To start with, a fair bit of warning: I am not what you would call a Monster Hunter fan. The first (and last) game of the series I played was Monster Hunter Freedom 2 and that experience left me feeling that Monster Hunter just wasn't the series for me.
But then I saw Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate for the Wii U which appeared to have addressed the problems that I had with the series. So I decided to give the series a second shot. I am glad I did.
Good — Epic Battles
I'll say this for Monster Hunter: It certainly lives up to its title. The boss monsters are huge, imposing, and radiate danger. Dragons, dinosaurs and sea serpents are little more than the opening volley of this game — with the creatures getting bigger and scarier as you progress. And just when you think you've got a handle on one type of boss monster, they throw two at you at once, raising the stakes yet again.
Moreover, each battle is far from a brief encounter. In my time with the game, I didn't encounter a single boss fight that was under seven minutes long and many broke the fifteen minute mark — and this is with four players constantly attacking the boss.
Good — The Wii U Gamepad
The Wii U's controller is a god-send in 3 Ultimate. It basically serves as your go-to place for the majority of the game's menus; and, if you so choose, you can completely remove the interface from your TV screen and put everything from life bar to item selection on the controller's screen.
But by far my favourite thing about playing it with the Wii U controller was being able to quickly type out text chat using the gamepad's touch screen. In a game where communication is important, it was great to not be forced to select letters one by one with crawling slowness.
[*Note: During the time I was playing Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, voice chat and USB keyboard support had yet to be implemented. They were patched into the game this past Tuesday and will be included in the Western release.]
Mixed — The Controls Are Getting Better But Aren't Quite There Yet
3 Ultimate makes some great strides in making the game easier to play. The most profound tweak is the ability to lock on to the biggest monster in the area. Once locked on, the camera still does not centre on your target automatically; rather you have the ability to re-center the camera on the monster whenever you'd like. As I tend to play the thrusting classes when using melee, I can tell you, it made the whole game much easier to get the hang of.
The ranged classes, which I was far more comfortable with from my time with third-person shooters, still need a bit of streamlining, however, as the controls come off as a bit archaic. To aim and fire an arrow from the bow, for example, I had to press and hold one button to draw, press and hold another to enter aiming mode, and switch over my left thumb to the very sensitive d-pad to line up my shot — since the left thumbstick continued to control movement even in aiming mode. While not impossible to use by any means — after you spend some time getting used to it, anyway — I couldn't help but notice that I was using a controller that has two thumbsticks and four shoulder buttons. In other words, there is no need to stick with the limitations of a PSP-designed control scheme (at least in the Wii U version of the game) when a more common and user-friendly control setup could be used instead.
Bad — Die And Die Again
Monster Hunter is a game all about the grind. You kill monsters, find new materials, make money, and create new armour all so you can restart the cycle with stronger monsters. It is the nature of the game. That, however, doesn't make it any less frustrating when you are one-hit killed by monster after monster as you try to gather what is necessary to make the gear you need.
The most frustrating deaths came after the monster ran away into an adjacent area. Then immediately after I loaded into the new area, I found myself dead from the monster camping the spawn waiting for me. On second thought, "frustrating" doesn't really begin to cover it.
But even worse than that comes from when other people die. For each death in your party, everyone loses a chunk of the monetary reward you would get for completing the hunt. When your monetary reward hits zero — i.e., after three deaths total spread between you and your allies — you fail the hunt, lose the contract fee you paid to start the hunt, and have to try again. And as each battle takes 10 to fifteen minutes, you gain nothing and are left feeling like you wasted your time... which, let's be frank, you did. And in my opinion, there is no greater sin a game can commit than to make you feel like you are wasting your time.
Despite the game being more than a little frustrating at points, I generally enjoyed my time with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. It was easy to hop online, find a group, pop in, and get to Monster Hunting. The battles were tense, exciting, and highly addictive. Moreover, they never felt like a slog — well, unless you and your party failed right near the end of the fight anyway. And thanks to the Wii U's game pad, I feel I got a far better online experience out of the game than I would on any other system. If you're a fan of the series, you will no doubt be happy with this game. And if you have a Wii U and have given up on or ignored Monster Hunter in the past, this version of the game may well change your mind. I know it did for me.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate was released on December 10, 2012, in Japan for the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS and is region locked. It will be released on both systems in the US on March 19, 2013.