For all intents and purposes, one could consider me the de facto Monster Hunter guy on staff; while J. Rose is certainly as much a fan of the series as I am, he’s not devoted any significant time to writing up opinions on the games at this point for the site. On the other hand, I’ve reviewed Monster Hunter Freedom Unite and Monster Hunter Tri, as well as similar titles like Gods Eater Burst and Lords of Arcana because I have a sickness, apparently. Well, Monster Hunter Tri has been the last release the US market has seen, as Capcom opted not to bring Monster Hunter Portable 3rd or Monster Hunter Frontier stateside, but fans can get set to rejoice once again, as Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate should be coming out in the next few weeks on the 3DS and Wii-U. Working more as an expanded version of Monster Hunter Tri than Monster Hunter Portable, Ultimate brings monsters from Portable 3rd into the game, as well as the full complement of weapons fans have come to expect, essentially expanding the original Wii title into what fans were expecting in the first place. Capcom has opted to release a demo for both the Wii-U and 3DS releases that features functionally identical content, so for those who have been awaiting the opportunity to hunt giant monsters, let’s see how things are coming along.
1.) Both demos offer the same basic experience: you’re allowed to participate in one of two major hunts, against either a Lagombi (easy) or a Plesioth (hard) with a set inventory and weapon set based on your character chosen. As demo setups go, this is pretty good for giving players exposure to the experience. The Lagombi is an acceptable learning-level creature, with patterns that are easy to learn and understand and an environment that can introduce players to the odd status effects that come into play. The Plesioth is, on its own, not the worst possible monster you can face, but underwater combat is a big part of its level in this case, so this gives players a good amount of exposure to how that works and what additional considerations should be taken in battle and such. The demo makes somewhat of an effort to try and clue the player in to how systems work as well, though the expected tutorial that will come with the actual game will likely do a better job of that, but overall, the demo does a good job of offering accessible missions to play for newcomers and veterans alike.
2.) The demo offers twelve different weapon types to test out, which is a big improvement from Monster Hunter Tri and incorporates all of the available weapons from Monster Hunter Freedom Unite and Monster Hunter Tri into one game. You’re offered the option to play with a Sword and Shield, Dual Blades, the Great Sword, the Long Sword, the Hammer, the Hunting Horn, the Lance, the Gunlance, the Switch Axe, a Light Bowgun, a Heavy Bowgun and a Bow, all of which feel as they have in their prior incarnations. Fans will appreciate that so many weapons are available here over Tri and its somewhat limited selection, and newcomers should be able to play around with the weapons and see what strikes their fancy in battle across the different options the game offers. I also like that the demo offers an equal number of male and female models here to try and make the game more accessible to everyone, but that’s more of a personal observation than anything else.
3.) Visually, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is looking solid so far. The 3DS version looks especially high fidelity on the small screen, with solid draw distance and high quality animations on characters and enemies overall. The Wii-U version is documented as a high-definition version of the 3DS game according to reports, but you honestly won’t notice that in the demo. The environments are notably cleaner on the big screen and everything animates and looks as you’d expect, and from the demo, no corners seem to have been cut in the console conversion at all. Aurally, the game sounds like Monster Hunter; there are sweeping orchestral scores that fade in and out as you battle monsters, powerful roars, clashing weapons and so on, and they sound great on both the handheld and the console. The game also manages to minimize loading times in both demos, though this likely has as much to do with the game loading directly from internal storage as anything else. Still, the loading times are far improved from the PSP games, and this should likely remain constant on the 3DS release. The Wii-U release more than likely depends on how well loading from the disc is optimized, however, so we’ll wait and see how that goes.
4.) For those who have played Monster Hunter before, the controls are more or less as you’d expect, though if you’re new to the series, they’re not hard to explain. In both cases, the left stick moves your hunter around, the D-Pad (on the 3DS) and right stick (on the Wii-U) look around, the left trigger centers the camera when tapped and opens up your inventory when held, and the right trigger is used for blocking and aiming. Depending on your loadout, this will determine how the X and A buttons work in battle, as melee classes will often attack with both, while gunners might shoot with one and reload with another for example. When not fighting, X draws your weapon and A interacts with the environment as well. The B button allows for ducking and dodge rolls, while Y sheathes your drawn weapon and uses items from your inventory when you’re not wielding a weapon. For those who are wondering, the Circle Pad Pro is documented as being compatible with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and the XL version, which is available in other countries, will likely find its way stateside some time around launch, but for those who don’t have this thing, the positioning of the controls makes “The Claw” (if you don’t know, Google it) non-viable on the 3DS. Well, unless you can make the D-Pad the default movement option, but the demo doesn’t allow for remapping of the controls in this case.
