Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is launching on Wii U and 3DS. Modern platforms, to be sure. However, for years, the Monster Hunter franchise has weathered accusations that its gameplay and mechanics are ancient. It didn’t help that an action-oriented game like Monster Hunter was primarily on the PSP platform, because that game needs a second analog stick. Aficionados of Monster Hunter developed a method of holding the PSP called the claw:
Oh yeah, talk about ergonomics. But, people swore by this game. The sense of accomplishment. The deep combat system. The social aspect of playing with friends. Oh, wait, that last one is a bit problematic in the United States. In Japan, travel via public transit is common, and as a result, handhelds are king. The promixity of people to one another meant that local ad-hoc play is far more common in Japan than it is in America. As a result, the franchise’s popularity grew in Japan, to the point where it was the sole driver of the PSP hardware, keeping pace and then later beating the Nintendo DS.
In America, there were attempts to make Monster Hunter popular, but Capcom of America had neither the marketing support nor the tools to accomplish this goal. In Japan there was an application released for the PlayStation 3 called Ad-Hoc Party, which was a tunneling service which would link to your PSP, and make it think it was connected locally to other PSP’s. This service didn’t come to North American PS3′s until years later.
Later, Monster Hunter Tri came out for the Wii, with full online play, but the Wii never had as robust an online infrastructure compared to its siblings. Voice chat was only available through the Wii Speak peripheral, a clunky solution at best. Nevertheless, Monster Hunter Tri filled a hardcore niche on a system that was sorely lacking in hardcore games, and was the best outing for the franchise on western soil to date.
In a few short days, we’ll get the best of the handheld and console worlds, as Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate releases for both Wii U and 3DS. For those that choose to double-dip, the save file is transferable between both systems, akin to the cross-play we have seen on various games for PlayStation 3 and Vita. Both games support dual analog sticks (thanks to the support of the Circle Pad Pro on the 3DS), and The Wii U version is displayed in a crisp HD resolution. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate features many of the monsters from Tri, but adds new monsters, and new weapons from Monster Hunter Portable 3rd, which never came out in the US.
So all the problems are fixed, right? Well, maybe. It depends on your point of view. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate has a lot of mechanics that will seem anachronistic to most players.
- Enemies have no lifebars, which isn’t unusual except for the fact that many hunts can take upwards of twenty minutes or more of beating on a singular enemy, and seeing it not die. It feels frustrating at first until you realize you have to watch the enemy. A weakened monster will gasp for breath, or make more desperate attacks.
- There’s no way to stay locked on to an enemy. There is a way to make the camera center on the enemy by changing one of the settings, but you will never be able to automatically target a foe and recklessly attack; you’ll have to aim your strikes carefully.
- Striking an enemy doesn’t always interrupt their attacks. You’ll have to read their movements carefully, and not just mash buttons to do your combos. You can press ‘B’ to dodge and roll out of the way, but you can’t do this at any time during any attack’s animation.
There are those who say that these sorts of things make the game unnecessarily difficult and unapproachable. Then there are those who say that these sorts of mechanics are crutches, and real joy comes from mastering the game.
From my time with the demo, I can see both sides. I have been playing modern action games, with their freedom of movement, and feeling of personal dominance, and the shift to Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is jarring. Monsters will hit you out of your combos with authority, knocking you far away in some cases. Other times, you will take the time to drink a health potion, but the animation of drinking it takes so long that you are vulnerable to attack. There goes all the health you just gained.
It also felt really good when I won. There is something to be said for simply improving at a game, and levelling up not because you filled up a bar and increased a number, but became more aware of yourself, your environment, your surroundings, and your tactics. The question is, did I overcome difficult enemies, or did I overcome difficult game mechanics?
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate comes out for the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS on March 19.