Game: Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
Available on: Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Wii U
Reviewed on: Wii U
Capcom is pinning its hopes on Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate being the game that breaks the west. A spruced-up version of 2010′s Monster Hunter Tri, Ultimate comes to us sporting better visuals and a new control set-up thanks to its new home on Nintendo’s dual-screen console.
Monster Hunter is wildly popular in Japan, particularly on Sony’s PSP (another thing that took Japan by storm), but by comparison, flopped in the west. Nintendo themselves see Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate as the key cog in their 2013 software armoury, so the pressure is certainly on.
STORY: The story in Monster Hunter 3 serves as a mechanism to get you started on your mission to become a mighty hunter, and sees your newly-created character arrive on a small island shortly after a series of earthquakes. A chat with the Chief of Moga Village reveals that a mighty sea monster, named the Lagicarus, is the cause of the ‘quakes. He goes on to say that it’ll be a while before you face off against the mighty beast, and instead must help the villagers rebuild what has been destroyed by gathering the resources they need.
GRAPHICS: When Monster Hunter Tri landed on Wii three years ago, it was hailed as being one of the best-looking games on the platform, its (for the time and platform) vast landscapes and multitude of beautifully animated beasts were something rather special. So Capcom had their work cut out if they were to replicate that same magic on Wii U, a rather more capable system. From an artistic perspective, there is no denying that Monster Hunter 3 is still a pretty game, and it is difficult not to be taken in by the array of monsters on show, with each nuance of their emotion and, more importantly, condition on show if you are willing to look closely enough. The art style and animation hold up remarkably well, with the Online Portal town of Port Tanzia being a particular highlight, its eye popping colour and bustling characters reeking of JRPG charm.
Technically, the game appears to have benefited from an increase in native resolution only, with remarkably few textures getting the required treatment. Thankfully the game’s art style lends itself to masking the pitfalls of low resolution textures; in places, however, the game’s age is glaringly obvious. Overall, MH3U is a good looking title, it’s just a shame the upgrade wasn’t a more thorough refit.
SOUND: We all expect games coming out of Japan to feature rousing soundtracks and “interesting” character expressions, and you’ll be pleased to hear that MH3U doesn’t disappoint on either front. I’ve been whistling the Moga Village tune for the last week, almost non-stop, something I’ve not found myself doing since visiting Nintendo Land for the first time. The musical score is dynamic, changing with both the setting and situation, with deserts, caves, grasslands and individual towns and locations having their own theme song. The soundtrack is one of those you’ll find yourself looking up on YouTube in ten years time, such is its level of frivolity and catchiness. The game is devoid of voice acting, with conversations being handled instead by reams and reams of scrolling text. While it works better in a lot of settings, it’s always nice to have the content piped into your ears instead of having to read everything. Come on, you’re that lazy too, admit it.
GAMEPLAY: I didn’t really know what to expect coming into the world of Monster Hunter for the first time, and upon starting the game you are greeted by a character creation screen with which you make up the guy you will be staring at for the next hundred-or-so hours (so be sure to get it right). When the game started proper, after a cutscene featuring earthquakes and massive monsters, it only took a few moments to realise that this game is huge. So huge that I was almost put off by the amount of effort I would need to put in before reaping the benefits. While Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate does require a lot of time and toil invested to trigger progression, especially when compared to the run-of-the-mill western action title, it does hold your hand just enough for the first few hours in an effort to keep you on board and bring you up to speed.
For the first couple of hours you are limited to going on foraging and mining missions in an effort to help the people of Moga Village, all the while learning about what is on offer there and how the menu systems operate. There is a farm to cultivate valuable plants, insects and mushrooms that will help you on quests and save you from gathering them in the wild. The village also provides access to the Moga Woods where you can gather resources and hunt medium sized monsters for practice and recourse purposes. It’s an incredibly slow paced start, and hints at the huge amount of hard graft required to get the gear and experience you need to take on the game’s more thrilling and difficult challenges.
Once I had collected enough mushrooms and slaughtered enough harmless Aptonoths for barbecuing purposes, I was allowed access to the questing menu. From here, you can go out on quests for the Quest Guild, who send you missions they feel you are suited too. The more you play, the tougher the challenge gets so, naturally, you’ll be collecting more mushrooms and mining more iron ore before the good stuff happens. Quests take place in different locations around the world, with each level of quest taking place in a unique area, which brings with it a new set of monstrous beasts to get to grips with.
MH3U incorporates the Wii U GamePad fully, allowing you to place your favourite and most often used items on the screen at all times for quick access. It’s a great tool, not only as a inventory explorer but also as an aid in battle, with its ability to quickly bring about changes of strategy or instigate a fatal blow.
Speaking of combat, I have never come across a game that has such a stark contrast between its respective gameplay elements. Hours and hours of grind and boredom-inducing item-collecting are flanked by some of the most exciting and exhilarating battles I have ever been part of. Fighting a dragon thirty times your size in a battle spanning over 30 minutes, with only the gear you’ve toiled for and your newly found skills to back you up, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate has got the art of creating tension down to a tee. You’ve worked to get to this point, to fight this monster, to (hopefully) reap the rewards, so you better get it right.
MH3U’s other trump card is the sheer amount of content. The vast choice of different weaponry will keep things feeling fresh for a long time. Small swords, great swords, Katanas as long as a limo, bow guns and axes the size of an elephant are just a smattering of what is on offer hear. All of them customisable and upgradable. Did I mention the armour? And the consumable items? All of which can be combined to make new items from the Wii U GamePad? You get the picture.
MULTIPLAYER: Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate’s sizable offline quest count is dwarfed by the amount available to those in its online portion. The multiplayer element of the game is accessed by getting on a boat to the trading town of Port Tanzia, where more stores and outlets are available. Here you will find three characters of particular importance, one who dishes out the group quests, another that dishes out the special quests and another who hands out group arena battles. You can enter into a battle or quest with strangers via a lobby board system, or if you prefer invite your friends along for a quick questing session. Up to four people can take on any given quest, and it is nice to be able to share the hard work you’ve put into your character with other people, since these games are usually pretty lonely affairs. The ability to jump into quests with friends is very well handled, and adds a much needed layer of instant gratification to go with the extreme toil that comes with a lot of the offline portion of the game. You will need to balance your time between the two however, as progress in the single player game is required to reach the more exciting parts of the multiplayer.
VERDICT: Coming up with a verdict on a game like this isn’t easy. On the one hand you’ve got a mighty behemoth of a game, one that excites and challenges, with its variety of enemies and content putting it in a league of its own. You won’t find a more challenging fight anywhere else in the videogame space, I can assure you of that. On the other hand, it’s a game that is painfully stingy in dispensing the exciting moments we all crave from the games that we play – you really have to work to get the best out of Monster Hunter 3. Meaningful Wii U GamePad integration makes the grind less of a chore, and overall the game is a treat for the senses. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate won’t take the west by storm, but it will delight those willing to put the time in to explore its deep and complex world.