5.) The 3DS version of the game attempts to work around the possible lack of the Circle Pad Pro and the non-viability of The Claw by employing a couple novel tricks through the touch screen. The first is a D-Pad on the touch-pad itself that you can reach with your right hand, allowing you to turn your view while moving; it works well enough, though it’s not really a suitable replacement for an actual pad per say. The second is a monster button that, when the target monster is on-screen, can be pressed to auto target the primary monster you’re hunting. Then, by pressing the left trigger, you instantly aim at the monster instead of centering your view behind you, allowing you to keep the monster in view at all times, so, again, this isn’t a full substitute for the Circle Pad Pro, but it helps. There’s also an on-screen map on the bottom screen for tracking monster movements (though the demo eschews the need to paint monsters) instead of a map on the main screen, and there’s even the option to use items from your inventory from the touch screen instead of manipulating your inventory. Using items in this way doesn’t change the active item you have up on the main screen, as well, so you can arm healing potions on the main screen and use the touch screen for whetstones or rations or whatever if you want. You can’t swap ammo from here, however, so gunners will still be using the buttons, which is kind of disappointing. The 3DS version also has some pretty solid 3D effects, though I’m going to be the first to say that is a disastrous idea here and I would never ever use them so it’s a nice thought, but no.
6.) As the Wii-U version of the game is on a much larger screen, you’ll find that the map appears on the TV rather than the GamePad, though the GamePad screen is devoted to just as much useful information and actions otherwise. You’re given a full left and right stick here to use, so movement and aiming are simple enough, though the target enemy button is also available on-screen if you like that feature a good bit. The GamePad also shows you the life bars of your allies in the demo, though whether this translates to the full game isn’t clear, IE whether or not your multiplayer allies show up here or not. You can also use the pad to kick or use special attacks with weapons, use items, and make gestures as you wish. The game is also compatible with the Gamepad Pro from the Wii and the Wii-U Pro Controller, both of which are quite functional with the game and make playing even easier. Best of all, while you can’t use the button inputs from the GamePad with the Classic or Pro Controller, you can continue to use the touch screen for various functions, so if you have the space to keep it in your lap while using the controller it’s basically the best possible Monster Hunter experience yet, mechanically.
7.) The Lagombi battle takes place in the Tundra, which is a holdover from Monster Hunter Tri, though the monster itself is a new addition for US fans. The Lagombi is the “Easy” battle here, and for the most part, that’s quite true; while newcomers might have some trouble adjusting, he’s by no means a difficult monster once you adjust to the mechanics in the least, and it’s easy enough to smear him in the twenty minute time limit. The Lagombi attacks by sliding on the ice on his belly in a straight line in one or multiple patterns, with normal swiping melee attacks, with a circular spin, and by tossing ice and snowballs at you, most of which are easily telegraphed and dodged if you’re careful. He’ll drop without too much effort with any of the weapons provided here, and is a good warmup for returning fans as well as a solid introduction for newcomers, to give players a chance to see if the game is right for them. He’s also quite susceptible to Sonic Bombs, which the demo gives you a few of to play around with, in case you are playing it and having some trouble. He basically feels like Congalala from the Monster Hunter Freedom games in some respects, despite his completely different attack patterns, for those who are curious.
8.) The Plesioth battle, on the other hand, earns its “Hard” designation, not because Plesioth is particularly challenging, but rather because of the specifics of the zone. Plesioth’s battle takes place in the Deserted Island stage from Tri, which fans will know immediately means “underwater battle”, so you’ll be learning the swimming mechanics here if you’re not familiar with them already. Plesioth seems largely unchanged from his prior incarnations, meaning that on land he frequently uses charge attacks, spinning attacks and water beam attacks, and in water he does much the same, but with the added benefit (for him) of having more range of motion. When playing with the 3DS or the GamePad, the target locking feature that allows you to instantly lock onto the monster is extremely helpful during underwater combat, it should be noted, though playing with the Classic/Pro Controller makes this battle a lot easier than it would otherwise be. The hardest part of the battle, overall, is dealing the required damage to Plesioth inside of twenty minutes to take him out, as heavier damage builds will do okay, but light damage builds will need to exploit a lot of tools and hit hard and fast to have a chance. It’s certainly not a horrendously unbalanced battle or anything, though, and series veterans will find it to be no worse than anything they’ve seen before.
9.) The demos also show off two AI allies who will fight by your side, Cha Cha from Monster Hunter Tri and Kayamba, who appears to be an addition for this game exclusively. The two apparently have a friendship/rivalry thing going on and can help you out better when they’re more in tune with one another, though the demo doesn’t really do much with this, for obvious reasons. Still, their help is noticeable, as they will infrequently dance about and give you stat boosts or healing effects, making battles less of a hassle as a result. Also, it’s indicated that save data can be transplanted between the 3DS and the Wii-U versions of the game, though how this works is, again, not on display in the demo. Still, any functionality that allows the player to carry their character around between the console and the handheld version of the game is awesome, and makes it absolutely worth owning both versions of the game to get that functionality.
10.) Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate looks, so far, like it’s not only going to be the game Monster Hunter Tri should have been, but will also be the best possible version of Monster Hunter released in the US yet, provided you invest the money into it. The game itself takes all of the elements fans loved about the Monster Hunter Freedom series and sticks them into a more robust Monster Hunter Tri, adds more monsters and functional options, shakes well and serves, and what’s in the demo is rather promising. The ability to share saves between the 3DS and Wii-U, if handled correctly, will also be a big selling point for both games, as well as the Wii-U, for fans. That said, the Circle Pad Pro and Classic/Pro controllers are basically a necessity for optimal play, as the GamePad is fine but iffy and the default 3DS mechanics are okay, but limited, so you’ll want to invest in the extras to get the most out of it, if the demo is any indication. Still, this is definitely a game we (and by “we” I mean “I”) will be keeping an eye on, on both systems, as it draws closer to release.