Eccentric character design, over-sized weapons, dragons, sea creatures and massive cave-dwelling monsters – this certainly appears to be a Monster Hunter game. Robbie Palmer explores to see if Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate can appeal to more than just its core fanbase.
Once the debug Wii U kit is done slowly booting up Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, I’m treated to a most glorious cutscene introduction. It’s a spectacle of Japanese nonsense, the kind of absurdity I can get behind. I’m still not entirely sure what exactly was happening, but I appreciated its unrelenting embracement of Japanese game traditions (the general belief that crazier is better). This is an introduction that displays promise and hints of exciting action, along with impressive visuals and design. I’m ready to finally accept the Monster Hunter series as my calling and jump in with open arms – ready to experience the furore of Japanese insanity.
That feeling was swiftly lost. I quickly realised the intro video was simply a conceptual impression of why so many people adore the premise. I wanted to be a fellow enthusiast but felt betrayed by that oh-so-tantalising-but-ultimately-false tease. This is as traumatic as those iPhone adverts demonstrating unfathomable app loading times. Why does every company hate me?
A hardcore RPG, with an open-world full of quests and monsters to bash, this update of the 2010 Wii title Monster Hunter Tri features cross compatibility on 3DS and Wii U. Transferable data means taking your save from the Wii U version to your 3DS on the go, a smart idea for the franchise, embracing an audience that would be willing to purchase two versions of the game. Players on both systems can also jump into each other’s game, a significant feature for a game that is heavily based on multiplayer.
Insane character design is particularly great in Monster Hunter. Attacking armed cats holds a certain amount of charm, the world being populated with nonsensical enemies that all have their own unique style. Taking down a giant sea creature by stabbing it to death is a joyous and absurd experience. Fighting dragon-like monsters and large beasts is the strongest part of the game, and the towering bosses are as intimidating as they are technically impressive. Monster Hunter 3 does a good job of making these battles with these beasts an enduring challenge, adding to the satisfying feeling that comes when you eventually bring such creatures down.
The benefits of it being on Wii U largely originate from the gamepad controller, as it does help with navigation and item use. The second analogue stick helps with camera control, but it still feels like you’re struggling against the game to see the action at times. With the interface of items, menus and the game’s map being on the Wii U gamepad, it leaves the main screen with no HUD display, giving the game a clean presentation.
While Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate has some interesting ideas within, there are underlying problems that are symptomatic of the series as a whole. The sense of character progression is nice, along with survival concepts like creating campfires, but the fundamental core mechanics of the world feel outdated in their execution.
Limited to four players online, it’s unfortunate to see the player capacity hasn’t been increased since being brought to a next generation console. Playing solo means the world feels desolate. The ideal way to experience Monster Hunter is to be continuously confused and bewildered by the insane action happening around you with friends.
The game doesn’t look outstanding either, as textures seem to be regularly inconsistent in their quality, while some areas of the game look simply unpleasant (water couldn’t look more lifeless, for instance). Combat regularly feels monotonous, as it did in the Wii version game, and fetch quests plague the start of the game.
I had enemy AI simply fail to react to my presence, even as I attacked them numerous times. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate feels disappointing in how it hints at a mysterious open world full of promise, but pushes you back every time you try searching for substance. It actively encourages exploration and yet has invisible walls restricting you to a confined location.
Perhaps that’s the appeal, and the restrictions of the previous Wii game are what have lead to the foundations of the game. Monster Hunter screams of a classic bygone era of gaming, appealing to a niche, passionate audience, willing to grind character levels with others. It’s just regrettable that with Capcom’s latest release being on Wii U, and with last year’s west-meets-east RPG Dragon’s Dogma under their belt, they didn’t put emphasis on modernising the Monster Hunter series.
This unmistakably is a Monster Hunter game, bringing in both the positives and the negatives from the franchise’s past. As a result, it’s unlikely to turn those who have shied away from the franchise previously into fans, but it’s shaping up to be the definitive version of the fantasy action game, so core fans won’t care one jot about that.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, from Capcom, is due out on both 3DS and Wii U in March 2013.