I'm not really sure where I was when the Monster Hunter phenomenon happened... probably at a bar, but I have spent a few hours with the Monster Hunter Tri demo. Despite the fact that Capcom has only given a tease with two missions, it was enough to make me cautiously optimistic.

"The graphics are great for a Wii" has almost become an industry term. Monster Hunter boasts graphics that would be acceptable for a 360 or PS3. The enviroments are beautiful, the characters and monsters are detailed, the movements are fluid, and I did not experience any slowdown. During the first mission I had about five average sized monsters and one gigantic monster and the game never dropped in frame rate.

Nintendo, always cautious about their ESRB rating, opted for Tekken-like explosions in lieu of blood when a monster is struck with your weapon. When you sustain too much damage, you faint - instead of die. They make up for this minor nuance by having your character cut open felled beasts to collect items, rather than just run through them.

The music fits the missions perfectly and only kicks into full gear when you encounter your primary target. When the music kicks in, however, it does give you a feeling that you are taking part in an epic battle. The environmental sounds are strongly in place, but don't feel forced. The sounds of birds chirping feels random, like in a real forest and the sound of a babbling brook or a calm breeze is heard throughout. The game maintains its sense of humor and makes sure it never takes itself too seriously - when you fire up the BBQ pit, goofy, redneck-like carnival music takes over and is always right for a good laugh.

There are multiple characters to choose from, all with their own strengths and weaknesses and are identified by the weapons they carry. The characters are: SWORD AND SHIELD - the "average" warrior, kind of quick and kind of strong; HEAVY SWORD - Like the previous class, but slower and does more damage; LONG SWORD - basically a faster version of the heavy sword; HAMMER - a slow but brutal warrior, not much in defense or agility, but the gigantic hammer packs a wallop; LANCE - probably the weirdest class, this guy just charges around trying to impale things, probably the worst character; LIGHT/MEDIUM/HEAVY BOWMEN - These guys are tough to use solo, but they would be valuable in multiplayer; SWITCH AXE - Probably my favorite character, they are the slowest but their axe can also transform into a sword, these guys are slow but can open up a can of whoop-ass.

The demo did force me to raise some questions, the collision detection was bad. Sometimes a strike right on top of a monster would have no effect, yet a strike in the wrong direction would connect. Also, the controls were very unforgiving, with the lack of a target lock system, I spent more time running and readjusting the camera, than I did fighting.

These are minor blemishes, however, and do little to take away from the fun. My big concern is with the size of the environments. There are about ten areas where you can fight, but these areas are all small and seperated by load screens (similar to Resident Evil Outbreak). If the stellar graphics are the reason the environments are so cramped, I would have preferred lack-luster visuals to maintain a true open world.

All in all, the demo was impressive enough to convince me to pre-order it. I look forward to giving a review when I get my hands on it April 20.