There’s probably a good reason why Capcom’s Monster Hunter series has never managed to ‘crack the west’ but it’s hard to dwell on why when you’re hunting in the company of friends, flaunting your latest victory with a ritualistic prance, dressed head to toe in the guts of your previous kills.
The sheer notion of co-operative monster slaying is as glorious as it sounds, inviting all creeds of gamer in its Japanese homeland to give this notoriously hardcore delicacy a stab, but never quite whipping foreign markets into a Pokémon-like fever.
The arrival of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate marks the biggest and most fully featured behemoth the series has offered to date, giving seasoned hunters ample amounts to tuck into.
It’s also by far the most accessible introduction to Monster Hunter that newcomers could ask for.
A port of Monster Hunter Tri, the 2010 Wii exclusive finds new housing on both the Wii U and 3DS. As such, it’s a largely familiar experience, setting you up on exactly the same tale of an up-and-coming hunter tasked with slaying the thunderous wyvern terrorizing a small harbor village.
It’s still an essential pilgrimage for new players, drip-feeding this new and wild world to you with each passing quest. You’ll learn to gather resources, hunt smaller creatures before taking on the game’s bigger foes and forging new and better weapons and armor from the carvings of your slain beasts.
For returning hunters, the single-player experience has been balanced slightly with new additions to Monster Hunter’s beastie headcount fleshing out the roughly 60+ hour campaign. The addition of a second Shakalaka companion called Kayamba joins you and former assistant Cha-Cha, making later quests a little easier to face with their back and forth dialogue occasionally worth a chuckle.
What players will appreciate most here is the great wealth of content on offer, some new, some carved from past entries in the series. There’s 12 weapons to pick from, each ranging in style from the gigantic Great Sword, so large that they double as a shield, to the bludgeoning Hunting Horn that produces buff-conjuring melodies as you swing it around, or the bowguns which require the sourcing and crafting of ammunition.
No two weapons play exactly the same and over time they’ll come to define your play style even though you’ll never have to commit to just one during your monster hunting career. The same goes for your armour, which you’ll be constantly accessorising as the monsters get deadlier and the spoils greater.
It’s a long and often tedious process, demanding MMO-like man-hours of commitment to stitch together your perfect armour set or craft that looks as impressive or as daft as the weapon you wield. But it’s all worth it when you take the fight to the game’s real stars: the monsters themselves.
With by far the most impressive roster to date, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is relentless in introducing new and exciting challenges: from the formative encounter with the colourfully decorated Queupeco, to your first underwater tussle with the fearsome Lagiacrus, and the gigantic behemoths introduced well after the end game.
Your first battles with them will be lessons in how each one fights, how they respond when angered by your arrival, and where they’ll retreat to when battle makes them weary. There are no health bars to indicate how much damage you’re doing with each move but instead tells as its roars loudly or limps away to safety.
This is where Monster Hunter really comes into it’s own as you track and attack in as long as 50 minute-long epic battles of attrition. You’ll cheer as their armoured skin deteriorates one piece at a time or a tail is severed, plotting feverishly as you determine whether to capture your prey alive or simply bludgeon it to death.
There’s a lot of micromanaging, particularly in the midst of combat. This is where both the 3DS and Wii U versions benefit greatly from the addition of a second screen, acting as a customisable HUD for you to display your map, tap at items in your inventory for instant access or track other player’s stats.
Even the camera has been given some work. Dual analogue control is a preferred set-up and, while the 3DS’s on-screen D-pad does the job, some 3DS players might want to invest in the bulky Circle Pad Pro add-on. Still, the monster lock-on feature that centers on your desired target whenever you tap the L trigger is a welcomed addition.
Alone, you’ll relish in every accomplishment. With friends, it’s a wonderful and unique experience, teaming up with three players to bring each beast down with a brimming sense of valor and camaraderie.
The new multiplayer marina serves as your new meeting point for players to gather, chow on buff-rewarding meals, and chat before departing on an entirely separate and increasingly more challenging raft of quests from the single-player campaign.
It’s here that the only major difference between the Wii U and 3DS versions is likely to cause any fuss with the former being the only version to offer online multiplayer while both support local connectivity. One nice touch in particular, and a personal favourite, is to have one Wii U player connected wirelessly with three other 3DS players in the same room.
3DS owners might feel a little vexed that the Wii U version benefits from online play and nicer visuals while the 3DS version itself is entirely portable. The fact that almost the exact same experience is running on two largely different system is impressive in itself.
The option to transfer save data between both systems (not available for testing at time of review) is greatly welcomed here, in spite of the fact it encourages fans to double-dip where a cross-play style promotion would have gone down a treat.
But hey, it’s new Monster Hunter – and a bucket load of it at that. Sure it’s still a little archaic and some of its design is showing its age but there’s simply nothing quite like this on consoles.
Veterans are no doubt already sharpening their weapons ready to hop back into the action but newcomers should seize this opportunity to join in. Come see what you’re missing. If it doesn’t click when you’re ankle deep in monster entrails, prancing around with your friends then it never will.