Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate Preview

I Can See!

That headline is how I felt when I sat down with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on Wii U for my 20-minute demo. After spending several hours trying to play the Wii version, Monster Hunter Tri, on my HDTV, I gave up for fear my eyes would never recover. Putting aside that system's wimpy innards, anything standard definition looks like a washed out mess on a 1080p display. I wanted to enjoy my first foray into Monster Hunter, but there are only so many razor blades to the retina I can take. Even I don't hate myself that much.

So it was nice to sit down and see Monster Hunter Tri running sharp and smooth, as it was originally intended to look. That's honestly how my entire experience with MH3U feltlike I was seeing what the devs at Capcom were trying to build with Tri, but couldn't because they were hamstrung by a substandard piece of hardware. Thankfully the shackles are off, and we're free to enjoy what promises to be a long, exciting road through the career of a monster hunter.

I don't think anything I've done in my career is as stressful as sitting down to play a Monster Hunter title for preview, especially with a small crowd of other journalists and PR folks watching my every move. It's not like playing a vertical slice of an action game where no matter how difficult it is, your objective is simply to stay alive and kill things. Monster Hunter isn't just a hack-and-slash, or even merely an action RPGit's a simulation. A simulation of something fictional, yes, but a simulation nonetheless. I love this quality about it, and so do an entire cadre of die-hard fans, but it makes the scrutiny of onlookers absolutely panic-inducing. “Oh god, which way is the guild, sweetheart? Wait! No! I meant to change gear before accepting! I don't know how to twin-blade! They'll know! They're all gonna laugh at me!”

Fortunately, I didn't have that problem this time. I mean, there were other writers and PR folk watching my every move, but I had my weapon of choice, a greatsword (because compensating), and a backpack full of the essentials: paintballs, steaks, hot drinks, shock traps, whetstones, and a bunch of potions. These are but a few of the hunters' myriad implements, and each plays a vital role. This is a game where packing your backpack correctly can be, and often is, the difference between eating the bear or being eaten by it. Literally. You need to understand your mark's environment, its tendencies, its strengths and weaknesses, and always, always plan for the worst.

But if you're a returning Monster Hunter vet, you know all this. What you want to know is whether MH3U is worth your time if you already did everything there was to do in Tri, and the answer is a resounding “yes." Capcom is saying that Ultimate, with over 200 missions, sports around 50% more content than Tri did, not to mention 17 brand new boss monsters to hunt down. Throw in the return of every weapon class from the series history that was missing in Tri, and you have a boatload of new content as well as new ways to experience what was already there.

And what was already there was pretty damn good. I'm no Monster Hunter nut, with only 20 hours on Tri, but there's no denying that the game has mondo depth. Some may find it punishing and tedious, which it can be, but when a plan comes together and you take down a big boy, there's little else like it in gaming. Sure, its menu system and control setup are a bit clunky and counter-intuitive, but it's offering an experience you can't get anywhere else so you kind of learn to deal. Or you don't, and miss out on countless hours of rewarding questing, fighting, and leveling.

For the Wii U's part, it does a few things to help address these longtime issues. You can fully customize the interface on the Gamepad, much like you would on an Android-powered mobile device. You get a ton of gameplay-related “widgets” to peruse, and you can choose your favorites and organize them on the touchscreen however you'd like, giving you quick access to things you might normally have had to sift through several screens of menus for. Having a second analog for full camera control is certainly a boon as well, as is the new one-button lock-on camera that lets you recenter your view on your prey with a single trigger press. While the game still marches to the beat of its own drum, new and returning players will both find its rhythm easier to keep step with.

The 3DS edition is content-identical to its Wii U counterpart, and cross-platform play and data transfer are both available, meaning you can take all your progress from home with you on the train and vice versa. Heck, if you're playing on your Wii U, your buddy can even pop into your game while they're over with their 3DS. The jury is still out on whether voicechat will be properly supported, which would be great, since coordination between players is key for the big-game hunts. While it may be more of a director's cut than a new game, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is looking like a more polished, content-packed version of a game that was already good. Early Wii U adopters will have something to look forward to when it drops in early 2013.