Since its release in March, the whole team here at Midnight Resistance has been completely besotted with Capcom’s Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. Nintendo’s Wii U and 3DS have had a pretty stellar year for games, but Monster Hunter is the one game that keeps cropping up whenever we are discussing the absolutely best games available for those systems. Many sites have been using their end of year lists to smear greasy praise all over games such as The Last of Us, Super Mario 3D World and (snort) BioShock Infinite, but why have we chosen to single out Monster Hunter? Why do we think it is so good?
Andi: I always knew I was going to like Monster Hunter. It ticks quite a few boxes I have based on games and gameplay mechanics I’ve enjoyed over the years - The Phantasy Star Online-style quest for better weapons, armour with its own individual look, a robust crafting system and battles with giant bosses that don’t rely on QTE sequences, to name but a few. The series is, however, notorious for its barrier to entry. It doesn’t really give you any clear direction as to what you are going to be doing in the long term and after a few really, really slow opening missions kind of expects you to work it out for yourself.
I knew I needed multiplayer to get me over the hump, and despite the best efforts of Sean and I using all sorts of daft software to try and play the PSP version online, it has taken until this Wii U version for me to finally play Monster Hunter with a regular party of friends and, as expected, all of us started to piece together the brilliance of this series almost immediately. I’m now 80 hours deep and am still terrifyingly aware that I have barely scratched the surface.
Sean: Accessibility is definitely a thing, here. The Monster Hunter series has always been brilliant, but like you said, that barrier to entry has been a real issue since day one. Monster Hunter’s complex nature, while being its main strength, also ensures it’ll never be easy to get into, but this iteration offers by far the least painful way in to the series that we’ve seen.
Owen:Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a game that involves a huge amount of grind and repetition, but it works because the task that you are repeating over and over again - namely, smashing dinosaurs in the face with an axe - is really excellent fun. That's what it all comes down to for me. The combat feels great, so the prospect of hunting the same monster ten, twenty, maybe thirty times to stockpile crafting materials for a new armour set is something you actually look forward to, rather than a chore to slog through. You learn something on every hunt.
I’ve been playing this game on my 3DS for an average of 40 minutes every day since I bought it, back in March. It was the deciding factor in whether I bought the console in the first place. And I still haven't touched the multiplayer mode, which I know from Monster Hunter Tri is even better. Once I get a Wii U and transfer my data across, you’ll all be jumping on my G-Rank coattails.
Andi: Because of how much I value the online multiplayer mode, I consider the 3DS version a really cool extra, rather than an essential individual purchase. However, being able to transfer my hunter from the Wii U version to the 3DS with remarkable ease has given me something to do on many a commute, particularly lengthy trip to the toilet or family holiday that 2013 has thrown at me. In fact, I bested the Ceadeus for the first time while reclining by a pool on a holiday in France like an absolute champion, punching the air and shouting ‘HIGH RANK’ to celebrate my victory and startling most of my family in the process. I imagine without a Circle Pad Pro that would’ve been an exercise in utter frustration, so it is worth bearing that in mind.
Owen: Nah. My view is that anyone who thinks you need a Circle Pad Pro to play this game hasn’t set up their touchscreen controls properly. You know you can customise all the panels and stuff? Just put a virtual d-pad on the right of the screen and you can access your camera controls with either thumb. Just imagine, a developer using the touchscreen in a genuinely useful way! (I also moved the map down there, to clear up some of the clutter on the top screen.)
Andi: Oh! Excellent. I actually own Nintendo's bizarre 3DS peripheral so I never really looked into it! Another thing I love about the game is how it truly rewards you for getting good at a job, especially in multiplayer. I used to be the 'hammer guy', tasked with clocking these beasts around the skull, stunning them and smashing bits off for craft resources, but now I'm starting to find my home using the ridiculous Hunting Horn weapons. Cutting about the map, playing tunes that cause various positive and negative status effects is so rewarding when you realise how much of an important part you just played in besting this colossal monster bastard. Getting GOOD with a weapon makes you feel like an absoute king. Every weapon plays so differently, too, so it pays to have a variety of different ones in your team when setting out on a high-level hunt.
Owen: I think my stats are something like 350 hunts using a Switch-Axe, and about 10 more where I tried other weapons. I love that I can get so much out of a game while openly ignoring 91% of the character options - if I ever do get bored, I could just pick up a bow and teach myself how to do ranged combat for a change of pace. Meanwhile I’ve become a surgeon with a Switch-Axe, keeping my manny tucked into the monsters’ blind spots without thinking about it.
Andi: I'm fucking useless with the Switch-Axe. Used it maybe a handful of times and sacked it off. I don't feel like I'm missing out though because the sheer amount of different hammer possibilities alone gives me the full fear. There's HUNDREDS. There's a weapon for everyone, regardless of how they want to play the game, and they're all absolutely viable and relevant options.
Sean: Here’s a thing that most people forget: the game’s actually very funny, too. The story barely even needs to exist, but almost all of the game’s characters (and even a few of the mission descriptions) are written with genuine care rather than the phoned-in shite you’re used to. Then there’s the comedy Benny Hill-style run your character does when fleeing from a monster, or the fact that the ‘taunt’ animation has your guy lying down on the ground, beckoning the monster over. And yet all this daft stuff is attached to one of the most rewardingly deep and complex games ever. It’s almost as if Monster Hunter is being made by the few guys left at Capcom who now wish they’d joined Platinum when they had the chance.
Andi:Monster Hunter got its hooks so deep into me this year that I’m pretty sure I can tell what weapon and armour I’ll be able to craft from the corpse of anything I kill on the way to work. After finishing Dark Souls a lot of action games have left me feeling quite cold, but this has given me another fix of brilliant skilful action that rewards patience and ability, combined with deep systems to evolve your character that encourage you to engage with other players. We've not even touched upon stuff like the near endless crafting system, the 'Shakalaka' helpers Cha-Cha and Kayamba and loads of other stuff that requires its own Wiki to get to the bottom of! I'm completely on board the Monster Hunter train now - I know how these games work and am thoroughly looking forward to the new gameplay additions that Monster Hunter 4 brings to the table. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if we’re having the same discussion this time next year.
Sean: Absolutely. It speaks volumes of the game’s depth when you can watch a trailer for Monster Hunter 4, see that they’ve added something as simple as the ability to jump and climb, and instantly feel like areas of your brain are starting to fucking rewrite themselves. It’s a series that allows you to develop such a close working knowledge of your character’s ability to move and act that even the slightest change to that is mind-blowing.
Owen: ALSO THERE IS A NEW TYPE OF AXE.
Sean: AND A STAFF. But we can’t play Monster Hunter 4 yet. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is currently the best game in that series that we’re allowed to play. So: