It’s been three years since our last proper Monster Hunter release in the US, as the last couple of franchise releases on the PSP and PS3 were not ported stateside. Giving the franchise a break in the US might not have been the worst idea, as unlike in Japan, Monster Hunter hasn’t caught fire in the States to the same extent, so giving the fans a chance to want more monster hunting action isn’t a bad idea. Of course, the fact that Sony apparently was less than thrilled with working with the technical oddities associated with bringing Monster Hunter Portable 3rd to the US also likely didn’t help matters either. Either way, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate has now arrived for franchise fans on the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, which is essentially an updated version of Monster Hunter Tri, the Nintendo Wii release from 2010 and the last game released in the series stateside prior to this release. That’s not to say that the game is a rehash, however, as it resolves some of the more obvious issues fans might have had with Tri while also packing in a lot of content, and both versions are essentially the most robust Monster Hunter experiences US fans could hope for while also being a bit more accessible to newcomers. That said, while the 3DS version of the game (which is the subject of our review today) is easily one of the best portable releases in the series yet, depending on what you’re looking for the game to do, it can be a little… confusing in some respects.
As with its predecessors, there’s not too much of a story to Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, though, oddly enough, the plot has been expanded a bit for this release. You’re a hunter who has been summoned to the local town of Moga, a backwater dump (described as such, in a roundabout way, by the Guild) to perform various missions for the locals, be it repairing the broken hunting camp, restoring the local farm, gathering resources or ruining everything you see. Your ultimate goal, in theory, is to ruin the local horrible monster in charge, the Lagiacrus, which has apparently been disrupting fishing voyages and causing all sorts of problems for the locals, which will dominate the majority of your time with the single player mode. In practice, there’s more going on than it would seem, and you’ll find that there are, in fact, worse things out there than massive lightning-spitting alligator dragons. There’s also a subplot revolving around a native Shakalaka child, Cha Cha, and his search for a powerful mask, though for those who have played Tri, this has been expanded with the addition of a second child, Kayamba, who is also looking for the same mask. The various town NPC’s will still comment on your larger exploits, compliment you on big tasks you’ve completed, and offer you big upgrades as you advance in the story, so while the plot is still somewhat minimal, it makes a big effort to make you feel like you’re basically the center of attention. The plot is by no means involved, but it doesn’t need to be, as the game is about hunting monsters above all else, and what’s here makes you feel like a big damn hero, so it works fine.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate basically repurposes the Tri engine to the 3DS, and while the game wasn’t terribly impressive as a Wii title, on the 3DS it looks fantastic. The engine, at this point, is more appropriate for handheld games, it seems, as the large monsters and impressive environments tend to showcase their aesthetic impressiveness more on a smaller screen for one reason or another. The character and monster animations are still generally as fluid as ever, and the environments, new and old, look rather nice on the 3DS. The combat effects, lighting elements and battle damage you’ll see on monsters are also generally as solid as one would expect, and for the most part everything works on a technical and aesthetic level as well as it ever has. The 3D effects are generally fine as well, though you’ll find that, for this game, they’re not terribly helpful; you can turn them on if you’re very good or going back to low-rank battles after making it to G-Rank fights, but you’ll not want to use them much during tense battles due to the amount of focus needed in protracted combat. The audio is still pretty impressive, with some solid and well orchestrated musical tracks and some outstanding sound effects. The monster effects in particular are still powerful, and when a monster discovers you for the first time, their roar is something you’ll come to fear, for many reasons. There’s also a smattering of voice acting here and there, though it’s mostly gibberish, and it still sounds fine for what it is.
If you’re a long time fan of the Monster Hunter series, or you’ve read any of my prior Monster Hunter reviews, you can skip the next four paragraphs, as you’ll know the basics going in. For new players, Monster Hunter games revolve around three specific types of locations: the town you live in, where you prepare for missions and improve your gear, the gathering location (in this case the city), where you organize group hunts, and the hunting grounds, where you hunt monsters of various shapes and sizes, as well as hunt for materials and consumables to aid your hunts. The town itself is essentially where you’ll spend your time prepping yourself, and there are numerous things to do around town. Your house allows you to review various documents you acquire, manage your inventory and equipment, and save your game. You also have a kitchen set up in town, which can be staffed with Felynes, semi-sentient cat creatures who can cook up meals for you that might give you some nice stat boosts… if they don’t poison you in the process. The town square contains your item and weapon shops, where you can buy new gear, build new equipment from component parts, upgrade weapons, and attach stat-improving gems to said equipment to improve your abilities. You can also talk to the local quest giver (in this case, a representative of the hunting guild) to take on new quests and the other town residents to gain useful information. There’s also a farm where you can plant seeds, scavenge for useful items and insects, and other odd things.
