Monster Hunter has always been a hard series to review, and the newest installment, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, is an even harder game than usual to evaluate and assess. The series in general has been characterized by a formidable entry curve, lack of accessibility, and slow, iterative improvements and refinements to an otherwise static formula, and a whole lot of re-releases with additional content.
Ultimate 3 falls in that latter category, being an expanded port of the 2010 breakout Wii game; what makes it harder to review, however, isn’t that, but the fact that Ultimate 3 also has a much more featured Wii U port as well, which has enhanced HD visuals, an online mode with full text and voice chat support, as well as an expandable control scheme that supports the Wii U Gamepad, Wii U Pro, Wii Classic Controller, Wii Classic Controller Pro, and even USB keyboards; none of these features are present in the 3DS game.
How, then, do you go about assessing Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on the 3DS? Do you compare it with the Wii game? Do you compare it with the Wii U game? Do you assess it for what it is, or for what it isn’t?
One way to do it is to simply assess the 3DS game in isolation: view it independently of the Wii or Wii U game, and as just another addition to the 3DS library. That is what this review does, it attempts to, as much as is possible, evaluate the 3DS version of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate with as little comparisons to the Wii U or Wii games as possible. Before we proceed, however, in the interests of full disclosure, it is important that you know: if you have a Wii U as well, then get Monster Hunter on that instead, unless portability really matters a lot to you. The 3DS version, as we will see, is a highly accomplished port, but the extra features of the Wii U port, including online gameplay most of all, elevate it to an entirely different level.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate follows pretty much the exact same setup as previous games in the series: you are a hunter who moves into a small village, and then take on jobs from the locals to take down gigantic monsters in the vicinity that are terrorizing the countryside. That is literally all the context that the game provides; storytelling is neither something the game is good at, nor is it really necessary.
Monster Hunter plays as an action RPG, but unlike other games in the genre, there are no levels or stats. Instead, all character progression is defined by the gear and equipment you have. You start with some really rather basic and rudimentary gear, which you upgrade as you hunt down monsters. Once they’re dead, you mine their carcasses, taking on bones, meat, fur, or whatever else might be necessary to craft new items for yourself, or to improve existing ones. Pretty soon, then, the entire game becomes a circular, self fulfilling prophecy: you are killing monsters so you can have better gear. You need better gear so you can kill more monsters.
Monster Hunter is characterized, predictably, by its fights with monsters. These epic confrontations with the titanic beasts are insane, and pretty much each fight in Monster Hunter can be classified as a boss fight. Each fight can last for 30-45 minutes at a stretch, and the monsters are truly terrifying. Towering beasts, they attack aggressively, and when they are cornered, they run, they run across the entire field, and even flee into surrounding areas. There are no health meters in Monster Hunter for the enemies, so you have to rely entirely on observation to see if you are making any progress. A telltale sign like a limp, or a stagger, and you know your enemy is fatigued and close to death.
The fights are difficult to begin with, because the monsters that you are hunting truly are formidable beasts, and also because of a lack of any assistance from the UI that you would expect in other games, but the fight with the monsters often degenerates into a fight with the controls. Now, Monster Hunter has always been known for having some rather, shall we say, eccentric, controls. The problem lies in the fact that Monster Hunter is almost always on a system with only one analog stick, meaning that camera control is delegated to some esoteric fixes, such as the D-pad. 3 Ultimate actually addresses that issue, better in the Wii U version, but to a noticeable degree in the 3DS game too; you can control the camera with either the D-pad (not recommended) or the touch screen (recommended), and there is even a pseudo lock on function that centers the camera on the monster you are battling.
While this setup is less than ideal, it mostly works very well. The problem occurs when you go underwater later on in the game. Controls then become absolutely maddening, and at that point, it is recommended that you play with a dual analog setup at all costs, either by transferring and continuing your save on the Wii U version, or by playing it on your 3DS with a Circle Pad Pro.
Other than the controls, there are other barriers to entry. The game has a complete lack of context, and just throws you into the world. The first ten hours or so are what ostensibly serve as tutorials, by gradually easing the player into the world’s mechanics. While these aren’t exactly boring, they aren’t a whole lot exciting either, and considering most modern games are shorter than ten hours, a lot of people might just have lost interest by then. It’s a shame, because after that, the game picks up, and it becomes so thoroughly engrossing as to literally consume your life. Hundreds upon hundreds of hours can be lost to Monster Hunter, and the new game is no exception.
Monster Hunter shines in multiplayer, and it is here that the 3DS version suffers most with respect to the Wii and Wii U games. The lack of an online mode, and the relative lack of popularity of both the franchise and the 3DS in the west mean that you will be hard pressed to find someone else with a 3DS who also likes Monster Hunter and has a copy. Assuming you do, though, you are in for a treat, as when playing with friends, Monster Hunter becomes a different beast entirely.
Ultimately, it is an incredible game, a great game, hindered, as always, by some rather baffling design decisions made by Capcom, that undoubtedly appeal to eastern sensibilities more than western sensibilities. However, quirks and eccentricities aside, it also has some poor design decisions, such as the controls and the camera.
And in spite of all of this, this is still a must play game. It is just absolutely sublime, and if you have any patience whatsoever, you are in for one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate.
This game was reviewed on Nintendo 3DS.