|System: 3DS, Wii U|
|Dev: Capcom Production Studio 1|
|Release: March 19, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Crude Humor, Fantasy Violence|
by Sean Engemann
The Monster Hunter series is one that, despite receiving critical praise throughout its history, is regularly overlooked by both localization efforts to bring the series overseas and by gamers when it actually does make the journey. Most titles have only seen light on the PlayStation Portable, limiting its potential audience.
In Japan, though, the series is worshipped, so much so that the Japanese version of the most recent title, called Monster Hunter 3G HD Ver., had a special bundle for the Wii U launch. In the U.S. and U.K., the game is called Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, which is actually an upgraded port of 2010’s Monster Hunter Tri. If the Wii version passed you by, I strongly urge you to consider the Wii U copy, with all of its new features and a glossy HD coating.
Though labeled a hack-n-slash, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is arguably the most strategic game in the entire genre. Taking up arms, you'll do exactly what the title suggests—hunt monsters. The beasts, both timid and feral, roam untamed environments, feeding off the land and each other. The zones are separated by paths, giving each area an arena-like feeling, with natural set pieces that provide strategic support.
The game opens with a fairly light series of tasks—foraging for material components and tackling docile herbivores. As you progress through the 200+ quests, the difficulty curve steepens until you find yourself spending hours farming for items to upgrade your equipment in order to have any chance against the game's gargantuan monsters. Even with a potent weapon, victory is not simply attained by marching up to the enemy and spamming the attack button. Every monster has unique attack patterns that must be studied, and status effect-inducing abilities such as poison and paralysis that must be considered when loading your inventory.
You are not required to choose a class at the onset; instead, the weapon you choose before each hunt begins determines your abilities for that round. The weapons vary in size and weight, and each requires a practiced hand. Timing is critical, and paying attention to the attack animations is key, as heavy weapons such as the hammer or great sword can take several seconds to land a blow. Even acts like imbibing health-restoring potions and sharpening your weapons with whetstones require you to know whether your enemy is poised to strike. All these factors make every encounter feel like its own campaign, one that can take a half hour or more from the first strike to the killing blow.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate was not rebuilt from the ground up to support high-definition graphics, thus the retexturing still leaves some telltale blocky characters and backgrounds. Still, this is much prettier than the Wii version it was ported from. Load times between zones are significantly reduced, a welcome upgrade considering how often you move between areas.
Ultimate comes loaded with new monsters and new locations, though these are all in the latter sections of the game, so if you've already contributed hundreds of hours in Monster Hunter Tri, it would take a significant amount of time in Ultimate to access the new content. To make your task slightly easier, two computer-controlled characters accompany you on the hunt. These two, named Cha-Cha and Kayamba, are designed to briefly pull the monsters’ attention away from you rather than deal consequential damage.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate will be available on both the Wii U and the 3DS, with the ability to quickly transfer save files between the two systems for hunting at home or on the go. The Wii U version will have better graphics and online capabilities, whereas the 3DS gives a 3D perspective and uses the StreetPass application to share your guild card. The game also supports cross-platform play, so one person can use the Wii U GamePad in a cooperative hunt with up to three other local players on their 3DS handhelds. The GamePad compiles much of the game lore and statistics on its touchscreen, negating the need to trudge through menu screens on your television. With an interactive map, weapon stats and abilities, and minigames handled through the screen on the GamePad, it may not be the most creative utilization of the controller we’ve seen thus far. Still, it serves itself in practicality, and eliminates the need for a screen-cluttering HUD.
With big weapons, big monsters, a brutal difficulty level, and a T rating from ESRB, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate should be on the must-have list of hardcore gamers from almost every age group. If you're still not sure about the purchase, a sizeable demo will be available to download on February 21st. I strongly advise you to test it out, though getting hooked could mean hundreds of hours of time well wasted once the full game is released on March 19th.
Date: February 21, 2013