When you’re ready to take on a mission, you’ll head out of town via the pier to take on some hunting. When you talk to whoever is assigning the mission you’re looking to take, they’ll give you a list of different choices, each of which with different objectives. Some missions might want you to capture or kill a specific beast or series of beasts, others might want you to find or catch specific flora and fauna, and others still might just allow you to go forage for materials and items to use in your hunting quests. Once you’ve been assigned a mission in town, you just go out and take it on, but in Tanzia Port, the multiplayer hub, you can invite friends or strangers to go on missions with you over the internet. Your friends can all jump into the same port and can take missions you post on the mission board for them to accept, and you can bring up to four players into any mission, which you’ll definitely want to do whenever possible, as some missions are pretty much begging for assistance.
Once you’re out in the field, that’s when the fun begins. Now, let’s get this out of the way up-front: there are a whole lot of things you can do while out on the hunt, including fishing, mining, bug catching, foraging, and cooking or mixing up goods as needed. All of these things you can do are useful and worthwhile, and after a while, you’ll start doing them as if they were second nature in many circumstances. But most of the time, this is not what your purpose in the hunting grounds will be. No, most of the time, your purpose in the hunting grounds will be to find a large, angry monstrosity and subsequently end it by using whatever tools happen to be at your disposal at the moment. The first few hours you spend playing will be spent learning how to use the different weapons to see what’s best for you. There are several different types of weapons in the game, from long swords to sword and shield combos to bowguns and arbalests to lances and beyond, each of which plays differently from the next, and knowing what works best on what monster and what you like most will be a big part of the fun of your first few hours in the hunting ground.
At first, you’ll be facing down against smaller monsters like the raptor-like Jaggi and Baggi families, the lizard-like Ludroth, the insectoid Altaroths and Bnahabara, and other smaller threats, but as you adjust to the experience you’ll find yourself facing down against gigantic, multiple-story tall monstrosities, and it’s here where the real fun and challenge of the experience comes in. The game, assuming you’re going in order and not just jumping in with friends against whatever they pick, will start you off with the large raptor leader Great Jaggi and a large bird-like monstrosity dubbed Qurupero, and from there the monsters only become more ferocious. You’ll find yourself hunting monstrosities of all shapes, sizes and designs, like Barioth, a dragon/saber-toothed tiger/bat hybrid that can cover large distances with his leaps, can hover and hurts like crazy, Gobul, a huge fish monster that can hide underground and suck you in with massive damaging attacks, Barroth, a burrowing stone monstrosity that can chase you down and coat you in mud before smashing you into the air, and returning favorites Rathlos and Rathian, male and female dragons who are fast, agile and spit fire like crazy, among many, many others. It’s here that the major appeal of the game comes in. Fighting these monstrosities starts off simply enough, and against something like Great Jaggi you can just lump on him until he drops and collect the spoils of victory, but as you progress you’ll find that simply running into battle is not a successful strategy for victory against monsters like Lagiacrus and that more careful planning is required. Fortunately you have plenty of strategic options available to you, from exploiting the lay of the land by climbing cliffs and goading monsters into charging head first into walls, to using pit traps to capture monsters so you can knock them out or carve them up, to using bombs to hurt monsters and bait to lure them into traps and beyond. You can approach any mission any number of different ways, which makes each mission an adventure by itself, and the satisfaction that comes from outsmarting something ten times your size is… gratifying.
For those who have played a Monster Hunter game previously, welcome back! Let’s address what’s new in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate now.
Now, for those who wonder what has come across unchanged between Monster Hunter Tri and this game, the answer is â€œa lotâ€. The dynamics of the town and forest remain largely unchanged, so you’ll need to collect items in the field and resource points to improve the town, farm, and send out fleets, but you can gather from the battleground outside of town whenever you wish, and giant monsters will frequently appear for you to slay to add to the town’s resources. The hunting grounds are also largely unchanged, with one addition, so you’ll see most of the same locations, progression and so on as you go along. Swimming gameplay also makes a return and is mostly unchanged, so you’ll have to swim around and consider the changes to combat while submerged while managing your need for air, in the instances where underwater combat is a must, though only a few monsters really require it, really. The game is less of a new experience and more of an expanded version of Tri in a lot of respects, so for those who were hoping for an all new experience, you won’t be getting that here, but on the plus side, a lot has been added here to make it worth your while.
