Capcom's long running Monster Hunter series has always been on the peripherals of my gaming horizon, always being tempted but I can never get past the lack of online play; add to that it has never been clear what version is better than the other and it just always got passed on. Not so with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, which is just as well as I have been desperate for a beefy title to get my teeth into on the WiiU, a system which has been sitting silently gathering dust for the past few months.
Getting started with Monster Hunter is a fairly simple affair, after a brief character creation your hunter arrives as a newcomer at Moga Village, a small fishing village surrounded by wild forests teeming with monsters. Village life has been relatively uncomplicated until recent earthquakes started to affect them, believed to be caused by a leviathan lurking under the ocean. Happy with you arrival, even the village elder is aware of your shortcomings, advising you to prepare before taking on the final beast, so off you venture into the forest, ready to make your mark on the hunting world. Along with basic jaunts to the woods to gather resources for the villagers there are plenty of Guild Quests, which range from deliveries, collecting and capturing monsters, all under a set time limit; it's these Guild Quests that progress the story of Monster Hunter.
A word of warning, Monster Hunter is not one of those games you just fly though, with each monster defeated granting a new weapon to help defeat the next, not in the slightest. Here it's the slow grind and though not sounding appealing it's very rewarding. So rather than levelling up your hunter you gradually, you gather and create, obtaining materials from all over the land to create new and improved armour and weapons. Each new area you unlock is rich in fauna and flora, minerals and monsters with collecting being carried out in a range of ways from generally picking up items from the floor, using nets to catch bugs, pick axes to mine for ores, a spot of fishing and finally, using your hunters knife to gut animals.
The main action takes place in hunting zones that are broken down into areas, with each one linked by paths. Each area will host different monsters depending on the season and also the environment, with dinosaurs roaming the grassy plains, insects lurking in dark caves and a range of sharks and other amphibious monsters in the murky depths. Pretty much most of the time you can hack at anything that crosses your path, some run, others defend, many will attack. Fighting itself is a careful balance of attack and defence, going all out when you can and then learning the preys tells, allowing you to prepare for defence, scroll through your vital inventory for potions and traps or in some circumstances just leg it.
With such a variety of monsters across the many lands to visit you need a decent and diverse set of weaponry and Monster Hunter does not disappoint, with hundreds available including Great Swords, Sword & Shields, Dual Blade, Hammers, Hunting Horns, Lances, Bowguns, Axes and Bows; though just picking up each weapon and carving through the monsters is not recommended as each have their own strengths and weaknesses and also very different handling. There is a lot to take in even before leaving the safety of home camp with plenty of sets of armour for purchase and creating, all of which can be tinkered with or upgraded, adding jewels that boost your stats even more. Though you have a huge variety on offer you can only go out to hunt with one weapon and armour set, making preplanning crucial; surveying the area before heading out for the kill. To keep all this in order you have not only an items chest to store everything away but also the ability to create pre-set classes, allowing you to set up specific armour and weapon for specific hunts, though the need for this comes much later in the game. There is an awful lot to take in and at best it is very daunting, especially when it comes to inventory organisation what with the sheer amount of items you can collect and combine to create potions and other items, but persevere as Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a very satisfying game.
Being on the WiiU, the unique Game Pad offers a slightly different experience than other consoles; on this occasion allowing you to bring all of the on screen gauges and maps to the controller and leaving the TV screen clutter free. This is a great idea which is well implemented, also allowing you to customise the Game Pad layout, adding maps, virtual camera controls, item select and health and stamina gauges, each of which are fully interactive with a tap of the screen; my only complaint here is that you can't mix the two ideas up, it's either all on the TV screen or all on the Game Pad, I would have liked to have just health on the TV to save constantly taking eyes off the action. All of the action buttons are very easy to use and control of the onscreen action is pretty much like any other third person viewed game. What is otherwise a fantastic game is let down by some awkward movement controls, with smaller, finer movements being a little awkward to pull off, made harder when trying to collect items. This walking in water feel to the controls of course works better when actually in the water, with submerged hunting feeling more natural.
With single player offering so much in the way of quests and instances you can easily forget the multiplayer aspects, which offer more of the same but on a grander scale, allowing hunting parties of four to carry out Guild Quests against an even larger roster of monsters. With its own town hub, the online world offers all of the shops and utilities that the single player mode offers. An added bonus for the Game Pad is that when online, the built in speaker and microphone allows hands free communication real time to your party members or using a touch screen keypad to chat in your server, organising hunts and swapping tips and guild cards with ease. The online Marina also offers its own sport which is situated in a large coliseum. Here, rather than go in all tooled up with your best gear you are stripped and forced to enter wearing whatever stipulations the rules dictate. In these Arena Quests it is just you pitted against a selection of the world's beasts, with the aim to kill them as quickly as possible to get your score on the leader boards and also win prizes.
Not having played any previous iterations of Monster Hunter it is hard to compare, especially against the Wii version as this seems to be the same game with a few extra monsters and most importantly, a graphical update which makes the behemoths that roam the lands even more imposing. To accompany this release there is also a 3DS version of the same game, granting the ability to swap saves amongst other options, however we are unable to comment on the functionality at present as no copy has been received for review.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a game that could have been the saviour of the WiiU if it had not been released before; that said if you do not already own it on the Wii (the online servers of which closed in April) it is a fantastic game to play.
Words by Ash Buchanan.
(Version Tested: Wii U)
- Huge world to discover.
- Countless customisation possibilities.
- Online team hunting.
- Countless customisation possibilities.
- Online team hunting.
- Character control can feel a bit off at times.