Review: Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is the Wii U's first, must-own title of 2013
If you would have told me that an HD port with some gameplay enhancements and added content was going to be the Wii U's best game when months after launch, I would have laughed and dismissed it. Fact of the matter is, the Wii U is lacking exclusives that pack a punch and leave a lasting impression. However, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is like a sparkling oasis full of refreshing, ice-cold water in the middle of a scorching desert. And underneath that oasis are tanks upon tanks of water reserves, if it so happens that the oasis should run out of its delicious and oh-so-satisfying contents. Simply put, you'd be hard-pressed to find a title with so much to do, that happens to be so much fun to play, as well.
While Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is no slouch when it comes to content, the game certainly isn't for everyone. I admit that before Ultimate, I too had a slight aversion to the series. I've played the PSP entries and even Tri on the Wii, and I wasn't quite sold on the premise. Of course, it could have been due to my lack of patience more than anything. That said, now that I stuck through Ultimate's introductory series of quests and worked my way up to much harder and more satisfying hunts, I see just how much potential the series has when you immerse yourself in its culture.
Unless you plan to dedicate your time with Monster Hunter, it probably won't be for you. Like an MMO, the goal of Monster Hunter is to constantly advance your character. Though, unlike MMOs where progression is measured in experience points and levels, progression in here is strictly based on the quality of your gear. Your health and stamina bar are mostly affected by various consumables and food, and how much damage you can withstand to how much damage you deal is all based on buying, upgrading and developing new equipment.
There is a near-perfect cycle to every single task in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. Taking quests or going out on hunts will allow you to scavenge dead monsters, plants and various ore for upgrade materials. Going on tasks will progress the game, while going out on hunts without missions will allow you to gain resource points to upgrade Moga Village (the game's hub). All the materials gathered can then be combined to make new items that can either enhance your character or equipment, or they can be used to help you with making hunts a tad easier. Your farm can raise plants and insects, a fisherwoman will send a boat to gather fish, and even a cute cat chef will prepare stat-enhancing meals that are sure to help you out during missions. Everything in the game exists for a reason and works together in a brilliant ecosystem.
The plethora of missions already available in Tri is expanded greatly in Ultimate. Not only are there a myriad of quests available to you as you progress through Moga Village, but sailing off to the Port Tanzia and the Tavern will reveal a whole new set of quests that will test your abilities as a hunter. Aside from that, there are also Arena quests that pit you and certain monsters against one another in a small, enclosed space. If you think that there isn't enough to do in Ultimate, you're doing something wrong.
However, what would a Monster Hunter game be without some fantastic, nail-biting monster encounters that will have you on the edge of your seat. Thankfully, MH3U has plenty of nasty beasts, each one bigger than the next, and they're all ready to take you down in the fastest and most brutal way possible. Each monster has a completely unique movement set, making each new encounter a lesson of sorts. Movement needs to be studied instead of rushing in headfirst, only to be taken down in a few hits. Memorizing and recognizing enemy pattern is the key to survival; you'll need to be mindful of your dodge button, as well as your stamina bar to make sure you're not out of breath before striking some deadly blows.
This is where Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate will make or break a player, though. Unlike other Capcom titles like DmC, which rely on quick movement with flashy combos, MH3U is all about taking it slow, planning strategies and striking at the most efficient times. Much of how your character moves during combat will be determined by the weapon you wield. Dual swords, or a sword and shield, will result in quicker yet much weaker attacks, while Long and Great Swords will have a much higher damage output with attacks limited to slow slashes. There are plenty more, however; Axes, Bows, Lances, and Horns can all be tested out to see which weapon is best suited to your playstyle.
Underwater combat, a new gameplay element to Tri, is still very much a thing here. I'm not the biggest fan of it, but I can't deny that it works fairly well in Ultimate. Just be prepared for your already slow swings of your massive sword to be just a tad slower underwater.
Monster Hunter Tri was easily one of the better looking games on the Wii. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, however, is clearly reusing assets from Tri and upscaling them to a 720p/1080p resolution. It doesn't make the game worse by any means; the gameplay far outshines the fact that the graphics aren't amazing. However, the monsters look to have gotten the most amount of attention, and they look absolutely fantastic -- from their design to their intricate movement patterns.
The added Gamepad functionality on the Wii U is absolutely amazing. Functioning much the same way as a DS/3DS would, the bottom screen displays useful information such as your map, health, stamina and items. The best part is that it can be completely customized to fit your playstyle. Don't need items to show up on the Gamepad? Swap it out with something else. It replaces the cumbersome item management of Tri with a completely manageable system that further increases the playability and thus, the enjoyment of the game.
This all comes together with Ultimate's fantastic multiplayer options. You can either tackle the game's plethora of Moga Village quests on your own, or you can team up with up to three other players locally via 3DS, or online via other Wii U consoles. While the online functionality was spotty due to the game not being officially released to the public, we were able to get a few local games going with our 3DS version. Strategizing and helping out teammates is certainly easier when they're in the same room, rather than voice chat. Regardless of this, playing with someone else just intensifies how much fun the game is. Monster encounters aren't easier by any means, and teamwork is absolutely essential to take them down, so those worried about the lack of difficulty when taking three others to take down a towering monster can rest easy -- you'll probably get your ass kicked.
Those fortunate enough to own a Wii U (or a 3DS) should give Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate a shot. While not for everyone, those looking for a deep, challenging and ultimately rewarding experience that will last you an insane amount of hours, should look no further. It truly is, currently, the best game on the system.
The 3DS Difference
Like the Wii U version, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on the 3DS is a great, deep experience, albeit with a few minor grievances. On the 3DS, you're getting the exact same story, combat, quests and intricate, intense adventure that you do on console. What's different is how Nintendo's handheld goes about implementing it.
First, the visuals obviously aren't up to the quality of the console version, but the game holds its own quite well. It is one of the better looking games on the 3DS, but the 3D does suffer from some serious blurring from time to time. I can't complain about all that much other than the text; the font is difficult to read at first -- and when 3D is enabled, it's all the more difficult.
You don't want to read extra paragraphs about font, though. The main problem with Ultimate on the 3DS is the lack of a second analog stick to control the camera. With no dedicated lock-on feature, you're left to using the touchscreen d-pad (or physical d-pad) to adjust the camera. It's serviceable, but it's not a perfect system. Don't expect to get the hang of it quickly, or even enjoy it after you do become accustomed. You're best friend will be the left trigger, which will center the camera behind you. Underwater combat is less forgiving, however. The camera system feels completely broken in underwater combat, due to the lack of a second analog. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate begs for you to own a Circle Pad Pro. If the game is for you, you'll overlook the camera issues because the game truly is great, but if you were on the fence about it, you'll be turned off. I recommend trying the demo first to see where you stand.
That said, MH3U and the 3DS touchscreen are a match made in heaven. It does everything you could want it to do, and the abilty to customize what you want and where you want it is all the better.
As mentioned above, there is local wireless multiplayer with a Wii U player and two other 3DS players. However, a dedicated online mode for the 3DS would've been much appreciated.
If you can deal with some camera issues, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on the 3DS is a great addition to the handheld's library. While the Wii U version should be the preferred choice, the game is a deep experience with a rewarding outcome.