Games: Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin - A spin off worth turning on
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin (Switch)
TO quote the great Troy McClure, "Spinoff. Is there any word more thrilling to the human soul?"
Successful properties often spawn by-products, but they don't always work, and for every Frasier or Better Call Saul, there's a Joey or Baywatch Nights. And don't get me started on Alien vs. Predator, which doubled the spin-offery for double the disappointment.
Gaming is not immune, but more often strikes gold – consider Half Life's chip-off-the-old-block, Portal, or when Shin Megami Tensei begat the incredible Persona.
With Monster Hunter sucking in the yen in its native Japan, it was only a matter of time before Capcom's accountants would send the fertile role-player out to stud.
Since its PS2 debut in 2004, the beast-battling series single-handedly saved Sony's PSP from extinction and became the Wii's best selling non-Nintendo game, though it was only with 2018's Monster Hunter World that the series found major success in the West.
Successful enough, in fact, for a recent Hollywood cash-in from schlockmeister Paul WS Anderson, starring his favourite (and none-less Japanese) actress-wife Milla Jovovich.
The mainline games are essentially a series of boss fights against increasingly difficult quarry. Skewed towards a younger audience, the Stories spin-offs take a more focused, narrative dive into its world.
If you haven't played the first 3DS game, fret not - while there are references and recurring characters here, Wings of Ruin is the perfect launch-pad for greenhorns.
When Rathalos disappears, nature itself is sent into chaos. As the grandkid of a legendary Monster Rider, it's off to put the world to rights in an unapologetically by-the-book mash-up of genre tropes.
You know the story - visit villages to earn the trust of their oddball inhabitants, complete quests and deal with monsters. Featuring a roster of series stalwarts (known here as the cutesy 'Monsties'), Wings of Ruin swaps tracking and butchery for the opportunity to raise, befriend and team up with its digital beasts. Pokémon says hello.
Though before animal rights-types cheer, you do this by snatching their eggs from nests. While RPG vets can bury themselves in the stats, casual gamers will find equal success just breezing through a game that's thankfully devoid of the main series' grind.
Add some truly awful jokes and you have a game that doesn't take itself too seriously. It's also one of the best-looking titles on the ageing Switch, with Pixar-quality cut-scenes, lashings of voice acting and a soaring soundtrack.
It's all a bit much for the hardware, though, which struggles to keep the frame rate on an even keel at times.
More than just a cute romp through the Monster Hunter universe, Capcom's charm offensive is this year's most engaging and addictive RPG. You'll have a monster's ball with this gateway drug to one of Japan's most enduring adventure series, and perhaps the greatest spin-off since Wiggum P.I..