Open door policy.
Platform Reviewed: Wii-U / Price: £39.99 / Time Played: I stopped counting… a long time…
I never really got into Monster Hunter.
My last experience with Capcom’s seminal dinosaurs-and-dragons slayfest was back on the PlayStation 2, with the very first entrant of the series. Considering the games of the time, Monster Hunter felt unwieldy and rusty; with a vague sensibility and loading times so cripplingly long it reminded me of the Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC’s of the mid-80’s. It was not a pleasant experience, nor was it a smooth ride, and I have admittedly shunned it since. However, with the Wii-U short on games, even a game that once made me smirk at how much patience was required just to access it becomes a tempting proposition. And truth is, I’m glad that I have experienced this game; because time has indeed been kinder to it than I have.
Seeing as I know little of the previous version, Monster Hunter Tri, I walked in with little knowledge of what was expected of me. And that seemed to be a particularly good thing; the games extensive tutorial section and introduction to the games mechanics is offset with its cheeky nod towards allowing you to play your way. I am reliably informed that there are several new weapons; and each player will obviously find themselves becoming more attached to one or two in particular, and spend hours finding ways of making their chosen method of dino-disposal more efficient. This isn’t as easy as it sounds however; materials are scattered round certain foraging points, in mining seams, in the bellies of the monsters you are destroying – missions can also deliver rewards that can be put to use in your upgrade path, so you spend equal parts of your time wandering the maps looking for new resources whilst similarly learning the ropes of how to expediently and efficiently take down each creature without too much in the way of pain.
The missions are interesting, if not particularly exciting at times early on; the game really plays out like a JRPG – it begins slowly, getting you used to things, before dropping you in an area with a creature that you’re not supposed to be able to defeat. It’s knowing your limits that makes this game so much more exciting; and when you know them, how to push them to the limit without things crushing you underfoot. Time brings confidence, failure brings caution; the balance between the two ever more delicate and fragile as things progress, and you take on greater tasks in more risky environments – some which can bring frostbite or heat exhaustion. The relationship between success and failure is one of the games most prominent points; it punishes the unprepared, the unwary, and so getting yourself ready for the challenges that lay before you is a ritual unto itself; getting food cooked up, your weapons primed, supplies for your limited inventory space balanced against anything that might need to be collected, everything is connected, and that is the whole point of the games world. Like any living, breathing environment the strong prey upon the weak, so any advantage that can be gained is doubly important.
As an HD update of a Wii game, there’s not much question that Capcom did one more stunning job for Nintendo in this regard; the views are often breathtaking all on their own, the environments rich and detailed, the waters in which you dive and forage beautiful and believable. Personally, I am more used to a more slick character creation system; the models aren’t particularly my favourites in a game of this type, but it does allow for more focus to be given elsewhere, which is kind of important when an awareness of your surroundings is so important. So they serve a function, and little more. Each monster, however, behaves differently and it is here that the game takes on an interesting Chess-themed tactical edge; knowing what weapons and tactics to use in what situation, how to chain together attacks, how to roll efficiently to avoid blows, how to run from fights too great for you; each fight, even early on, feels like a victory earned, each resource gathered an achievement unto itself. Creeping around caverns to avoid waking something up, or diving headlong hoping to get the first blows in by virtue of surprise attack, each section and each pack of animals becomes a challenge of attrition in the nicest possible way.
It also helps that the game world in itself is populated with quite admirable and funny sorts. This is something Capcom know how to do well; play the comedy angle, and it is more evident in Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate than it is in any of their latest releases. From a Hunter-obsessed groupie running a shop so she can get to meet fit, hunky hunters to a Village Chief relaxed and chilled (and smoking a pipe!) and his son who frankly hates being called Junior, even though he sometimes slips on that one himself. And that is before you get to the little cat-people, nervous and jumpy but otherwise adorable, and a pig you can dress in costumes from a reusable diaper to a onesie, and can tickle in one of the games many little mini-game enhancements; there is much to do and it can all seem quite daunting. But the world itself is daunting, and everything matches up. You start as a little fish in a massive pond; and you have to work your way up the food chain.
Whilst hunting, foraging, questing and crafting are great however, the game comes alive when you get groups together for bigger challenges; it is here where diversity and teamplay come together in one incredible blend of showmanship, against creatures that are not short battles. Those who think the height of a challenge is a five-minute heroic boss in an MMO, try getting a few people together for a fifty-minute spectacle fight against something many times bigger than you! In these instances, people seem to work even more tightly and competently than ever before and it becomes a joy to fight alongside them, and there is little more satisfying than seeing such beasts fall; doubly so when it seems all is lost, when you are down to the wire, the timer is against you and you are a shadow away from collapsing to the ground. The sense of achievwement that comes from this will dwarf any self-titled ping from PSN and X-Box Live. There’s little like it. It’s a rush, an incredible rush.
The detail is exquisite; injured animals limp, there are shadows, moments of utter beauty. Smoke wisps around, rain feels wet, the world feels live and alive at any given opportunity. And yes, the loading times are actually much improved! I can safely say that my main bugbear from the early days of this game is gone, and with that gate open, I too can enter and feel welcomed into its grounds.
Not that it’s always great; no matter how brilliant it is, there are still disappointments. It can be very bewildering at first, and never tends to get any easier. A lot of the game is tied to luck and chance; or simply investing the hours in to grinding materials, which whilst necessary can also at times limit you to certain areas in a repetitious circuit of respawning nodes, rather than encourage exploration and foraging in different spots. Whilst multiplayer is great, the means of getting there is rather old-fashioned and a disconnect will boot you back to the title screen, which is very frustrating.
All said though, it’s a title the Wii-U was crying out for; a combination attack of single-player depth and multiplayer sophistication. In spite of numerous flaws and having to sidestep its quirky and restrictive methodologies at times, it still feels like an incredible world ripe for the pillaging. It’s telling that the Monster Hunter series doesn’t tend to fare well outside of Japan, but with any fortune this is the game to help change that for the better. There are still nearly four million Wii-U owners out there and all of them have been crying out for months for something new, something fresh, something daring. Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate may not be new or fresh, but it is daring and dashing and full of wit, humour and wisdom.
On the weary road a new console must travel, it’s a checkpoint on the road to the next proper Nintendo franchise. But you won’t be in a rush to get back on the train.
The view is just too good to pass up.
- Stunning views.
- Exceptional teamplay challenges and solo content.
- Everything just seems so… alive!
- Weeks if not months of content, with more planned!
- Gathering can be a bit too repetitive and simplistic.
- The character models could have used a stronger update.
- At times menus too complicated for their own good.
- Can be a little vague and non-specific all too often.
- Pig nut-shots if you fail a tickling mini-game. Not cool.
- Elemental upgrades seem a little moot if they come from the very stuff you need them for!
- So many weapons, so little time… pray you’re not a completionist!
- U-Pad is functional, but seems a little surplus to requirement at times.
OVERALL CONCLUSION – Aim for the ugly one! Wait, which one is the ugly one? (8 out of 10)
Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate is a fine entrant that the Nintendo Wii-U desperately needs right now. It may not be all-new, or all-dancing, but there’s enough here to last people for months and plenty of team action to really make use of the upcoming Miiverse updates. A solid, if at times old-fashioned, experience. Just a shame it’s a bit pricey at that…