Animal slaughter has never been this much fun.
Monster Hunter Tri released on Wii in 2009, and now a new Wii U version, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, attempts to expand upon its legacy. It's in HD, adds more weapons, more monsters, and new quests. Though I wonder if the new content is reason enough for some to repurchase the game, the third-person action game itself is complicated, unique, and quite good.
While the game tries to introduce you gently to the world of Monster Hunter 3 with a paper-thin plot (in which your customized character improves the community and stops the earthquakes ailing the village), the basic concept is far simpler. Essentially, the game tasks you with accepting a quest, going into the wilderness, slaying monsters to gather supplies, using the supplies to make better weapons and armor, and restarting the process to take on monsters of a slightly higher level.
Though the idea sounds simple, Ultimate explores this premise to its fullest through around 200 quests (easily offering over 100 hours of gameplay, if not far, far more) and 12 entirely different weapon types. The quests range from gathering materials (obtained through going to the right place and pressing the A button or slaying the right monsters), killing smaller monsters (typically plentiful and found in a specific area), and slaying larger monsters.
The latter group makes up a majority of the quests, and is the main draw of the game as well as the only substantial way to gain experience. With that said, these battles make the game’s otherwise dull repetition an excellent experience. Taking anywhere from a few minutes to almost an hour to defeat, these monsters are intimidating and complex creatures that require proper strategy and patience. The resulting battles are massive, adrenaline-fueled bouts that often come down to the wire and feel like real confrontations. Despite having a slow introduction, the game proves itself when you down your first huge, dinosaur-like creature with seconds to spare using nothing but weapon skill and a bit of luck.
That said, Monster Hunter is much more than glamorous giant killing. Crafting is the other half of the gameplay, and is integral to Monster Hunter. Accomplished through gathering ingredients from monsters and the wilds, crafting is slower paced but also addictive. Herbs are generally used for potions, metals and raw ores for armor and weaponry, and plant/animal parts for all sorts of things, like traps and much of the advanced weaponry and armor.
Throughout the entire game, there are six main areas, including a desert, a forest, an ice area, and a new environment that looks like an Oriental jungle. With the exceptions of a few quests that have special areas, almost every single quest takes place in these six spaces. Although they aren't massive, their limited dimensions force you to gain an awareness of every nook and cranny, which becomes important when you get deeper into the game.
Unlike many RPGs, where a basic leveling structure is key to progress, Monster Hunter offers a more intuitive experience system that relies on actual experience. Because all twelve weapon types are markedly different (differing in speed, range, power, and defensive capabilities), most of the "leveling" you do with is done through simply using a weapon type more and getting better at using it. This is reinforced by slightly more practical growth, achieved through doing harder and harder quests to craft better weapons and armor.
Ultimate is fun, but repetitious in solo play. By the time you get a few dozen hours in, you can expect to see recolored behemoths or even an exact repeat of a creature you've fought before. Because these fights are necessary for making new, improved weaponry, going through them at length can start to feel like a grind. If you can find someone to play multiplayer with, though, this grinding is far easier to deal with and more fun, allowing you to experiment with tactics and weapon types.
As you get deeper into Ultimate and once you complete the single-player story, monsters grow so large that having comrades to fight with you almost becomes a necessity. To facilitate this, two AI companions (one new to Ultimate) are available to help out, though they mostly act as monster bait. Local multiplayer is smooth enough, but the online interface leaves something to be desired. The process itself isn't horrible, but I experienced some connection problems, and getting a single error in the process kicks you back to the main menu. I experienced no real issues when connected.
Monster Hunter is a series known for curious control layouts, so I was pleasantly surprised with the control options of Ultimate. The game supports the Pro Controller, GamePad, and Classic Controller Pro, which all have the same general dual-analog layout. On the GamePad, you can customize the screen with various shortcuts that allow you to do things like use potions and change the camera angles. The game doesn’t support Off-TV Play at the moment, but the feature is expected alongside cross-region online play in April. One feature I really like on the GamePad is the ability to plug in headphones and listen to the game free from speakers.
Speaking of which, the game sounds great. The dynamic soundtrack is rife with plenty of catchy tunes and booming orchestral tracks. Visually, however, the game is less impressive. The monsters look fantastic, but many of the settings and character models look only marginally HD, and not leaps and bounds above a Wii game.
For players who have already played Monster Hunter Tri, Ultimate’s most substantial additions are the return of the underwater area from Japanese-only sequel Portable 3rd, improved loading times, some monsters unavailable in the original Tri, and a brand-new large area. If you were only a marginal fan of Tri, it might be good to do a bit of research before deciding if the game adds enough content for you. However, if you're a huge fan of the franchise, it's easy to see the game being worthy of the price tag, especially with the Ultimate-exclusive features, improved loading times, and GamePad additions.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a game of tremendous depth, but also one of tremendous reward. Should you decide to give it a fair amount of time and put in a bit of work, you may find it one of the most exciting experiences available on Wii U.