There’s always been something about the Monster Hunter series that’s made me keep my distance – whether it’s the fact I’m not the biggest fan of RPG-style games or the large amount of time you usually need to invest in a game like this, it’s something that has never really appealed to me. However with Wii U releases few and far between and nothing announced from Nintendo in the near future, I figured I’d give the latest entry in the series a chance.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, rather than being a brand new game is instead an updated port of the original Wii title Monster Hunter Tri. With upgraded HD visuals, off screen play, new weapon classes and hundreds of extra missions there’s plenty to sink your teeth into whether you’re a newcomer to the series or someone who played the Tri on the Wii.
For anyone who’s yet to sample the unique taste that is Monster Hunter, the series focuses on battling monsters, gathering resources and upgrading your equipment. There’s no levelling up in the game, instead you’re only as strong as the armour and weapon you hold. Killing monsters and gathering their skin, claws and other unique features is essential in forging new gear and the only way to stand a chance against later enemies. It’s a refreshing style for an RPG-style game and is a welcome departure from the usual levelling up mechanics found in other titles of the same genre. That isn’t to say stats and customisables don’t play a key role though. What may seem daunting at first (and still kind of is for me even fifty hours in) is the sheer amount of things to do, manage and analyse when playing. Whether it’s your farm where you can grow herbs, mushrooms and other useful items or the ships you send out on voyages to gather rare and unique items. You can even customize your place of residence! Like I said, it can all feel extremely complicated at first, and technically it is, but once you’ve managed to push through and learn at least some of the systems in place in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate you’ll find yourself uncovering one hell of a rewarding game.
The fighting system at first may appear to amount to no more than simply pressing the attack button over and over, but with time you soon begin to uncover its deeper, more intricate systems. Yes attacking is handled with a simple button press, but it’s the timing, your awareness of your surroundings and your character’s animations that also need to be judged and mastered if you are to succeed too. The game handles well whether you’re using the Wii U Gamepad or a Pro Controller and the touch screen additions are subtle but useful.
Mission structure is very simple and never amounts to more than hunting, capturing or gathering something. You’ll find yourself repeating the same routine over and over that it starts to become second nature. Starting in your village you can choose your weapon, armour and any extra items before selecting a mission and purchasing any temporary boosts on your way into the battlefield. Here you’ll venture one of six environments (the usual desert, snow filled mountain and standard types) split into smaller subsections where you’ll complete your mission. Once finished its back to the village where you’re rewarded with money and plenty of loot. Whether you’re playing alone or online the structure remains the same.
With twelve weapon types to choose from and each with their own play styles; you’ll want to test them all to find one that suits yours. Up close and personal weapons such as the sword or lance are great for those who like to simply get stuck in while ranged weapons are perfect for players who prefer a more supportive role in hunts. While the roster of weapons is impressive in itself, what’s even more impressive is how much one type differs from another. It can change how you play the game entirely and is just one of the reasons I found myself trying out five or six.
Of course the true stars of the game are the monsters themselves, and with over fifty large monsters to hunt and capture it’ll take months to find and tackle them all. Everything from monsters that fly and swim to ones that call in backup and poison you – the variety is fantastic. It’s amazing I’ve put well over forty hours into the game and I’m still finding new monsters. How to take them on is vital in surviving in Monster Hunter. Simply going in and spamming the attack button is the kind of action that will get you killed. Instead you need to observe the monster, memorise its attack patterns and keep an eye out for its “tells” so you know when to attack and when to keep your distance. Something as small as drool pouring from the beast’s mouth may be your signal to deliver one last full frontal attack to take it down for example. The lack of a health bar or damage counters gives Monster Hunter a more organic feel to it that helps set it apart from many other RPGs out there right now.
Monster Hunter truly comes into its own when playing with friends. Offering four player online multiplayer, you’ll get the chance to team up to take on monsters of ever increasing size. Whereas playing alone you’re constantly relying on the AI controlled Cha-Cha to distract the monsters (who does a decent enough job) with other human controlled characters you’re able to communicate and establish a plan of attack. You can decide who will provide the distraction, who will attack from a distance, who will set up a trap to capture the monster in its final moments. With the lengthy nature of most hunts, gelling well with your team to eventually deliver that final blow is one of the most rewarding feelings I’ve felt in gaming in a while.
Sadly online multiplayer isn’t without its problems. Getting into a room is simple enough, but leaving to enter another requires exiting to the main title screen. What starts as agitating slowly turns into infuriating and is something that CAPCOM should have handled far better. Another thing I noticed is that unless you arrange an online hunt with people you actually know, chances are you’ll either join a strangers room mid-battle (having to wait until they are done) or join a lobby where no one appears to be moving. Throw in the fact you’ll need to constantly return to the title screen to enter a new lobby and you can see how things may get a tad frustrating.
The game isn’t without its faults though and perhaps the biggest one is its slow opening. Sure it may be necessary for someone new to Monster Hunter or not used to this type of game in general, but for those who do pick things up quickly, you’ll find the first four or so hours very uneventful. It’s also pretty noticeable that this is merely a port of an old Wii game. The HD sheen is a welcome additon and the colours are bold and bright, but detail lacks especially in environments and characters. When you look at the trailer for Monolith’s next big RPG it’s hard not to be disappointed with what a true Monster Hunter sequel would look like had it taken advantage of the power of the Wii U.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is the kind of game where you really need to invest your time to get to the real good stuff. With literally hundreds of weapons, missions and monsters, a solid single player campaign and an extremely addictive online multiplayer you’ll be hard pressed to find another game as expansive or deep.