The Monster Hunter series is a bit of a sleeper hit in America. Never getting the spotlight of its older Capcom siblings, Megaman and Resident Evil, Monster Hunter generally sits in the shadows, an unknown treat for hardcore gamers. Meanwhile, in Japan the game is a booming success with a fan base that rivals that of the Dragon Quest series.
In 2010, America welcomed Monster Hunter's transition from being a Sony exclusive to Nintendo when Monster Hunter Tri was released on the Wii. It was a combination of the best of Monster Hunter 2 with a few new monsters. It was also the first Monster Hunter to hit the big screen since the first one was released on the PS2.
Last year, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate was announced. Combining all the Japanese expansions, it was set to take America by storm. Now that it's been released, the question remains. Will it be the Monster Hunter that finally breaks through with America, or will it be left in the dark like all those that came before?
New Game+ - Everything that was in Monster Hunter Tri for the Wii has been brought back with Ultimate, and some new and old friends have decided to say hello as well. Weapons that had disappeared after Monster Hunter Freedom Unite have resurfaced. Additionally, the monster roster has been almost doubled, with big game hunts being more accessible early on. Monsters that had been forgotten from Monster Hunter 2 like the Plesioth have also come to make your life a living nightmare as you fight them on new levels that have never been seen on an American release before.
More “Noob” Friendly - I mentioned that the big game hunts were more accessible early on, and that's a major plus as most complaints regarding a Monster Hunter game generally go along the lines of “I have to spend hundreds of hours before I can fight anything cool”. Not only have these monsters that define the series appeared earlier, but they're a bit easier as well. This isn't to say there aren't those 40 minute hunts that require dedicate teamwork and skill; they're just a bit later on in the game. By allowing new players the ability to take on strong monsters earlier, Capcom has allowed more casual players to get addicted to the Monster Hunter series.
Better Match-Making - Monster Hunter Tri had some pretty flakey match-making when it was first released on the Wii. Communications were tough and servers would often be riddled with lag. Fortunately, Capcom has fixed this. All communications on the Wii version are done on the Wii U controller, allowing for both typing and talking with the touch of one's fingertips. The lobby system and gameplay have also seen major improvements as the multiplayer is substantially less prone to lag and random disconnections. If Monster Hunter Tri Ultimate does nothing else, it shows the world how social a console the Wii U can be.
The Bright Side of the Gamepad - The Wii U’s Gamepad has some issues that I will go into detail about in a moment, but it does have some shining features. The ability to send pings on the map, and pull peripherals that might cloud up your screen onto the Gamepad (stuff like your health bar, or the map itself) allow players to customize the game and play it their way. Features like this show that you can do more with a Wii U port than just add cheap gimmicks to the Gamepad.
It Really is Lovely - Monster Hunter Tri was a pretty beautiful game that was a bit restricted by the Wii's limited the hardware. Now that the Wii U is able to flex its muscles graphically, players can see how beautiful the monsters are. Not only are the beasts that you grew accustomed to in Monster Hunter Tri shining in glorious HD, the aforementioned monsters from Monster Hunter 2 have also been reworked. Their movements are now infinitely less robotic. Granted, they still have odd tendencies to glitch through parts of the landscape, but nothing is perfect.
YOU FORGOT TO BRING POTIONS!?
Get a Controller - During my years as a Monster Hunter enthusiast, I've enjoyed the bowguns as it just doesn't seem practical to fight a giant dinosaur with anything less than a high powered rifle. This caused some issues back with Monster Hunter 2 as the controls were a bit restrictive. The Wii U, unlike the PSP, is blessed with controllers that have two analog sticks, making my life somewhat easier. Unfortunately, the natural Wii U controller is a bulky nightmare that ruins everything it touches. After playing with it for some time I came to the personal conclusion that it is best to use the Wii U Gamepad as a cell-phone (sending messages to people with it, and using it to do voice communications), and to buy one of the Nintendo approved controllers.You Can't Fix Some Things - I doubt the Monster Hunter series will ever hit it big in America due to its gameplay. Despite the fact that hunting massive poison leeches is freaking awesome, Monster Hunter is not a game that appeals to Americans. The lack of any leveling system is something that I don't see many Americans enjoying. Additionally, the fact that the game requires copious amounts of grinding and repetition to get the items you need to upgrade your equipment is something that isn't for many of us on the Western side of the world. The problem is you can't exactly add things that more casual gamers will enjoy without completely changing a game design that's loved by millions.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate has really knocked down some restrictive walls that have kept Monster Hunter from being widely enjoyed by the American public as a whole. The addition of more basic quests for new players, and the addition of the Japanese expansion packs really made Ultimate something more than just an HD release. The controls are slightly held back without shoveling extra money for an additional controller, and that this game will probably be as quickly forgotten as the others in the title, but that doesn't stop it from being a great game.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is the best release in the series since Freedom Unite, and it will be addictive fun for fans of the games until Monster Hunter 4 finally gets a release date.
*This review was based on the Wii U retail version of the game.*