The lights are on
NOTE: I originally wrote this as a blog post, but have now added it here since GI finally added a review.
In 30+ years of gaming, I have had the honor of playing a host of memorable games that I can look back on and say, “That was one hell of an experience”. Everything from The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy III, to more modern titles such as Bioshock and Skyrim have left me feeling when all was said and done, that I was indeed proud and fortunate to be a gamer born in this generation. After more than 50 hours played on this game, I can safely add it to that distinguished list of games I am glad I got to experience. I don’t often write reviews for a game unless the game is super stellar or a waste of time, with the latter usually only happening if the game is so terrible that I feel a warning should be issued to the world. I also don’t expect a ton of people to even necessarily read my reviews, so if I’m writing one, chances are I had such a great time that I felt the need to share my experience with everyone. This couldn’t be more accurate with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (MH3U) for the Wii U.
When I made the decision to write a review, so many thoughts ran through my head in how I should even write about the game. I was a Monster Hunter virgin going into this game, so I had little to no idea of what to expect other than some rather intriguing screenshots, trailers, and magazine / online previews I stumbled upon when researching the Wii U as a potential new acquisition. Knowing the library for the Wii U is, as of yet, rather lacking in terms of must-have titles, I thought why not give something completely new a try. After all, I had purchased Super Mario Bros. U for the exact opposite reason (being a long time fan since the days of DK), but that was the only title I had interest in that I had not already played on other systems (including the likes of Darksiders II and Batman). I had read enough about Monster Hunter that I knew it would be a gamble, but that it had potential.
Right before purchasing the game, I knew that it boasted over 600 hours of gaming time, online co-op that had to be experienced to be believed, and a robust ‘hunting’ experience that would make me rethink the way traditional action games were presented. The concept of the game is relatively simple. You spend just over half of your time preparing to hunt giant monsters, which are basically huge boss fights. This includes gathering, purchasing, and / or crafting weapons, armor, and usable items such as potions. The other half of your time is spent hunting and fighting (and sometimes running and hiding from) these behemoths. When I say hunting, I mean this in the truest sense of the word too. You must track them down and sometimes chase them once you have them reeling and they flee themselves (they run and hide too)! As of the time I am writing this review, I have sank just under 2 full days (roughly 45 gaming hours) into MH3U, and I can’t help but feel absolutely giddy about what the remaining 555+ hours will bring me.
Let me say from the start, that the time sink does not bother me in the slightest, and if the thought of spending that much time playing a game scares you away, it would be understandable. I have played countless MMORPG’s in which 600 hours barely scratches the surface of my invested time, and played games like the aforementioned Skyrim, which I invested nearly 350 hours of my time. But, I had read it before purchasing the game, and it is important to the review to say it myself; this game is not for everyone. In fact, I would have to say that it would almost appear that the game goes out of its way to dissuade people from playing it. The opening hours are like certain niche films out there that test the patience of the audience at the start, but like those films, delivers when it counts. At around the 5 hour mark, I had already made the decision that I would give it another ‘hour or so’, and if things didn’t improve, it was going right back to the store to be traded in. But, a rather peculiar string of events happen right around that time, or at least, it did for me.
At that time, I had not seen one of these legendary monsters, and had only run around swinging my dual blades at small beasts, a good majority of which I felt terrible about killing (think of the Brontosaurus from Jurassic Park). Not only did I feel terrible about doing this, but I felt terrible about how horrible I was performing while doing it. The controls take some getting used to, and the game has a learning curve overall that takes several hours to get down. Fortunately, it also has a decent tutorial that holds your hand just long enough to get you going, and then leaves you to do your own thing. There are elements of many different games present here in MH3U, from the more modern Zelda games, to Devil May Cry, to Minecraft , and many MMORPG’s. It is a mutt of a genre, but it comes together beautifully once you get past the opening few hours. I immediately found myself gathering items of which I had no idea what their use would be, but fortunately realized there was plenty of storage available to keep them until the time was right to figure it all out.
