The Monster Hunter games aren’t exactly a series I have a huge amount of experience with, but they are huge business over in Japan. It’s a series that attracts players in the millions with its addictive upgrades, huge monsters and quirky worlds. That said, it’s a bit of a marmite game, with the endless grind and upgrade cycle not really appealing to certain western gamer demographics. Regardless of your disposition towards the series, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is the best incarnation of the series we’ve had yet, and the Wii U specific upgrades (mostly) improve the experience.
The single player portion of the game sees you questing to save a small fishing village from its monster assailants. It’s an odd experience, mixing the thrill of constant customisation, upgrades and awesome monster hunts with the relatively calmer experience of the resource collection required to continually forge and upgrade your gear. What’s strange is how addictive the whole thing is as, whilst the world and its inhabitants are a pleasure to co-exist with, there isn’t much in the way of a story to keep you enthralled. Instead the game relies entirely on its customisation, upgrade paths and sense of exploration to keep you going. The surprising thing is that it actually does keep you playing.
The other ace up Monster Hunter’s sleeve is the big monster hunts. There’s a reason the game is named after them, as these fights are often something else. Later challenges last up to fifty minutes and become epic battles of patience and wit as you chase hunts across vast landscapes. This kind of gameplay suits the real time combat and, though the swordplay itself is fairly standard, the huge wealth of items and gear types keeps things fresh. Twelve main weapon types will be the mainstay of your arsenal and, even though each weapon set has hundreds of variants on the same formula, the twelve types totally change the dynamic of the combat as you sample each one. From the standard swords and bows to the more crazy switch axes and hulking gun lances, each weapon has its own distinctive place in the mix.
That said, it isn’t all quite smooth sailing with the base gameplay. You can tell this used to be a Wii title, as the controls can often feel a bit clunky. Something about them pulls away from the conventions of the genre, and not always in a good way. Having the sheathe weapon and item commands on the same button often had me overusing potions at inappropriate points and, as some buttons go entirely unused, this felt a bit backwards.
Still, the Wii U changes are notable and a big step forward. The Gamepad touch screen can be entirely customised with panels containing all sorts of information and ability shortcuts. It streamlines the menus endlessly and the position of the interface can also be set, perfect for if you find it easier to shift all the panels closer to your dormant right hand. That said, wielding the weighty Gamepad isn’t always ideal, so it’s commendable that Capcom have included support for the original Wii Classic Controller and the Wii U specific Pro variant.
Just as the controls are a mix of the archaic Wii game and the fantastic Wii U updates, so does the online portion of the game straddle the fence between progression and ineffective lobby systems. The setup is frustratingly similar to the Wii version of the title, with endless lobbies you have to manually choose and, should the connection somehow fail, you’re booted right back to the beginning of the online setup process. It’s not the end of the world having no quick match function, but getting booted back a few screens for a lost connection feels gratuitous, and is a major waste of time.
Once you get in a game though, it’s clean sailing. The online connections are mostly secure and lag-free, and the ability to use the Wii U Gamepad microphone for chat makes teamwork much easier than with the gesture and text chat systems. The game was clearly meant to be played online, with the massive monster hunts attaining an even greater sense of scale with three fellow adventurers in tow. You can also play locally with three friends playing the game on 3DS systems. You can imagine that this is the way the game was meant to be played, though we weren’t able to test local multiplayer during our time with Monster Hunter Ultimate 3.
What with the Wii U being Nintendo’s first foray into the world of HD resolutions, you’d assume a Wii U port of Monster Hunter Tri would capitalise on this and deliver beautiful HD graphics. It isn’t what you’d expect though as, whilst the monsters look more polished than ever, the rest of the game isn’t quite as tuned up. The textures appear bland and grainy at a higher resolution, and the NPC models have seen no touch up whatsoever. It’s a shame the touch ups are so minimal, but that’s not to say the presentation is entirely disappointing. The music and sound effects are still emphatic and uplifting, and the visual upgrades to the larger monsters further improves the big hunts.
As would be expected of the series, lifespan is definitely not an issue. The sheer amount of content is baffling, and trying to forge and upgrade all the equipment will throw the hour count up enormously. It would be even better if you could go free exploring for resources online, as the grind becomes an inevitable chore after the first ten or twenty hours, but sadly the network mode is largely reserved for specific quests. Regardless, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is easily worth the price, and it gets even better if you can convince some 3DS owning comrades to join up with you.
Overall, despite featuring a mixed bag of upgrades and improvements, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate does what it says on the tin. It’s the ultimate edition of, what is arguably, the best game in the Monster Hunter series, and it’s a must for any fan of the franchise as a result. The Wii U version’s online stability, Gamepad controls and new hunts make it a joy for series fans, though the graphical let downs and lack of obvious changes may not make it a sensible upgrade for those who already rinsed Monster Hunter Tri back in 2010.
This game was reviewed on the Wii U.