Bigger, Better, Badder
HIGH A new Monster Hunter is finally available! It's not a dream!
LOW The game's first few hours are painfully slow.
WTF How many damned carpenterbugs am I going to need here?
The universe must be in harmony, because it seems like players in the West only get a new Monster Hunter when the stars are in perfect alignment. The last one to make it out of Japan was 2010's Monster Hunter Tri, and it's been a long three-year wait for another fix. For fans like myself, it's tough to get enough. Luckily, Capcom has ended the drought with a real doozy—Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate, on Wii U and 3DS.
For players unfamiliar with the series (and apparently, that's a lot of folks) Monster Hunter is a third-person, real-time action game where characters wield shockingly large weapons against shockingly large monsters. There's also quite a bit of stat work, equipment tinkering and item grinding to round things out.
After creating a character to preference, the player begins in a small village on the periphery of a primeval island. The starting sword and armor are hardly worth a damn, but the hook to Monster Hunter is that the player doesn't level up their character to survive, it's the equipment that gets improved—and this equipment is amazing.
By defeating different types of monsters, parts can be harvested to create armaments and defensive gear. Feathers, claws, or hides… it can all become something valuable and deadly. The developers' designs are brilliant, and it's a thrill to create an item whose components are obvious based on the scales or horns used in its creation. These organic flourishes show that Capcom has some of the best artists in the industry, and players who love loot will find the addictive pull to make just one more thing impossible to resist.
So, that's the gist for newcomers, but Ultimate is actually an "extended remix" of Tri rather than an all-new game. Those already familiar with catching carpenterbugs and cutting the tails off of wyverns might be wondering why a modified re-release would interest them. The answer is simple: although Ultimate and Tri share the same core, this revamp adds a significant amount of fresh content into the mix. Here are the facts, straight from Capcom: In addition to carrying over all the original Tri content, players can expect to see a re-designed online area, 38 brand-new monsters (including subspecies), 211 brand-new quests (not including any of the planned free DLC), a second bring-along companion, three new areas to explore, and a staggering 2042 new pieces of equipment to buy, equip, and upgrade. (And no, that's not a typo.)
From any angle, this is a massive expansion. It's so big, in fact, that it handily eclipses the original game and exposes it as the relatively shallow starter project that I always felt it was. There's no possibility of feeling unsatisfied this time, though. With Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate, players are getting an overstuffed full-meal deal.
Apart from the new content, there have been small tweaks. Not a shocking amount has changed, but the starting quests are easier and the low-rank monsters go down quicker. Got stomped by an angry Barroth in Tri? It's a much tamer beast now, and that's great because dialing back the initial challenge is a smart way to invite newcomers in. On the other hand, the game still fails hard when it comes to getting things off on the right foot. Players will have to trudge through several hours' worth of patience-testing tutorials and boring missions before things heat up, and these "educational" sections aren't nearly as clear or as informative as they should be. Bookmarking the Ultimate page on GameFAQs and getting familiar with the Monster Hunter wiki is a must, and that's a shame—I imagine many players will bail out before the experience truly unfolds. Capcom desperately needs to overhaul how these games begin.
Earlier in this review, I mentioned that Ultimate was available on two platforms, the Wii U and 3DS. However, neither is a port of the other; they're designed to work together. With both versions in hand, it's possible to download a character from one to the other, and then back again. This is a fantastic feature that I've been wanting in Monster Hunter for quite a while, and I'm overjoyed that it's now a reality.
However, although the ability to hop between platforms is fantastic, it's easy to erase another player's data when shuttling back and forth. In a game where it's common to invest several hundred hours in a single character, any risk of accidental deletion is too much. For multiple players sharing hardware, my advice would be: don't share hardware. If that's not an option, then be very, very, very careful when transferring characters.
On the other hand, for players who will be playing only one version, it's important to note the key differences between them. As one might guess, the Wii U's visuals are head and shoulders above what the 3DS can display, although that's not to say that things are technically impressive on either system. Minimal improvements have been made to the graphics, and Ultimate's origins on the Wii are clear to see. I never thought Tri looked great to begin with, and Ultimate is only slightly better. I rarely say such things, but this is one game that really needs to push more pixels.
In terms of controls, it's obvious that Ultimate is best played with a stick dedicated to camera manipulation. The Wii U has three different game pads that fit the bill, but the 3DS hardware lacks such an option natively. As a result, optimal 3DS play is hampered unless using the Circle Pad Pro peripheral attachment. It's easy enough to get by without it at the beginning, but when monsters stop fooling around in the late-game, a single-stick setup won't cut it.
It's also important to note that the 3DS is only capable of local co-op unless the player wants to invest in an online adapter. That might not seem like a big deal, but the online adapter only works with the Wii U. This bizarre, catch-22 decision will only serve to limit the potential audience for the game, and it's doubly disappointing considering the Wii U's small installed base. However, those who own a Wii U will find it fast and easy to get online, and in Monster Hunter, even anti-multiplayer people like myself will eventually want to find some friends and quest up.
While Tri has never been my favorite Monster Hunter (Freedom Unite still holds that honor) there's no question that Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate is a huge step up from its predecessor. And, putting my personal foibles aside, each new release is a blessing. In fact, I enjoy hunting monsters so much that I bought my Wii U for the sole purpose of playing Ultimate, and I haven't regretted that decision for a moment. If I never purchase another game for the Wii U after this, I'll still be satisfied with what Capcom's given me, and I can't think of higher praise than that.
Disclosures: These games were obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Wii U (38 hours) and 3DS (six hours). Neither version was completed. 18 hours of play were spent in multiplayer mode via the Wii U's online mode, and 14 hours were spent in the Wii U/3DS local mode.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, crude humor, and fantasy violence. Although there is no sexual content or salty language, I would say that the game is not appropriate for younger children without a fair amount of parental guidance. Putting aside the fact that it's sharply difficult, some of the larger monsters are actually quite frightening and imposing—easily the stuff of nightmares. Taking huge swords, axes and hammers to these beasts is a brutal affair.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You should be aware that there are several types of audio cues which are not represented in any visual way. For example, upon entering an area holding a major monster, there's often a roar or shriek. Without being able to hear that cue, the player could easily be surprised by a very deadly foe. Also, several monsters give audio signals before executing certain attacks. I would imagine that hearing-impaired players would be at a bit of a disadvantage without hearing these signals. On the plus side, all dialogue is delivered through text, so players won't miss any information given by NPCs.