Monster Hunter is a highly focused series. It resembles a traditional RPG in form but not in function. It is in fact more of an action title, a strategy title, even a fashion title more so than an RPG, and finding out how these elements fit together in a coherent and effective method to slay the many monsters on your hit list is a tricky task. This therefore makes Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate – the Wii U enhanced version of the Wii’s Monster Hunter Tri – a niche title, but one well worth investing time with.
Unsurprisingly, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is primarily about hunting monsters. These beasts come in a variety of different shapes and sizes but the theme is very much dinosaurs and dragons. After washing up on the shore of a small fishing village you’ll take on quests from the citizens and from the hunter’s stall – once you’ve proven yourself. Initially these quests task you with simple hunts and gathering resources strewn across the area immediately outside the village. You’ll fight troves of lesser creatures on land and sea or pick herbs, mine metals, capture bugs etc. It gradually introduces the world to you and hints at the grind you’ll have to undertake.
It’s not long before you partake in your first proper hunt, a larger, more aggressive version of a creature you’ve been facing small groups of. This is where Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate hooks you. Fighting the beast is exciting and challenging. Studying it’s attack patterns and anticipating when it’s going to flee is fascinating. It feels like a hunt. As you progress and fight in new locations, facing new environmental challenges such as heat and cold, these hunts continue to impress. The monsters fight and move with a natural rhythm and flee to other areas of the map to rest or feed after you’ve given them a beating. You have to track your prey and do your best to prevent it from recovering whilst managing the limited items you can take with you can figuring out what strategies best fit the situation. Once your prey’s injuries are severe enough it’ll limp; here’s where you finish it off or capture it. Either way you’ll complete the quest and earn valuable resources from its corpse or knocked out mass.
The hunt is certainly exhilarating. Chasing your target around the map makes the combat more interesting and dynamic as you deal with other creatures in the vicinity and different terrain. It’s like fighting a series of boss fights but with freedom of movement within a large varied area. This is especially so with some of the aquatic monsters that jump between land and sea sections of a map, forcing you to shift tactics completely to match the new environment. Fighting underwater in 360 degrees is a very different challenge to fighting on land. Unfortunately, however, the camera and combat aren’t the most adaptive or responsive things. The camera frequently ends up in scenery or monsters, blocking your view, and is limited to strict angles and pitch that don’t compliment the action. Likewise combat follows an antiquated design of eight cardinal directions with no freedom of movement once you’ve begun an attack. You’ll frequently find yourself missing as you spring into a combo and get stuck in that direction whilst you slash, lunge or fire and the monster moves elsewhere. It does force you to be more mindful before committing to an attack and it’s part of Monster Hunter’s unique strategy, but it’s frustratingly restrictive.
Once the early quests have been mastered you’ll be familiar with Monster Hunter’s unique take on progression. There are no levels or stat increases, it’s all about the armour and weapons you forge. Light, heavy and ranged weapon types alongside light, medium and heavy armour offers a huge amount of choice to fit your play-style. Also matching armour from a particular creatures resources compliments each other and grants immunities and buffs to further aid you. It’s then a matter of gathering the resources you need for the blacksmith to craft the weapons, hunting monsters, gathering, growing, breeding and catching bugs and plants, as well as mining metals. This is the grind of Monster Hunter. In order to craft the armour and weapons you need to progress, you’ll have to slay multiple beasts of the same kind, frequently replaying hunting missions against difficult foes in order to shift the balance of power in your favour. Then it’s a matter of rinse and repeat with a stronger monster and a new set of equipment you desire.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is extremely repetitive and this can’t help but accentuate the control and camera restrictions and increase the frustrations. Multiplayer, however, helps greatly in alleviating this issue. With up to four hunters banding together each hunt becomes a more strategic and enjoyable experience. Once the singleplayer begins to stagnate it’s the multiplayer where it’s likely to carry you over the 100 hour mark. Cooperative taking on strong monsters whilst simultaneously competing against your friends to gather the resources and craft better and more deadly armour and weapons is highly compelling.
There’s something to be said for its simplicity of objective; you slay monsters, you are a hunter of monsters. There’s something to be said for its simplicity of progress; you don the skin, scales, bones, and talons of the monsters you’ve slain. There’s something to be said for its small, easy to navigate locations, or the thrill of multiplayer hunts, and even the quirkiness of the citizens you interact with in singleplayer. There’s something to be said. Unfortunately what it says is: Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is strictly linear with an illusion of choice, and the overall objective is restricted to hunting stronger variants of monsters you’ve already slain. It’s all for its own sake, and it may take you 30 hours to realise this or perhaps over 100 hours, but unless you have a dedicated group of friends that you can regularly hunt with and compete against you’ll find there isn’t enough reward for the hard work and frustrations.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a superb entry in the series and a fan’s absolute delight. For new comers it’s an exciting and challenging hunter simulator that’s likely to make an impact for it’s originality, it’s strength of focus, and by how compelling it is initially with its hunting and slaying of great beasts. But throughout your time with it you’ll condemn the restrictive movement controls and camera and suffer bouts of disappointment about how great the series could be but isn’t quite yet.
MLG Rating: 7/10 Format: Wii U / 3DS Release Date: 22/03/2013
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 8 days on a Wii U. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.