The first thing to note here is how the game works mechanically. While the Wii U version of the game allows you several different play styles relative to what controllers you have available, the 3DS offers you two basic play options: with the Circle Pad Pro and without. In either case, the left stick controls your movement, while the face buttons allow you to attack, draw and holster weapons, dodge, forage for goods and so on. Melee weapons generally allow for two different attacks, weak and strong most commonly, with the two attack buttons, while guns allow for firing and reloading through the buttons and bows offer the simple draw and fire options one would expect. How the 3DS differs from its predecessors is in its use of the touch screen, as this allows for a good bit more options for play than the older systems allowed. 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, which, while not a substitute for the Circle Pad Pro (which, from testing, is easily the best possible way to play), works okay enough. The second is a monster button that, when a giant monster is on-screen, can be pressed to auto target the primary monster you’re hunting by tapping the Left Trigger instead of auto-centering your view. There’s also an on-screen map on the bottom screen for tracking monster movements when painted, 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. Still, this is a great innovation overall and it works well on the 3DS, honestly.
For those who liked Cha Cha, as noted above, he gets a new friend, dubbed Kayamba, who essentially works identically: you can assign both of them masks that allow them more options in battle, they can level up and occasionally forage for you, and they can use dances to boost your stats or heal you in addition to attacking enemies. They also have a Chum Chum meter that improves as they work together with you, meaning they’ll possibly dance together, work together in combat better, and so on as you force them to do so. It’s also worth noting that the game is stuffed full of new weapon types (defined as â€œmissing weapon types from prior gamesâ€) so Tri fans will note that every possible weapon type is available from the start. A fairly large amount of new and returning enemies are also on-deck here, so you’ll see old favorites like Rathlos and Rathian along side returning third gen debuts like Nargacuga, returning Tri monsters like Gigginox and Agnaktor, and new debuts (for us anyway) like Zinogre and Brachydios as well. This game is basically stuffed with weapons and monsters to fight, and it’s easily the best possible version of Monster Hunter Tri one could hope for in terms of sheer content if nothing else.
The core game offers, quite literally, hundreds of hours of play and replay value, between the large variety of quests to take on and monsters to slay, for both one and multiple players. 3DS owners can play locally together with up to four players, and you can also connect to a local Wii U to either play the game cooperatively with the Wii U owner, play online from the 3DS with others, or to transfer your character between the 3DS and Wii U if you want to have home and on the go play options. There is a large amount of gear to find and build, items to use, and other worthwhile things to work with, and with the large amount of new and existing content in the game, you’ll have a lot of things to experiment with. The game lacks the import option of its PSP predecessors, for slightly less obvious reasons (I do have a Wii save after all), but you’ll be starting on even footing with other players and your friends if you jump on board now, if nothing else, and any experience you have with prior games can only help. For newcomers, this also feels like the most balanced of the Monster Hunter games yet, as the early village missions give you a fairly solid learning curve to work with if you’re completely new to the franchise, and the game generally helps you along to High Rank missions before stomping you down this time around. If you’ve been scared off by the challenge the prior games have been documented to have, you’ll find this game does certainly offer that, but it eases you in a bit more than prior games have.
That said, some aspects of the steeper learning curve the franchise is known for are still poking around, so you’ll have to spend some time learning the specifics of how different armor skills work and what they do in relation to how you want to play. If you’re not looking to spend a good amount of time learning the ins and outs of a game, Monster Hunter as a series is probably not for you. Some of the monsters you’ll face are also a good bit more frustrating than others, which becomes problematic when, say, Lagiacrus (one of the more frustrating monsters in the game) is put up against the player as an Urgent Quest before Rathalos (not so much). The series also has a very MMO sort of mentality to it in its item distribution and combat design elements, meaning that you’ll often spend twenty minutes fighting one giant monster in hopes of getting the one rare drop you need to complete something, sigh as you don’t get it, and queue up the hunt all over again. In theory this isn’t the worst idea, as the game is certainly fun enough to be worthwhile, but spending several hours grinding one monster to get one rare drop can be frustrating on the lower ranks, let alone in the top-tier, G-Rank quests, where battles can take upwards of half an hour even with a full roster of teammates. Some of the control mechanics are also still semi-unintuitive at first, such as the lack of total lock-on or the long reaction times when you’re sent flying by monsters, and while you eventually come to understand why these things are as they are, they can be annoying to new players.