Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate
Monster Hunter 3 is a confusing game. It’s a beautiful, fascinating wet dream for people with OCD. It’s not without problems though, mainly that it’s a weird, chore of a cramped wet dream for people with OCD.
You play a monster hunter who turns up at a small village populated primarily by large talking cats and men who all wear chaps. A worrying amount of chaps and a camera way too happy to linger on them. You have a selection of weapons and some basic armour, and with these items you must start hunting the wildlife in the local forests. Once you’ve made a base out in the woods and harvested items (mostly from animal corpses) then you’re ready to see the world and carry on with the Monster Hunter’s Guild. From there you advance with your license, get more missions to perform and more items to harvest and improve your character. It’s all fairly simple, but at the same time, nature is your enemy, and it hates you.
I knew going into this, that Monster Hunter 3 would be the kind of game where I would play on easy if there was an option (there wasn’t) and dinosaurs would still eat my face. Most of the wildlife looks like dinosaurs, or sometimes weirdly armoured versions of things. One of the earliest large monsters was a bear/badger looking thing with plated armour. To take it on, you need better items than what you start with, so you start looking for the components to make a weapon with more durability, more damage. Even then, the odds are good that dinosaurs will eat your face.
The thing is, despite how difficult Monster Hunter can get, it’s really compulsive. You need just one more bear pelt to make your next set of armour, so you set out, even with only a couple of healing potions. Each mission has a bit of attrition to your inventory and desperate hope of rewards. You keep fighting and feel pretty proud of yourself. Those raptor-things and that bear/badger beast had better look out. Then you start taking on even the simpler large monsters like a wacky giant duck or a random encounter with a dragon, then you’re back to square one. This is a game which rewards sticking with it and has a huge difficulty curve as things go on. There are, as a rough estimate, about a billion items which can be acquired or crafted. There are a ton of different ways to fight, from swords, bows, guns, traps, stones and even paintballs to throw at the enemy when everything else is used up and you can’t spare the seconds to sharpen your blade.
There are problems with this game, as well as the massive learning curve. It doesn’t tell you enough about how to get what you want, for starters and has obviously been pitched at experienced Monster Hunters, leaving newcomers stuck scratching their heads with an oversized weapon, pondering what on earth is going on. The levels are also all tiny, a holdover from the PS2 and PSP days, where they had to be small so that the consoles could deal with them. As a reworked version of the Wii title, it manages to both be beautiful and awful all at once. The Wii version was the prettiest game of that console, but on the Wii U, it’s lacking the quality it is capable of. All of this is unnecessary in a game on a modern console, but feels like it’s been left in simply because it was in the last one.
It’s a Wii port, but what little upscaling there is has been effective and the Gamepad is put to brilliant use. Everything from the HUD is moved down to the pad, leaving nothing but the wilderness and a face-ripping landsharks on the screen. If only it was prettier. The panels on the Gamepad can even be customised to give you access to whatever you want on the touchscreen. The mini-map, ‘taunt’ buttons, the inventory and the all-important ‘kick’ button. Okay, not all of it is necessary, but the ability to make the Gamepad prioritise the buttons you want is great and playing a game with no HUD at all is very satisfying. The controls themselves however are awkward as hell. They use different buttons to draw and put away weapons and play only a bit better than the ‘tank’ controls of the Silent Hill and Resident Evil games. Every time there’s something pretty awesome about this game, the impenetrable nature of it gets in the way. For every beautiful vista there’s an invisible wall. For every interesting animal there’s the clunky way it moves and fights. The crafting system is interesting but way too intricate.
Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate is the type of game that can be fun to dip into over a long amount of time, especially as more copies are sold and the multiplayer becomes more established. Though I didn’t get to try it, the connectivity between the 3DS and Wii U versions (allowing transfer of save files and local multiplayer with Wii U players) is also more than welcome, and with any luck is something that is mirrored by future Wii U/3DS releases. There has even been free DLC for Monster Hunter, adding odd quests like stripping off and attacking boars.
If you’re a fan of the series, have OCD, enjoy killing all of nature’s beasts or have a lot of patience, Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate is worthy of your time; it’s a game that arguably makes good use of the Wii U’s unique feaure set and that has a lot of depth to plunder. Sadly, with that being said, one can’t help but hope that the already announced Monster Hunter 4 will be less bogged down by adherence to the aged mechanics, the small areas and the clunky controls that so mar the experience here.
Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate reviewed on Wii U; copy of game loaned to D+PAD by Nintendo UK.
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