If “next-gen” needs a poster child, something to latch on to, it’s connectivity, not fancy graphics. Richer textures, better lighting, fancier motion blur and higher resolutions won’t help players share their experiences with friends, jump into another’s game or continue their battle, race or campaign against a legion of angry creatures on a completely different console away from their living room.
Sony know this – that’s why the recent PlayStation 4 reveal had a fair chunk of it dedicated to the concept of sharing, and they’ve been pushing PS3 and PS Vita connectivity for some time.
With Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, Capcom have offered the same notion, and with a game that’s still the envy of the platform holder currently in favour. Here, it’s Nintendo, with the ambitious, joint release of the same game for 3DS and Wii U.
Developing your own character is a massive draw in Monster Hunter games.
Does it look next-gen? No. It looks like an upscaled, mildly boosted Wii game (or, more accurately, a 3DS game) and won’t be winning any visual awards anytime soon.
The Monster Hunter series has always had a quirky, slightly otherworldly look about it and throwing the same polygons around in HD hasn’t changed that except to say that it now just looks older than it is. The Wii U’s graphical grunt is still up for discussion, but Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate won’t do much for those sat on the fence.
That’s not the point though – here we have a game that embraces online and then allows you to take the game out on the move, no doubt creating an even bigger distraction than previous entries.
So whilst Monster Hunter might find its biggest fans in the East, Capcom’s much discussed Nintendo bias with the games of late has made column inches all across the world, with a Vita title something that’s widely regarded as critical for the platform.
Despite the first appearing on PlayStation 2 back in 2004, the lineage appears to happily dart about, and to an outsider the myriad of numbers and subtitles present across at least ten games can be confusing. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is based on the third generation of Hunter games, and was originally planned for PS3 before high development costs pushed the developers onto the Wii.
It’s worth mentioning that weapon classes removed from the 2009 Wii version are back here in Ultimate – that includes the Dual Swords, the Bow, the Gunlance and the Hunting Horn – and there’s a new monster, the Brachydios. Naturally, it also includes new quests and items, bringing the customisation of your character up to whole new levels.
That’s part of what makes the games so addictive for fans – the gradual crawl of your avatar’s stats based on the items found and the way progress and direction is left almost entirely with the player. It’s a system that doesn’t work for everyone, but many find Monster Hunter’s lack of hand-holding compelling.
And the introductory process, a series of mindless fetch quests and monsters that barely put up a fight, don’t portray a game with a huge amount of bite. The games demand that you stick with them, through far too much on-screen exposition in the form of chunky text blocks and a difficulty curve so gentle it can take ages before the game really kicks in.
Thankfully, with Ultimate at least, you’ll be introduced to a few new elements without having to wait too long, but for those that already invested months with the Wii version this Wii U version asks a lot until enemies from other non-Nintendo versions start to make their entrances.
So whilst the game looks and feels mostly the same on screen, Capcom have moved most of the visual fluff onto the GamePad, where two alternative formats greet the player.
The monsters aren't going to hunt themselves, you know.
And whilst the 3DS version only offers local multiplayer, the Wii U version boasts an online mode that’ll echo long-forgotten Phantasy Star Online memories as you and three others take on the game together – at launch limited by region but set to go worldwide with the same patch as the one mentioned above.
Our time with the game pre-launch has meant that testing the game’s multiplayer is naturally limited, but it’s there, and just in time as the Wii version’s online will be switched off for good shortly after Ultimate’s release.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate clearly wasn’t ever going to divert from the well-trodden path that the games so neatly adhere to. It’s an evolutionary step from the Wii version and so whilst it’ll satisfy die-hard fans it won’t do much to convince anyone still unsure that things have changed.
It’s still a tough game, one that requires serious dedication and plenty of time, but it’s also one that rewards massively in the long run. There’s a huge amount of game here: it feels complete and cohesive but can easily be overbearing and difficult to enter for beginners. You’ll already know whether this is for you or not, of course, and if it is we wish you the best of luck out there.
The game (on both Wii U and 3DS) releases this Friday, the 22nd, in the UK.