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on the 3DS also brings along two notable frustrations that don’t afflict other versions of the game in general, or the Wii U version in specific. The first is that if you don’t have the Circle Pad Pro, the game can be disappointing to play, whether you’ve played prior entries or not. PSP fans will remember â€œthe Clawâ€, which was used to work with the D-Pad camera to aim and keep monsters in sight, but that’s not an option here, and while the monster highlight option is a nice idea, it takes a lot more getting used to than one would want. Ideally, the Circle Pad Pro is the best option, but for 3DS XL players that’s a frustrating option, as you essentially have to import the Japanese version at this point for around forty bucks, twice the price of the normal CPP that you can pick up from Gamestop. Further, the only way to play the 3DS version of the game online, which is to use a downloadable application for the Wii U to connect to online games, is fundamentally flawed because of one simple counter point: if I have a Wii U, I’m going to buy the Wii U version of the game. Now, realistically, as a big fan of the series, I personally own both versions and use the 3DS version for local play and foraging on the go while the Wii U version is played online. However, given that the 3DS installed user base is practically three times the size of the Wii U user base, the most obvious group of people I can recommend the game to are 3DS users, but the obvious selling point, â€œCome play with my friends and me and we’ll show you the ropes,â€ isn’t one I can even use. It’s not even like Capcom needs to really patch in online play to the 3DS version, when doing something as simple as releasing an app on the regular Wii (which has a massive installed user base) or something like XLink for the PC that works with a hotspot would essentially resolve the issue. Given that I personally could easily sell the game to five people with this sort of application available, it’s baffling that the game with the larger potential market would be released with no options to play it online save owning the console that already offers the exact same game.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is basically the best possible version of the franchise ever created that isn’t Monster Hunter Frontier (I’ll stop complaining when you release it stateside Capcom), but the 3DS version ends up being the inferior release of the two for the console with the larger potential market, which is… confusing. Taken on its own merits, the game takes the elements of Monster Hunter Tri that worked, such as its environments, aesthetics, plot and such, and stuffs them into a handheld version that also comes packed with a bunch of old and new content to give players the maximum possible variety in one package. The game looks, sounds and plays about as well as it ever has, and tunes the elements from prior games to their best possible level yet while also offering one of the most robust roster of monsters, old and new, US players have ever seen, giving the game a whole lot of variety and replay value from the get-go. The game still has something of a learning curve, though it’s notably less harsh than in prior versions, and there’s still a bit of frustration in later sections of the game when you have to deal with the MMO-esque grinding of the same half hour battle to get the one item you need to complete some piece of equipment. Further, the game is best played with the Circle Pad Pro, which is unreasonably expensive for 3DS XL players, and the only way to play the 3DS version online is to own a console that offers its own version of the game, and Capcom really should have done more to improve both of these situations before pushing the game out into the market to maximize earning potential. Fans will find this to be a damn fine release, to be sure, and if you’re curious as to what all the fuss is about this is a good place to start, but Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a good game that could have been fantastic, on the 3DS at least, unless you can find some local friends to play with.
Short Attention Span Summary: Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a weird experience, in that it’s a fine game on its own merits, but it’s a case where the inferior version of the game was released to the system with a larger market share, and the end result is harder to recommend than it should be. That’s a shame too, as the game is basically one of the best releases in the series yet, taking the core elements of Monster Hunter Tri and expanding them to a point where the game is basically almost everything fans could hope for from the franchise. The game looks, sounds and plays very well, generally, and it contains basically all of the content fans expect from the franchise with old and new monsters to make for one of the most robust releases in the series yet, while also managing to be more accessibly for newcomers. The game is still a bit time consuming and challenge heavy as it goes, and still maintains its MMO design philosophy of asking players to spend hours grinding a monster for rare drops, which can make it as off-putting as it’s ever been for those not into that sort of design. Further, the 3DS version is hampered by the fact that the Circle Pad Pro makes the experience much better if you’re an XL owner and don’t want to pay the higher price for the attachment, and the fact that the only way to play the game online is to buy a separate console, when at that point you might as well just buy the console release, especially when the 3DS has the larger user base. If you have friends locally to play with or want to have some monster hunting action on the go, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a damn good game on the 3DS, but the Wii U version is the more accessible of the two, making the version more people will have access to harder to recommend as a result, and that’s a shame.
Mark B. is the Senior Editor at Diehard GameFAN, mostly because he’s been on staff for a decade. He has previously written for 411Games, InsidePulse Games, Not a True Ending, Retrograding and Beyond the Threshold, and he maintains multiple infrequent columns, as well as a Hitbox stream on Saturdays. You can check out his archives and non-game related work over at markbwriting.com, and follow him on Twitter at MarkBWriting or Facebook at MarkBWriting. (Special thanks to J. Rose for the artwork.)