But as we approach the end of that window, things are looking very promising. Particularly if the latest iteration of Monster Hunter can live up to its reputation as a system-seller series.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is essentially a remake of the 2009 Wii game, Monster Hunter Tri. The graphics have been upscaled (right up to HD for the Wii U version), additional monsters and equipment have been added, and some platform-specific features have been thrown in.
I have to confess that my only time with the Monster Hunter franchise previously was a quick session on a mate’s PSP, but it’s been on my “Must Get Around To Playing Someday” list for years. When I first heard about the upcoming versions, I decided this was my way in, and after some hands-on time with them both, I stand by that decision.
Hunting monsters really is as much fun as everyone keeps telling me it is. In case you’re even more clueless than I was, the title pretty much sums it up. You gear up in a village, hop a boat to an isolated region of a fantasy world and hunt down and slowly slaughter whatever giant creature happens to live in the area. In size and ferocity alone, the odds are usually against you – except you’ll have fashioned yourself various weapons and armour from the bones and hides of your previous innocent victims.
It’s a slow-burn, RPG kind of fun, where battles can take up to an hour of gradually whittling away at the monster’s health. Finally bringing a beast down is all the more satisfying for it.
In my first battle, I fought some kind of gigantic duck-lizard, and it got the better of me – mostly because a dragon that happened upon us decided to tag into the fray. That kind of dynamic behaviour is another key element, and it makes things even more exciting.
It didn’t help that I didn’t exactly know what was going on. As a newcomer, the game initially felt rather intimidating. At times I struggled to take in all the information in the bloated RPG interface, especially while grappling with the awkward controls. When there’s a massive beast bearing down on you, it’s easy to accidentally put your weapon away instead of ducking to safety.
I assume these are temporary issues though, which will sort themselves out as players get used to the game. The controls and interface are not immediately intuitive, but starting from the beginning will provide a gentler introduction.
Series regulars will likely have no trouble getting accustomed to this version, but there are only a handful of new features to draw them back in. If you’ve already sunk upwards of a hundred hours into one of the many other versions of the game, a few new breeds of monster and some new weapons might not be worth the price of (re)admission.
The updated visuals sweeten the deal. It looks much better than previous incarnations, especially on the 3DS. The smaller scale hides some of the blockiness, plus the 3D looks fantastic. Conversely, the Wii U version doesn’t quite stand up visually alongside its peers on the platform, but is by no means an ugly game.
The Wii U GamePad and the bottom screen of the 3DS are used for a lot of the standard stuff. It’s the menus, your inventory, your map. There’s even an odd virtual D-pad on the right which spins the camera – useful for the right thumbstick-lacking 3DS, but it’s awkward to reach. The Circle Pad Pro accessory should rectify that.
Perhaps most interesting is the way the two versions can communicate. The Wii U console has a lot of latent features built in, and 3DS compatibility is something we knew was there, but haven’t seen in use yet. That changes now, as multiplayer games can take place across the two systems: one player using the TV and Wii U can team up with up to three 3DS players locally. Or if you have the game on both platforms, you can copy save data from one to the other, and continue the hunt on the go.
Of course, that means buying the game twice, so it’s likely that only diehard fans will make use of the feature. It seems like a perfect opportunity to release a bundle pack that includes both copies of the game, but there’s no word yet on whether such a bundle will be available.
This version might not add enough to entice middle-ground fans back in, but compulsive hunters, and series newcomers like myself, are in for a treat. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is designed to be the quintessential Monster Hunter experience.
It’s a welcome addition to the respectable library the 3DS is cultivating, and – along with several other high-profile titles in the near future – it should help to break the Wii U’s post-launch drought, giving early adopters a reason to dust off their consoles, and prospective owners the motivation to finally grab one.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is due for both 3DS and Wii U on March 19th in the US, 22nd in Europe and 23rd in Australia.
A gamer since the days of Lemmings and Wolfenstein, and a writer since Scamper the mouse in Grade Three, my two passions only met after a freak accident left them surgically inseparable. Follow @MikeIrvo.