The missions themselves are viewed from a familiar quest desk, and range from killing and capturing monsters to recovering famous artworks (such as The Birth Of Venus) and technological innovations like the microwave. The hunting regions are also littered with the remains of well-known monuments, including the severed head of the Statue of Liberty and a rust-ridden Eiffel Tower.
And while the locations start out friendly enough, with deserted cityscapes intersected with untamed greenery, it's not long before you're traipsing through crumbling Japanese temples at the base of an active volcano. Time in the field is also limited by a dwindling oxygen supply.
Respiratory needs aside, the biggest threat is the wildlife itself. The first creatures you come across are a race of sentient fly-people who are easily swatted. You then run into some rubberylooking tigers that run fast and hit hard, but are outmatched by your Guardians.
Once you start accepting high-rank quests you run into plasma-spewing millipedes, chickens with stretchy necks, arachnid tanks with arm cannons and a flying manta ray that blasts you with sound waves. And while they aren't nearly as charming as Capcom's finest, they fit the tone of the game perfectly and offer a steady challenge.
If you love Tri's intense real-time combat and the variety offered by its unique weapon classes, then the stop and go menus here may be a bit too relaxed for your tastes. But if you find Monster Hunter's unforgiving nature too demanding, this offers a similar structure of 'kill lesser beast to forge weapon to kill bigger beast', but without the hardcore multiplayer focus.
Indeed, you could almost accuse Earth Seeker of being Monster Hunter: Lite, but by diversifying the formula with RPG elements, Funamizu and his team have crafted a game that offers something eerily familiar yet undeniably different.