Discover your inner barbarian.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a game that rewards patience, practice, and perseverance. The simple enough premise -- hunt fierce and exotic monsters, carve their corpses for meat and material to upgrade your weapons and equipment, kill a bigger monster, rinse and repeat -- very quickly expands into a complex system full of depth, detail and experimentation that requires a certain level of commitment to fully appreciate.
For those unfamiliar to the franchise, you have to understand from the beginning that this is a game that presents an immense amount of content and requires and demands considerable time and effort; if that sort of dedication is daunting, this game is not for you.
For veteran hunters or enthusiasts of the grind, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate packs an immense amount of new and updated content that enriches and greatly expands upon the core experience offered in 2010s Monster Hunter Tri on the Wii. Make no mistake: this is the ultimate monster hunting experience, both on the Wii U with it’s souped-up HD visuals, and the 3DS with its convenient portability.
Watch Nintendo's official launch trailer.
The opening moments of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate are vague on plot, but definitely not on gameplay. As a newly arrived hunter in the small fishing community named Moga Village, you’re tasked with helping the down-on-luck community -- rocked by several mysterious earthquakes -- by gathering needed resources from, you guessed it, hunts of nearby monsters in the wild.
The first few hours are admittedly slow as the game throws its multiple complex systems and a lengthy tutorial at you while completing bland missions such as gathering random mushrooms and hunting poor defenseless herbivores for meat, with new content for veterans nowhere to be seen.
But, eventually, things open up for both newbies and vets: new beautifully animated bosses appear such as the honey-eating Arzuros; your hunter gains two “Shakalaka” companions, Cha-Cha and newcomer Kayamba (who are a great, humorous duo helpful for players unable to access multiplayer and who hunt alone); and the combat in general becomes more and more engaging and challenging.
"Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a game that rewards patience, practice, and perseverance."
While there is a storyline to be found in Moga Village, the bulk of the game is spent free-hunting in the surrounding Moga Forest and completing missions for the Guild, who send you off to increasingly exotic and dangerous locations filled with equally exotic, dangerous monsters.
Generally, there are three types of missions you undertake in Monster Hunter: hunts, gathers, and captures. Hunt quests are self-explanatory: locate your target monster and kill them. Gathering quests involve finding certain resources and delivering them back at base camp. Capture quests are perhaps the most engaging; they require the use of certain traps and tranquillisers to incapacitate your target monster(s).
Mission structure has been generally simplified from previous iterations, with sub-objectives removed in favour of letting players focus on one goal. This will probably irk several long-time players, but I found it helped minimise distractions and let me choose what missions I felt like completing each time I picked up my 3DS.
The combat system itself is one of skill, patience and timing. Each and every monster -- whether they’re the smaller pests or the gigantic behemoths you’re hunting for that prized resource -- have particular tactics and movements you need to note in order to battle them effectively. Spamming the attack button won’t get you anywhere but on a stretcher back to Moga Village, especially with the bosses, and timing when to use a potion to heal, plant a trap, sharpen your weapon or dodge is key. Attention to detail and smartly timed strikes is everything, especially now that Capcom have added extra patterns to the monsters, old and new.
An insane amount of player customisation awaits you in MH3U..
First encounters usually consists of learning a monster’s patterns and getting a rhythm for when to attack or dodge, all the while taking note of its mannerisms to gauge its health -- there is no health bar for monsters, so paying attention to visual cues -- drooling, panting, limping -- are key to know when to strike that final, satisfying blow. If you’re out to capture, it becomes even more paramount to identify such cues quickly in order to set up the trap and sedate your monstrous foe into submission.
Speaking of combat, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate accounts for nearly every single type of weapon and style a player would want to utilise. For those inclined to the way of the blade and blunt, there are the basic swords and shields, slow but powerful gigantic hammers, fast and crippling dual blades (previously omitted) and graceful long katanas. The same level of diversity applies for ranged weaponry too: from the traditional bow and arrow to the bizarre gunlance, gunners have a lot to work with, though maintenance is a bit more complex with several types of (limited) ammo to craft, buy and experiment with.
Capcom provided all basic weapon types from the get go to provide the player with every type at the beginning to get a feel of their unique advantages and disadvantages, which is great for new players. Certain weapons are more useful than others -- I found the hammer was ridiculously powerful but way too incredibly slow, severely limiting agility and consequently, fun -- but most players will find the type they’re comfortable with.
As you take on more missions and battle more difficult monsters, you’ll gain access to additional exotic locales. All locations consisting of 9-12 “zones”, and loading times between zones are thankfully insignificant. Each gorgeous new land -- whether it be desert, volcano, forest, or swamp -- is full of its own unique inhabitants and precious resources, opening up hundreds of new crafting possibilities, quests and exploration, as well as challenges. The desert, for example, drains your characters stamina very rapidly, so make sure to bring a Cool Drink with you -- the opposite applies when venturing into the tundra.
Taking on boss monsters with others makes the experience all the more awesome.
Along with the re-introduction of underwater sections, monster-specific afflictions and item decay, knowing what armour and weaponry and what supplementary items you need for a hunt is crucial to success. While the start of each mission provides you with basic support items, you better be sure to bring your own stuff as well to not struggle in the field.
Crafting and upgrading your own armour and weapons is also important, and spending some time in free-hunt to gather resources and carve up monsters for that next cool-looking helmet or defense-buffing armour is addictive as it is important in progression.
A main draw of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate for most is, without a doubt, the co-operative multiplayer monster-hunting. Instead of Loc Lac, Port Tanzia is now the hub location for hunters wanting to team-up, though the missions there can be completed offline with Cha-Cha and Kayamba. The Wii U version’s online stability hasn’t been improved as much as it could have from the Wii version -- connecting to other players can be difficult and if a host’s connection is not up to scratch, be prepared to be booted to the main menu time and time again.
When it all works, however, it’s an absolute blast to slay some beasts with other real players (in groups of four) and work tactically to bring them down, and makes the entire experience that much better. Multiplayer consists of completing quests to improve Hunter Rank, and as you increase your personal rank, the difficulty goes right up for those looking for more punishing challenges. Collecting Guild Cards of fellow Hunters through multiplayer (or StreetPass if you have 3DS) is also a nice touch; their characters will appear in your game, allowing you to send them off on gathering and hunting missions when you want to collect the rewards without doing the more boring stuff.
The 3DS version of MH3U only supports local, multi-card play, but if you have a buddy with the Wii U version, up to three players can connect via a tool available from the eShop. Capcom did well to include this functionality, and it certainly increases overall playtime if you have access to both consoles, or at least a friend who has one version or the other.
Presentation-wise, the Wii U version is the more polished and impressive, with a smooth frame-rate, vivid colours and sharper visuals for the monster models and some environments. However, the engine is notably aged and the up-scale doesn't quite hide the crude textures, clipping issues and general rough edges. The gameplay is so solid, however, that these visual shortcomings can be overlooked due to the quality of the package -- if you even notice them at all.
Nathan Misa is the senior games writer, reviewer and contributor for MMGN.com and GamesFix. He is seriously addicted to MH3U and needs medical assistance. You can hear his ramblings and thoughts here on MMGN, Google+ and Twitter.