Written by Peter Watts
Monster Hunter is a commitment. The long running series has slowly been building a very loyal and very passionate community here in the West. In Japan Monster Hunter is a phenomenon, it has become part of popular culture in the way that Pac Man or Sonic did in the 80’s and 90’s. Certainly for me Monster Hunter ranks as one of my all time favourite series sitting alongside Street Fighter 2 for my all time fave game. However much like Street Fighter, Monster Hunter comes with a legacy of gameplay mechanics to master, complex lore to discover, odd design quirks to adapt to and a passionate and loyal community that have been playing for over a decade. For the uninitiated it can all be way too overwhelming, but persevere and you will find Monster Hunter is a keeper. For the purpose of the review I am going to assume you are on the fence about Monster Hunter, because if you’re already a committed Hunter you don’t need me to tell you how good it is and very likely are already hours into the game.
The Monster Hunter Secret Sauce
One of the biggest criticisms new players have when starting up for the first time is the fact that the game doesn’t play as they would expect it to. When starting out movement and combat feels slow, sluggish and at times downright clunky. This is all very deliberate and only after a good few hours pushing past this barrier will it start to click. For many though the low grade graphical style, sheer oddness of its world and lack of a proper tutorial will be enough to encourage a player to move on to the next AAA. This would be a real shame.
Monster Hunter can be described to someone coming to the series for the first time as Destiny with Dragons and a sense of humour. It was doing 4 player matchmaking hunts akin to Fireteams years before Destiny moved the concept into the FPS genre. Monster Hunter tasks you with initially prepping for a hunt then heading out into different locales to find a very dangerous monster. Once you encounter it is entirely up to you to learn its attack, feints, and tells and then knock it about senseless until you either kill it and carve its dead carcass or trap it. Successful hunts provide loot and based on how well you targeted aspects of the monster (head, tail etc) you can get better loot to put towards crafting new weapons and armour. There is no levelling up in the style of a JRPG, you get better by playing the game, learning how to best each monster and then crafting better gear. The main focus of the gameplay is on close ranged melee based weapons but you can be a gunner and attack from range, just do not expect to play it like a FPS.
What’s New In Ultimate?
Ultimate has nearly 100 large monsters to hunt which offers an insane amount of gameplay. It’s not uncommon for Monster Hunter fans to boast about game saves that are over 500 hours. Ultimate is an expansion to Monster Hunter Generations which released on the 3ds now tweaked for the Switch and its a perfect fit for the console. Long time fans can even transfer their save file across providing they download a special DS app and can get online.
The game can be played solo but it really defeats the point of the game. Solo hunts have Monsters with far less health and are often easier to track and kill. The real fun is teaming up with 3 other hunters all using different weapons and buffs to take down a particularly vicious monster. Typically voice chat isn’t an option as its a Nintendo game but the lobby systems and text options are more than ok to get a message across such as ‘Im laying a trap’ or ‘I’m out of ammo’ It’s important to communicate and work together as everyone shares the same pool of three lifes. Monster Hunter calls dying ‘carting’ and if you cart twice the tension ramps up as no mistakes are allowed otherwise its Quest failed. A benefit to the lack of voice chat is that the community feels far less toxic with only predetermined messages able to be sent -very family friendly.
For the purposes of this review I invested 70 hours into the Japanese import released last year, 90 hours in the 3DS version of Generations and then a further further 20 hours in the Western release after transferring my save file. What I have noticed is Capcom offer assistance to new players with free downloadable support bundles full of heath potions, traps and buffs you can take on the hunt without the need to work out how to acquire them through scavenging while out hunting and combining items. This is a huge help in easing the difficult first few hours of learning the game as its the huge array of stuff to learn in the hub world that can be so off putting when all you want to do is get out and fight a monster. With so many weapons types , a separate Prowler mode where you can play and train a cat helper, 4 hub worlds all with NPC’s to talk to and a separate online section , it can all be a bit overwhelming.
Graphics Comparison With 3DS
On the switch it all looks lovely if a little last gen (this is a 3ds game up scaled at the end of the day) but the core gameplay is a tight and addictive as ever. The Wiiu had Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and it looks about as good as that title. Currently lobbies are full of supportive players keen to help noobs rank up online. This is achieved by completed a umber of Key Quests and then a much harder urgent quest. As you do this your Hunter Rank goes up and with it the type of quests and monsters you can hunt goes up too.
Disappointingly there is very little proper story, unlike Monster Hunter 4 and the recent World which had a strong narrative thread. Ultimate is focussed on the hunt. You can chat to NPC’s but its all very basic exchanges mostly asking you to do something or thanking you afterwards. Capcom have released a number if unique quests to earn Nintendo themed Weapons and Armour (Link, Samus, Megaman, Ryu are examples) and these fit nicely into the game without being an odd addition. It’s really pleasing to see an online player sporting these outfits as it shows they are devoted to the game and will be a worthy addition to any hunting party. It is worth pointing out that the solo mode is separate from Online, while you can take loot from each hunt a quest completed online will not transfer to the offline mode.
I adore the sound effects and musical score for Monster Huner. It has a very gregarious personality and it all comes across in sweeping orchestral numbers, off beat comedic moments and even the roars of the Monsters themselves. When a monster notices you for the first time and the music kicks in its one of gaming’s greatest moments. As you are expected to hunt the same monsters many many times you soon start to get favourite ones, some because they are badass others because they are so endearing. The all animate so well its often slightly tragic to have to kill them. Monsters range from ostritch like birds with long beaks to flying dragons / wyverns to giant spiders and snakes. With the added personality of your cat type companions complete with cat related puns it’s clear that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously and expects you to be there for the long haul. There is even a message every time you load up the game reminding the player to take regular breaks ‘meow and then’.
If your the kind of gamer who buys a new title then plays it to completion in a week, then part exchanges it for something new, Monster Hunter isnt for you, it doesn’t have an end to it as such, its designed to become a regular part of your gaming life. You will want to increase your Hunter Rank to see what the next rank has to offer. New to Ultimate is a super hard tier called G rank which throws down some seriously tough hunts that will test your ability to work as team, bring the right supplies and know each monster’s weaknesses.
If you have only ever played world and loved it, Gen Ultimate may feel like a back step in the series history but that is a bit like saying Street Fighter 4 isn’t worth playing now we have Street Fighter 5. Monster Hunter plays by its own rules and demands you work things out for yourself, its eccentric and obtuse, portable and packed full of content but most of all its great fun.
Monster Hunter is life.
Published & Developed By: Capcom
Release Date: Out Now
Platform: Nintendo Switch