Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate Review
Monster Hunter isn’t like other games. It doesn’t want to be your friend and it certainly isn’t going to hold your hand, though it’ll happily lift that same hand aloft and celebrate with you when you stand over the carcass of something 482 times your size.
It doesn’t pull any punches, as evidenced by the fact that Tri’s signature monster turns up in one of the first basic fetch quests to laugh in your face and spew lightning at you as your feeble attacks bounce clean off it.
“See you in thirty hours or so,” scoffs the imposing Lagiacrus. “Because right now, you’re pathetic.” It’s not fond of explaining things, either.
But you’ll come to respect and even appreciate that when you’re working out clever ways to interrupt and avoid attacks, or piecing together the perfect set of armour. No, Monster Hunter isn’t like other games. And that’s precisely why it’s brilliant.
Ultimate is effectively an updated version of Wii exclusive Monster Hunter Tri but just like Freedom Unite before it, ‘updated’ doesn’t nearly do it justice.
On top of the original content, Capcom layers on weapons, quests, items, areas and (most importantly) monsters from earlier games in the series and Japan-only PSP release Portable 3rd, as well as a bevy of brand new stuff.
It’s daunting in scale and even after tens of hours, you probably still won’t even feel like you’ve scratched the surface. And you won’t have done. These days, most major games are measured in hours. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate deals in months. It’s huge.
The Thrill Of The Hunt
While the concept should be pretty self-explanatory to anyone capable of reading the game’s title, the structure isn’t quite so obvious.
Moga Village serves as a central hub. Here, you’ll find shops that sell everything from herbs to bloody great hammers, a farm for growing your own ingredients, a blacksmith that can enhance your gear and even a buff-granting eatery.
Grab a quest from the Guild counter and it’s off into the world with you, but that’s even more overwhelming.
While the fact that each of the maps is broken into smaller parts might seem like a hangover from previous games on less powerful hardware, it’s actually a fundamental gameplay mechanic.
Finding your quarry is the first part of the puzzle, and the themed areas help with this – Ludroth tend to mill around by the water’s edge, for instance, while Rathian can generally be found chilling in his mountain-top penthouse crib.
These ‘rooms’, then, serve several purposes – they keep the target’s location hidden until you can track it down for one, plus they offer respite in times of need – being able to escape to the next area to quaff a potion when you’re getting battered is a godsend and while the monster might give chase, you should have enough time to be back to your best when they do.
The ecology of the world was something that Tri really pushed and it’s just as awesome here. Monster habits and diets are as important to learn as their attack patterns – when a wyvern flies off, knowing that it has likely gone to feed on lesser creatures in a specific area or maybe popped back to its nest for a quick snooze is a vital advantage.
Take out a monster’s potential dinner or have a trap waiting for it when it gets home and you’ll have the upper hand.
Cool as that side of things may be, it’s still the direct combat that takes centre stage. Each of the twelve weapon types has its own move set, properties, gimmicks and play styles and there’s no clear ‘best’ weapon – the different behaviours and sizes of the monsters mean that each has its own time to shine.
So while hammer users will struggle to land hits on speedier beasts, swordsmen might see their attacks bounce right off the carapaces of armoured foes.
You’ll quickly find your favourite after experimenting with a few of the different classes, but you never know when you might need (or just want) to change things up and the increased variety of types over Tri (including the return of the wonderful Gunlance) makes this even easier.
At its most basic level, Monster Hunter is an endless procession of boss battles. It’s about reading a monster’s tells to know how it will act, evading and/or blocking (depending on your weapon accordingly) while making room for your own assault.
While the combat is often described as ‘clumsy’ by newcomers, ‘deliberate’ is a far more accurate description.
Attacks can’t generally be cancelled (although recovery times can in many cases) so you need to choose your openings wisely to avoid getting chomped, stomped or… well, other words that end in ‘-omped’.
It’s not just about getting the kill, either. Pretty much every boss creature has a number of breakable areas – smash these and there’ll be a bonus in it for you.
But on top of this, breaking horns and slicing off tails serves as a wave of encouragement, a welcome sign that your hard work is paying off and you that might just come out on top yet.
Emphasis on ‘might’, though. Monsters don’t tend to like having their bodies ruined and when they get angry, they also get far more dangerous.
