Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a deep, difficult game. I had been steeling myself to expect the largest, steepest learning curve of this generation. Heck, of the past two generations. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate evokes a time in video games when the feeling of accomplishment came not from achievements, or trophies, but from just simply getting better at the game.
I haven’t gotten amazingly far in the game, though I’ve spent several hours in it. The first set of quests in the single player campaign serve as a tutorial, with each quest highlighting one aspect of the game. Navigating, gathering, swimming, and hunting small creatures are all covered. This is way better than the demo that was released, which gives you a bunch of high level gear and a full item pouch, and has you hunt a creature. This demo leaves users with questions like, “How do I play this game?” “What are all these items, and what do they do?” “How many times do I have to hit this creature to kill it?” It was enough to turn people off from the game.
I can tell you that the game did a great job of easing me in, and introducing me to just a few concepts at a time. I’ve now got a farm where I have my rarer herbs and mushrooms growing, and a ship which I can send out to bring back hauls of fish or treasure. I’ve graduated beyond my basic starting equipment, and I’ve hunted the larger quarry in the Wii U’s online mode, with 3 people I found friendly and cooperative.
One thing I did not know was that the quests in Port Tanzia, the multiplayer hub (which can also be played solo) were completely separate from Moga Village, the strictly single-player campaign. I like that the multiplayer quests are gated: You can’t do the harder quests until you level your hunter’s guild rank up by doing the lower-level quests. This means I can’t get deep over my head doing missions that will smack be down, and make me pessimistic about my chances in this game. If I haven’t made it clear yet, I appreciate the handholding.
I’ve gotten comfortable crafting my own items, not only health potions and food to increase stamina, but traps and bombs I can set to further my advantage in the hunt. I didn’t know how to use traps and bombs effectively, but Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on the Wii U features built-in voice chat for online play. The Wii U Gamepad has a built-in microphone, and I found that people were friendly and helpful. I joined a Beginner room, and quickly got a crash course on what traps are good to use, when to use barrel bombs, and even what monsters I should hunt soon to build the gear I would most effectively use at a low level. Having another human being give you tips while you are playing with them is probably the fastest way anyone will get good at any video game. Unlike previous games on Nintendo platforms, the voice chat works in any game with either strangers or friends, and is effortless to use. If you prefer, though, keyboard chat is available with a press of the ZL button (The left trigger). You can also use a USB Keyboard if you so wish.
The monster fights that I found long and difficult as a solo player are long and enjoyable in a group. It’s nice when the monster isn’t only trying to kill you. One gripe I have is that you can hit your teammates with your weapons. While it doesn’t cause any damage, it does interrupt their attacks, and might even knock them down. This is a problem when trying to fight a rapidly moving and thrashing monster. Positioning is important if you are trying to attack a weak spot or hack off a body part, and it’s easy to bunch up and get in each other’s way. It would be nice if someone in the group would get some distance and utilize one of the many ranged weapons, but I haven’t found anyone who uses one yet. Admittedly, I use a close-ranged weapon, so I guess I’m part of the problem.
Speaking of weapons, there are a dozen weapon classes to choose from. I ended up choosing the dual blades, which attack with multiple weak hits in rapid succession. Pressing R activates a rage mode, which gives me further damage at the cost of stamina. I didn’t really know how to use the weapons at first, and the game actually doesn’t explain beyond “X and A are attacks!”. I opened the paper manual to find a thin pamphlet, but then I realized that all Wii U games have digital manuals. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate’s manual is extensive to say the least, with complete move lists and explanations for each of the 12 weapons. Compared to other armaments such as the Switch Axe or Hunting Horn, the Dual Blades have relatively few controls.
Fighting monsters can be tough, because your character doesn’t control like you might expect, compared to other modern games. Once you start attacking, you cannot change the direction your character is facing; you can only attack in a straight line. You can press B between attacks to cancel your combo, and dodge in a direction. I found this difficult to get used to at first, until I came up with a great solution: Stop pressing buttons. The urge to mash, especially with a weapon that delivers as many hits as the dual blade, seems natural. However, if you don’t mash ahead of time, and only press the attack button once, you’ll feel like you have more control. If you can untrain yourself of bad gaming habits, you’ll enjoy Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate quite a bit more.
I did end up buying both the Wii U version and the 3DS version of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, and I had the opportunity to meet up with some fellow hunters at a Nintendo 3DS StreetPass event. The tools to transfer a Wii U save to 3DS missed the game’s launch, however they did come out a few short days later. The transfer tool completely overwrites the source system’s save file with the copied save, and when finished, you’re right where you left off. The 3DS version supports the Circle Pad Pro, but even without one, I found the game easy to control. The graphics don’t seem to suffer too much on the 3DS, compared to the Wii U. This is only natural, as the Wii U version of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a port of the 3DS version, with improved textures, and a few more graphical effects. One nice feature of the 3DS version is the Hunter Search tool. At any time, you can look at the top of the touch screen, and see how many people around you are playing Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, and join their rooms. Obviously, this feature will have limited use, but if you find yourself in a large gathering, as I did this past weekend, it simplifies the multiplayer process.
So, I’m having fun. The game is not as daunting as it seemed from the demo. Another thing going for it is that the quests themselves aren’t too long. You can only play one and stop if you only have a few minutes, or do more if you’re sitting down for a long hunting session. Online multiplayer on the Wii U is smooth, voice chat is easy, and the playerbase is friendly and helpful. The only difficult thing to get used to is the combat mechanics, and it’s not hard to adapt. I’m still in the early stages of the game, but if it remains this enjoyable, I’ll have nothing but glowing things to say.