There is not much of a coherent story, or at least, not one that I really care about. The focus is instead on the gameplay and it knocks that aspect out of the park. When everything does start to come together for you, is when you have that unforgettable ‘A-HA!’ moment where you finally realize how magnificent the remainder of the game is going to be. When I finally felled the first big monster to the ground after a grueling 35 minute battle that went back and forth (throwing a paintball at it so I could track it on my mini map was hilariously epic) , it was an awesome feeling. It was even more awesome when I carved parts out of it which I would later craft into weapons and armor that made me feel like I finally owned that monster. Still more awesome was the realization that I had another 45+ boss fights just like that one to go. Almost 40 hours after that first monster hunt, I had my greatest feel good moment to date, when I came across that same monster yet again (you will fight them multiple times to ‘farm’ the pieces you need to create the weapons and armor), and I used my fourth armor / weapon set on it, that it went crashing down to the ground in less than a minute. Nothing had changed on the monsters end, but I had just become THAT powerful in that amount of time.
There is so much to do in the game and I have barely even scratched the surface while explaining it here (this review is mainly an opinion of the game rather than an explanation as there are plenty of places you can go for that kind of information), that it almost feels overwhelming at times, but I can’t count the number of times I said to myself, “I’m just going to do one more quest, and then I’m done”, only to find myself saying the same thing a few hours later. I imagine I will be doing that for a long time to come still. It’s downright addicting, and again, this may turn some players away. One of my favorite aspects that came about right around that 5 hour mark, was the addition of a sidekick of sorts (actually you get a pair of them eventually), who offers an insane amount of humor to the game. Not only does he aid you in terms of healing and fighting (he makes an excellent distraction most of the time), but he will gather for you when you are gathering or mining, and will even carve pieces for you out of the bosses and levels up as you play. You never have to worry about killing him or him really getting in the way too much either, and you can bring him (only one of the two though) into the online co-op as well. The funniest part for me is his dances and reactions to victory over your prey. Like in any good MMO, you can perform gestures (mainly for when playing online) such as taunts, dances, clapping, cheering, and so on. Cha-Cha, as he calls himself, will dance and react to these gestures as well, which after a long and hard fought battle, feels pretty damn good and provides much needed humor to your sweet victory!
The only real drawback is underwater combat, which can be frustratingly difficult at times, but fortunately doesn't happen often. There are times where the camera in general doesn't want to work just right, and I swing at air, but I have come to realize that this is mostly my own doings (user error), as I mash buttons sometimes in the heat of battle, when I should be more strategic as weapon swing (or aim with the gun types) animations are specific and take time. You need to know how your weapon (of which there are 12 different types and hundreds of varieties of each through crafting upgrades or by acquiring a new set to start upgrading; armor works the same way and there are 2 different sets of armor which can be crafted from each boss and you can switch armor / weapons at any time throughout the game which adds even more to the overall experience) works in addition to how the enemy moves and attacks. These things take time to study and get the hang of, and each weapon and enemy type differs greatly in this regard. I also did not like guns in a single player environment, but feel they could be a lot of fun to play with in co-op, while others take the up close and personal approach. (Update: I have now experienced several weapon types, and enjoy the dual blades, hammer, and horn the most; also one further frustration is stun time which can seem like it takes forever to shake and can lead to repeated deaths. I should again point out though, that this is likely user error more than anything, as I should be studying enemy patterns more in depth to avoid being stunned in the first place and equipping appropriate weapons and armor).
The bottom line is that if you own a Wii U or a Nintendo 3DS, and you are looking for something new to play in an overall lacking library of games right now, you owe it to yourself to give this a try. There is a demo available in the e-shop, but it does not come close to doing the full game justice. For me, it is one of the most satisfying games I have played in years, and I could easily rank it, already, in my top 10 of all time, and I have seen most everything come down the pipe since Pong, which I played with my brother as a child. The solo experience has been amazing, but even more than that, I look forward to playing either with a friend or two, or even random strangers online in the very near future. (Update: I have played with a few new friends online and the online component is absolutely brilliant. The only drawback is greedy / selfish players who will join in just to get a piece of armor they require and leave just as quick as they came in, but if you have a core group of even just you and a friend, you can bring along an AI companion which can at times be more useful than a real person).
Love the review. I think it closely echos the sentiments that many of us have after we fall in love with Monster Hunter. Once the game "clicks" for you, it can be one of the most exhilarating gaming experiences you can have. It might take a few hours to get that click. It did for me, but then I was on an amazing Monster Hunter journey.
Amen. Monster Hunter has been one my favorite franchises since the PS2 release.