Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate: catchup review

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Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is, like the mostly dinosauresque creatures within it, a strange beast. For one thing, the fact that the Wii U and 3DS versions are the same game means not only that you can share saves between the two (with the help of a free 3DS eShop app), but also that a 3DS player can play co-op with a Wii U player locally – yet offline co-op with a Wii U alone is not possible. More importantly however, if this is to be your first encounter with the world of Monster Hunter, you’re in for several surprises.

Despite what you may reasonably deduce from the box art (and indeed game title), this is not all about non-stop monster hunting. There’s plenty of tracking down and slaying beasts of terrifying beauty, but there’s also at least as much micromanagement; even more, depending on how you choose to play. Virtually everything that you can stuff down your clawproof pants can be combined with something else to make a useful item, and/or converted to ‘resources’ to add new features to the safe haven of the village; and everything can be sold for cash. Thus it won’t be long at all before you grab everything from mushrooms and monster intestines to honey and metal ores until you run out of inventory space, and realise you need to think a little more carefully about what you want to bring back with you.

In theory, you’re encouraged (though never forced) to grind. This is mainly due to the fact that the best weapons and armour require you to harvest particular body parts from the most powerful monsters, which are sometimes only randomly dropped. You therefore need to regularly revisit your toughest fights if you want the best equipment – but ‘grind’ feels like entirely the wrong word. There’s always a wealth of other quests for you to dive into for a break, and very generous storage space in your hovel means that, once you make it back to the village after each quest, you should never find yourself forced to sell or abandon a rare item. When you finally do craft that special something you’ve had your eye on for the last few hours, it makes a noticeable difference.

“Did you hear something? Guys? Guys?!?”

There’s a decent range of weapons to choose from, and you’re not locked in to the one you plump for at the beginning. Most are melee, and range from quick & easy to use (dealing roughly the same amount of damage to a toothy behemoth as a papercut) to slow, cumbersome, but powerful (really stingy papercut). An added tactical consideration/complication is the elemental, er, element. This is most important to consider when forging and upgrading armour, as even basic sets have strengths and weaknesses against fire, thunder etc. Naturally, the most ferocious beasts found later in the game deal out powerful elemental attacks; but are also themselves more susceptible to at least one element. Think of it as Pokemon on steroids.

Offline, it’s all theoretically held together by a story, though this never really progresses far beyond ‘please kill this gigantic monster when you’re finally not so woefully unprepared’. That said, there’s a wry humour to the dialogue which comes as a pleasant surprise, and (usually) works very well. Even on-screen descriptions of NPCs can be amusing, one highlight being a slightly annoying young boy tagged as ‘future alpha male’. This playful atmosphere (not so present when something unfriendly is trying to separate your neck and your legs by a few hundred feet) is complemented nicely by the free DLC which has already started to appear.

Though the 3DS version is limited to local play, Wii U gamers can hunt online with up to three other people (or by themselves if they prefer) in separate quests, including the aforementioned DLC. The presentation is confusing for newcomers when they’re past the soothingly familiar lobby lists but, once you find out how to actually play with others, you’ll find two important things. Firstly, online play is just as smooth as offline. Secondly, the MH3U community is – in our experience – wonderfully friendly, even to newbies. Bear in mind however that you’ll be locked out of high-level quests until you rank up, and it’s highly advisable to pump a great many hours into offline first if you want to be anything other than comic relief online. The servers are constantly bustling, and it’s not hard to find lobbies of people farming particular monsters if that’s your thing.

The best thing about this bear-like monster is that it will try to steal any honey you’re carrying – and sit down eating it if it does. Yes, really.

In terms of comparing the two versions, there’s really not much in it apart from the online issue. The Circle Pad Pro isn’t compulsory for the 3DS, and the camera is manageable – if slightly awkward – without it. Surprisingly perhaps, the handheld version is the better looking one. This is down to some great use of the 3D effect, and the simple fact that a small screen masks the lack of detail in certain places. Oddly, the Wii U version also suffers from rare instances of frame rate drops in the village hub. Both versions, however, benefit from the wonderful art design.

While activities such as drawing up shopping lists for gear and deciding what to cultivate on the farm may sound dull, they never are for a second. Like games as diverse as Animal Crossing, Minecraft and The Sims, masterful developers have transformed the innately dull into something irresistibly addictive. When a monster unexpectedly makes short work of you, you won’t throw the pad across the room in frustration – you’ll look carefully at what went wrong, and go back to prepare yourself appropriately. Then you will triumph, and be rewarded with a sense of satisfaction and a stupid grin on your face.

All things considered, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is less a game and more a long-term relationship. Once you finally know what you’re doing after wonderfully integrated tutorials and blind experimentation, you’ll realise that it has a stronger hold over you than anything you’ve played for a long, long time. Critical Hit

critical score 9

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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