I’ve been a huge Monster Hunter fan since day 1 when I received a promotional copy for the original game on Playstation 2 all the way back in 2005. It’s a great and unique series that, surprisingly, hasn’t really had any competitor come close to its quality or standard (except, interestingly, Capcom’s own Dragon’s Dogma). While I love Monster Hunter Tri, I do admit that having played almost every game (including the Japan-only Wii remake of the original game) that I have grown tired of the franchise. With Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, Capcom are bringing one of their flagship franchises to the Wii U and 3DS, and despite my franchise fatigue, is it an enjoyable game still?
The premise of Monster Hunter remains largely unchanged from the previous games. The player plays a Monster Hunter who must set out to defeat monsters in order to craft special equipment and upgrade their combat prowess. The franchise has never really been known to put a huge emphasis on story, instead relying on atmosphere and tone to give structure to the game’s events rather than a proper narrative. That being said, there is enough told through the environment to paint a proper picture of what’s going on – Monster Hunter clearly takes place in an era where for some reason technology has regressed and only fragments of it remain. You step into the shoes of a hunter who must investigate the sources of earthquakes and tremors in his/her own fishing village. So you set out and seek to find it along the way. As I said, it is a very thin story designed only to frame and subtly push your actions along.
As you could probably surmise from the title, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate follows the Capcom adage of updating a previous game rather than releasing a proper sequel. While this is true with Ultimate, this is by no means a shallow and inconsequential upgrade. At a glance, there are over 3000 new items, equipment and armour introduced in Ultimate. This goes along with over 200 new quests, 3 new environments, a new monster type (who himself has nine different variants) and new weapon types. Those who were missing the gunlance, hunting horn, bow and dual axe wield in previous games will be pleased to know that they have returned in Ultimate and are usable underwater too. A lock-on system has also been implemented, which many were clamouring for, though it’s nowhere near as intuitive as the now widespread Z-Targeting system of Ocarina of Time. A step in the right direction to making the franchise more accessible, regardless.
The general gist of Monster Hunter is that players prepare for a hunt in their village home town, head out into the wild, find and track a monster, slay it, and return using it’s skin or meat to forge weapons and cook food to prepare for the next hunt. It sounds tedious, and for some it might be, but it’s incredibly addictive. In the base game alone, you’ll embark on over 300 different quests gathering resources, hunting specific monsters or combating wave after wave of monsters.
The notion of “hunting” appears to be incredibly well portrayed here too. You don’t just find a monster and kill it. Instead you watch it, chase it, work out which foods it eats and where it prefers to eat and sleep. There is a huge possibility that the time between landing your first strike on a monster and the killing blow could exceed an hour – monsters may retreat (and hopefully you marked them with a paintball to track them) to other areas on the map after being attacked or even being scared off by a clumsy approach. The thrill is in the hunt itself, as they say, and the fruits of your hunt act as perfect rewards. Following hunt completion there are several options to continue gathering resources; re-doing the hunts themselves, tackling harder versions of the hunt online with friends or just exploring the wild with randomised monster spawns.
Resources that you gather from fallen monsters can be used to craft and upgrade gear in whatever manner suits your play style. There are approximately twelve base weapons in Ultimate, with every weapon being modifiable with the right resources – leading to hundreds upon hundreds of possible outcomes using the in-game crafting / upgrade path system. On top of these weapons, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of armour pieces that can be worn and equipped by the player also. If you haven’t figured it out yet – Monster Hunter is all about loot and customisation, and it is estimated that there are over 3000 pieces of equipment, around 1300 usable items and over 1500 pieces of armour.
The game has a tutorial-esque opening to ease the player into the action, and it doesn’t really shove itself down the players’ throat either. That being said, despite it being rather drawn back in terms of involvement, some may find it drags on for much too long. It does provide a nice balance; however, as all weapon bases are available from the get go, so players can work out their own style through completion of the very easy missions at the beginning of the game. The biggest thing that should be mentioned with all Monster Hunter games is that every weapon has its pluses and minuses in combat, and the situation as well as player preference should be considered before picking whatever looks coolest. And while it might be a little bit cumbersome at first, putting more effort into it will pay off in the long run – but this emergent difficulty curve might put off some players.
The Wii U brings some new things to the table with regards to controls. Those who didn’t like the way the camera worked during underwater combat in the Wii version will probably be annoyed to find that nothing has changed at all in the transition to Ultimate. The GamePad itself is used to great effect in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate – and helps the game become a lot more streamlined. The touch screen can be customised so that it can function the way the player wants to, and the entire HUD can be moved from the TV / monitor to the touch screen should the wish arise. An easy yet crude example would be the combination of items without entering several menus. While off-screen play isn’t available yet, it has been promised with a patch in the near future.
The 3DS version (which is pretty much identical) simply allows rotation of the camera using the touchscreen. This is incredibly cumbersome, and marks the best situation in which the Circle Pad Pro attachment (luckily also available for the 3DS XL direct through Nintendo Australia) actually works better than the 3DS without any attachments.
Ultimate is already a very lengthy game, and it’s encouraging to see Capcom offering downloadable content via the eShop for new quests to further lengthen the campaign. Ultimate also provides the ability to play with other players online co-operatively to take on harder versions of the quests in the single player campaign. We played online across four different days all at different times of the day, and were able to find a full team easily with little to no lag issues using the latest patch available on the eShop. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate even lets players switch their data between the Wii U version and the 3DS version to take their character and progress outside of the house. It’s a cool system that could be implemented better (ie. Via a cloud system) but given the limited functionality of the 3DS wirelessly (without 3G, for example) this works just as well.
One thing to note regarding the 3DS version – it only has local online play amongst other 3DS consoles. This is a bit confusing, especially since we surmise more people will be playing Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on the 3DS than the Wii U. This is mitigated with an online patch, though the user still needs a Wii U in order to do so. Another worthwhile feature is that three 3DS players can play in the same lounge room, simultaneously, with a Wii U player as well.
As Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is an enhanced port of the original Monster Hunter tri, which itself is a Wii game from a while ago; the game hasn’t received much of a graphical upgrade. Running at a stable 30fps, the game is certainly crisper to match the 1080p resolution on the Wii U however textures do appear muddy and low resolution overall. Care and effort has gone into the monsters themselves, though, which look better than ever. It definitely looks better than Monster Hunter tri, but it’s still not fully indicative of what the Wii U is capable of. Assumedly, the graphical quality is low because it has to function the same (and with) the 3DS version too (which looks better naturally) so this is somewhat forgivable. Those playing on the 3DS will be happy to know that turning the 3D option off in the game’s options will improve the frame rate more (similar to Capcom’s Super Street Fighter IV launch title).
Overall, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a very substantial upgrade to Monster Hunter tri that will certainly appeal to those who never played the original game, and those who played the original tri game to death. Despite this, it’s important to note that this isn’t a full blown sequel – yes, there’s heaps of content added but fundamentally it’s still the same game as tri. Both versions of the game perform admirably – though it’s important to consider your own priorities before playing.
The Wii U version provides robust online and much more intuitive gameplay thanks to the GamePad, however the 3DS version is portable but lacks the online play options without further efforts. Both perform great, both provide an epic adventure and both are certainly worth your money. They’re just not for everyone, and are not as accessible as one would hope to appeal to everyone. Thankfully, I’m still not tired of Monster Hunter just yet.