I feel that if you had a friend who’d been in a coma or had lived in a commune cut off from technology for a decade and you sat them down in front of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, they’d think it was a pretty impressive game. Offer the same experience to someone who has played a video game in the last decade, and I think you’d get a very different reaction. That’s because Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (a Wii U and 3DS update of the previously released Monster Hunter Tri) seems to have intentionally ignored every major advance in gaming over the past few years. Instead, the developers have offered up a game whose high points (and they are there!) are practically ruined by a complete unwillingness to be fun and enjoyable to play.
The biggest problem is that Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is clearly designed for a very, very specific gamer, and essentially offers the middle finger to everyone else, myself included. Now, those specific gamers seem to turn out in huge numbers for any new release in the series, to the point where it sells systems in Japan. But if you aren’t one of those gamers and you like games that are accessible, intuitive, and designed to be user-friendly, you’ll probably hate the way Capcom has designed pretty much everything in this game.
Do you like having to look away from the TV in mid-battle to see whether your character is about to die? Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate does that!
Do you prefer your game world divided up unnecessarily into small sections, rather than providing a larger open world to explore? Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate does that!
Do you like tiny fonts placed inconveniently on the screen so that the simple act of reading the pointless dialogue is annoying? Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate does that!
Do you like a game that makes every interaction a slog through endless, unhelpful menus and seems to willfully make things difficult to find and understand? Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate does that!
Do you like a game so focused on “the hunt” that it really can’t be bothered with modern inventions like narrative, characters, or personality? Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate does that!
Obviously, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate makes it easy to pick on the negatives, by making them very obvious and very annoying. That’s too bad, because at its core, there’s a lot that you could like. Do you like an extensive series of quests in which you must study, track, and kill an increasingly dangerous series of creatures? Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate does that, and it does it very well. As the nameless hunter, you’ll traverse many different environments, on land and in the water, pursuing hundreds of quests that will have you hunting, killing and, collecting. Each of your quests is timed, and initially that won’t be relevant, but as the difficulty level of your targets increase, you’ll find yourself spending nearly an hour trying to take down those creatures. That part is impressive.
Predictably though, the game gets off to a poor start, with basic tutorial-style quests that offer little in the way of challenge or interest, and don’t actually work all that well as tutorials.
But… and this is a big but… once you actually get into a real challenging quest against a real, significant monster, then the game changes. It actually becomes fun and challenging, and you can immediately see what it’s all about. Unfortunately, it takes a long and meandering a path to get there, and could be a case of too little to late, except that by that point you might feel like you need to get something (anything!) for your investment.
While combat in the game is a whole lot of hacking and slashing, this is not a button masher, since each attack has a specific animation to run through, so you have to learn to be more strategic with your button presses. Otherwise, you’ll be launching a heavy attack on an empty space while your enemies are attacking you from behind. But, we’ve seen melee combat mastered in recent games, making Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate feel thoroughly out of date.
And look out of date as well, thanks to a generically “Japanese video game” look that would seem more at home on the PS2 or original Xbox. At least the monster designs are interesting, with some real flair and creativity on display, especially as your enemies get to monstrous size.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate does allow you to customize your hunting experience by offering a dozen different weapon types that act and attack in widely different ways. Whether you prefer slow and heavy, fast but weak, ranged or melee, or just want to experiment, there are options galore, and that’s not even counting the many different customization options, or the equally diverse selection of armors and upgrades. If you are new to the game or series though, you’ll almost certainly want to download a guide or hit up the web to learn which weapons are best for you, and how any of the item systems actually work, since the game is thoroughly not interested in helping you out on that front.
Where that does work quite well though is in the lack of hit point numbers or health bars above your quarry. That forces you to rely more on your instincts and observational skills, rather than just watching numbers tick down, as you instead have to watch their behaviour and body language to understand when you’ve inflicted serious damage, which really adds to the thrill of the hunt when you’re trying to take down a massive creature.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate’s multiplayer is supposed to be the real highlight, but to be completely honest, I had to walk away from it before I threw my GamePad at the TV in complete frustration. If the goal is to hunt together, why is it so bloody hard to figure out how to actually hunt together? Wouldn’t a simple “join the hunt” button have been too easy for Capcom? Apparently so, and so I opted not waste any more of my time. If the game doesn’t want to make it easy for me to get into the action, why should I give it my time?
As a parent, there’s nothing horribly wrong with the content of this game, short of the endless animal slaughter rendered with a bit of blood splatter, but I can’t really see an argument for purchasing this game for your child. If they are the rare gamer who will really get into Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, that’s great, but there are a plethora of better options available.
The GamerPops Recommendation
I have no doubt that there is an enthusiastic audience out there for Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. But I’m just as sure I’m not in it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many other gamers find themselves in the same situation, because this seems like one of those black and white issues: you’re either going to love Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate or you are going to hate it. As a reviewer, I’m open to seeing the positives in any title, but as a gamer, sometimes it’s easier to admit that a game just isn’t for you and move on.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate definitely can hit some significant positives when it pushes the hunt to its peak, but there’s just so much less-than-stellar filler wrapped around those peaks that suck the thrill out of the game. If you have endless hours to invest in the game, and care enough to learn all of the minutia of the crafting, collection and other support systems that the game seems disinterested in explaining to you, then you’ll definitely be able to get more than your $60 worth out of the game.
Unfortunately, it appears that Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and I were not meant to be.
A review copy was provided to GamerPops.
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ESRB Rating Summary
Rating Category: T for Teen
Content Descriptors: Blood, Crude Humor, Fantasy Violence
Rating Summary: This is an action-adventure game (with role-playing elements) in which players hunt fantastical monsters and complete quests while in the service of a village chief. Players battle dinosaurs, dragons, and giant insects in real-time, close-quarter combat. Characters can use a variety of weapons including swords, lances, bombs, and “bowguns” (firearm-like crossbows) to attack creatures. Combat is accompanied by red blood-like spurts that flash briefly when hits are successful. During some combat, players can use “dung bombs” that result in greenish brown clouds. Characters can also track creatures from their droppings, which are humorously described: “That’s right: monster poop. The odor reveals (too) much about the monster’s diet.”