Between brand new additions to the roster and extra subspecies and variants, Tri’s monster count has been almost doubled, in turn leading to loads of new weapons and armour sets to be forged from the scraps you tear from their fallen bodies.
Given that the main gameplay loop involves hunting a particular creature multiple times in order to assemble a full set of its skin to wear, then using that gear to take on tougher beasts, this widened cast adds potentially hundreds of extra hours of gameplay.
Welcome Back To The Stage Of Prehistory
If you played Tri, chances are you’ll be wondering what else Capcom has done to get you to protect Moga Village a second time.
Well, Ultimate brings in a lot of features from Portable 3rd, so weapon trees and armour skills have been completely redone, plus there’s loads more to do.
Where Tri hid all of its high rank hunts away in the online side of the game, Ultimate sees the village get its own set of more challenging quests once the main set has been cleared, while the online port now has a one-louder setting beyond high rank in its brutal G rank missions.
While the core quests and story (if you can even call it that) go more or less unchanged, there are seismic shifts in pretty much every other area.
There’s a new feature that lets your centre the camera on boss monsters, which is as close to a lock-on function as the franchise is ever likely to see, and as close as we want it to get.
A second Shakalaka ally helps solo players avoid being the centre of attention, while the differences in high rank quests will take any Tri players that didn’t go online with it by surprise.
Odd-looking mimic bird thing Qurupeco might have been laughable before but when he’s able to call upon a skyscraper-sized crocodilosaurus by the name of Deviljho to beat you senseless, you’ll see the critter in a whole new light. And swear a lot, probably.
And although you no longer have to be online to see the game’s most challenging quests, connectivity and multiplayer is still a core pillar of the game.
With save data transferable between Wii U and 3DS versions (and 3DS players able to team up with Wii U hunters locally), there are even more ways to enjoy the game than before.
Online play is still as fiddly as it was before, dense thickets of menus and confusing options standing between you and a welcoming group but after a few goes, you’ll know the secret handshake the game demands, and you’ll be glad you learned it.
With the return of the Hunting Horn – a weapon that buffs allies as it attacks – and even more options for clever and inventive cooperation, going up against a colossal beast en masse is cemented as one of the best co-op experiences you’re likely to find in any game, brilliantly promoting teamwork and coordination as well as collaborative multiplayer benchmarks like Left 4 Dead or Borderlands.
Not a pretty sight
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the Wii U version, then, is that it seems to be little more than an upscaled version of the Wii game albeit at a higher resolution.
Angular geometry and frankly rubbish textures (all the more apparent when the camera pulls in) are at odds with the crisp, clean look of the game and while it’s silky smooth for the most part, you can’t help but want more from the first true HD Monster Hunter game (well, Japan has Frontier on 360, but that’s no looker either).
By contrast, the 3DS is a much more favourable home for a visual port of this kind – it’s easily one of the best-looking games on the platform and the portable nature of the device also gels beautifully with the format of the game.And while everything is in one place on 3DS, the same can’t be said of the Wii U version. We strongly advise against trying to play with the GamePad – the Classic Controller Pro will serve budding hunters far better, though the game still forces the odd function or input to use the touch screen device.
The last thing we want to do in the middle of a heated hunt is reach across to a secondary device to activate something or enter a menu, but that’s just what it’d have you do.
While it’s the same great game on both formats, the 3DS version just edges it through contextually impressive visuals and a slightly more practical control scheme.
Still, the lure of online play – sadly and strangely absent from the 3DS version, though an upcoming Wii U tunneling app will allow you to get online AdHoc Party-style – is worth learning to overcome a few control issues for.
Given how well the two versions work with one another, we’re amazed that more wasn’t made of this aspect in the form of a bundle of some kind, as only the truly hardcore are likely to buy two separate versions. Vita’s CrossBuy scheme is already doing the same kind of thing with other games, and it’s proven to work.
But Monster Hunter isn’t like other games. It’s a law unto itself, an initially confusing and massively daunting series of seemingly impossible challenges that slowly crumble, one by one, as you learn to speak the game’s language.
It rewards dedication like nothing you’ll have played before, demanding hours of your time (during which you’ll probably think it’s rubbish) before everything finally clicks and its brilliance shines through.
Ultimately, it’s a game about teaming up with your friends to cut up massive dinosaurs and turn them into fancy hats. And yes, it’s every bit as good as that sounds.
Version tested: Wii U