Friday, April 05, 2013

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate Review: What’s in a Name?

Capcom is the king of game naming.  Just looking at the Street Fighter II games, we got such gems as:

  • Street Fighter II
  • Super Street Fighter II
  • Street Fighter II Turbo
  • Street Fighter II: Championship Edition, and my personal favorite,
  • Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix

    This naming convention is continued with the Monster Hunter series:

  • Monster Hunter
  • Monster Hunter G (screw numbers, letters are how Capcom rolls!)
  • Monster Hunter Duo (screw letters, Latin is how Capcom rolls now!)
  • Monster Hunter Portable (Freedom in America)
  • Monster Hunter Portable/ Freedom 2 (ok, numbers are now retro-chic)
  • Monster Hunter Unite
  • Monster Hunter Tri (Latin is back like disco)
  • Monster Hunter Portable 3rd (ordinal numbers are all the rage)
  • Monster Hunter Portable 3rd HD (the only "portable" game for a non-handheld system), and now,
  • Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate

Confused about what you’re getting?  Understandable!

                The Monster Hunter series is built around “generations,” much like the Street Fighter series or the Final Fantasy games (FFX and FFX-2, FFIV and FFIV: The After Years, FFXIII and—eh, you get the idea).  There are similarities between all games in the series, but the story, the setting, some weapons, and most of the monsters are unique within each generation.  The current generation is the third.  It includes Tri, Portable 3rd/ HD, and now, 3 Ultimate.  What this means is that 3 Ultimate shares a lot with its predecessors in the 3rd generation of Monster Hunter games.  How much of the game is new?  Is it worth buying if you already have a previous game in the 3rd generation?  All will be answered in time.

                Before comparing/ contrasting 3 Ultimate with older games in the generation, I should probably explain the game to a Monster Hunter neophyte.  In Monster Hunter games, there are two venues of gameplay: offline (story mode), and online.  In offline, you will be prompted to perform a series of quests (usually involving killing a large monster), culminating in a boss monster fight (called an “elder dragon”).  This will save the day, and you’ll be rewarded with a pretty cutscene.  And then the game will continue to offer you quests and chances to upgrade your equipment for as long as you want.  It is not unlike a story-driven MMO: you’ve killed the Lich King, you’ve beaten the game, but before you finish your armor set, you need one more piece.  Just one more raid.  Monster fights tend to be long and difficult, lasting anywhere from 15 minutes to 50 minutes.  Each monster has a pattern to his attacks, which gives battles a certain Dark Souls quality—just charge in swinging and you can expect a swift death, but spend the time learning a monster, and you might just pull it off.  The 3rd generation games have added underwater combat (absent in Portable 3rd/ HD because the PSP was unable to handle underwater controls with one analog stick).  These take some getting used to, but adds a new level of depth to an otherwise played out gameplay schema of dodging, blocking, attacking, and running for your life.

                Online mode is similar to offline (take quests, kill monsters, make equipment), but with a few differences.  First, the monsters are harder (Capcom does expect you to fight the monsters with three friends, after all).  Second, you have access to higher tiers of monsters than in offline.  With few exceptions, these high level monsters are the same as normal, just harder.  The benefit to these fights is that the monsters drop special parts, used to craft high level equipment not available offline.  Third, there is no story online.  Zilch.  Nada.  It is sandbox play in its rawest form.  If you love the game for the story, online is not for you.  If you love the game because you want to fight monsters and make the best equipment, online is where it’s at.

                On the subject of online, there is a baffling difference between the 3DS and the Wii U versions of 3 Ultimate: Only the Wii U can actually go online.  The 3DS can do local multiplayer with other 3DSs and Wii Us, but only the Wii U can access the series of tubes that connect gamers worldwide.  Why?  I have no idea.  The 3DS is more than capable of online gaming; Star Fox proves it (and offers voice chat!).  As a sort of bandaid, Capcom offers a free application for the Wii U that lets you connect your 3DS online through a Wii U (think Ad Hoc Party on the PS3).  This requires a hardwired connection between your Wii U and the internet, however, which means you have to buy an additional dongle (the Wii U has no ethernet port).  This begs the question: if you already have a Wii U, why not just get the game for that instead of the 3DS?  The answer: I don’t know.  Unless you have disposable income to buy dongles for your Wii U, and absolutely HAVE to have the game for a portable system, there is no real benefit to the 3DS version.  It is a shame, because as with all online games, the more people available to play with, the better.

                So what is different between each third generation game?  The most obvious difference (if you have the Wii U copy) is high definition (I have not played Portable 3rd HD because I don’t know Japanese).  This is a benefit and a curse.  It is obvious that Capcom made high definition textures for Tri and keep them around, because some things are quite nice looking (most big monsters, armors, etc).  The extra graphical power of the Wii U (and surprisingly, the 3DS) is used to nice effect for things like real time shadows, self shadowing, and reflective water.  These touches are small, but give the game a nice “pop” over its Wii and PSP predecessors.

It isn’t all pretty though.  It is obvious that some textures are hold overs from the PS2 games, and they look downright ugly (barbecue some meat and enjoy the blockiness).  The Wii U uses proprietary Blu-ray discs, which means they can hold 25 GB of data.  Why Capcom skimped on these older textures is anybody’s guess.  Another less-than-attractive element of the game on more powerful hardware is that there are some low poly count models (mainly landscape—this made sense for the Wii, but surely the Wii U can handle less blocky terrain).  In the end, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is still a Wii/ PSP game, just upscaled for the Wii U.  If you come expecting Arkham Asylum quality graphics, you will be disappointed.  If you come expected something nicer than Tri, you are in for a treat.

Another difference is the quantity of monsters and areas.  Monster Hunter Tri was criticized for having a lack of monsters.  Compared to previous generations, there just weren’t many monsters to fight, and when fighting monsters is the entire premise of the game, that is a problem.  The reason Capcom offered was that they focused on quality over quantity with the third generation monsters.  This is true, and it shows in things like improved animations, AI, tightened hitboxes (try Monster Hunter Unite on PSP/ Vita—the difference is huge), and better overall models and textures.  But in the end, excuses don’t get me hooked on the game: monsters do.  Most of the new monsters were added with Portable 3rd and brought into Ultimate, but there are two unique monsters to Ultimate.  In addition, there are “subspecies” monsters (sorta like palette shifted sprites in a NES game: they’re the same monster, but tougher and a different color) rounding out the roster, and making Ultimate a far deeper and more satisfying experience than Tri or Portable 3rd.  Aside from arenas (single zone areas where you fight a boss style monster), there is only one new area in Ultimate, and that is taken from Portable 3rd.  It is unfortunate that Capcom did not devote any resources to creating truly new areas, but still, all of your major biomes are covered: frozen tundra, volcano, tropical island, forest, etc.

Yet another difference is the controls.  If you have the Wii U version of the game, you are given a wide variety of control options: the gamepad, the Wii U Pro Controller, or the Classic Controller Pro from the Wii.  This is especially nice for those of us who played Tri, since we can use the same controls we are used to.  If you have the 3DS version, things get a little trickier because the 3DS only has one thumb stick.  The circle pad pro is supported, which helps, but its bulk makes it difficult to carry your 3DS in a pocket.  Like the PSP Monster Hunter games, the d-pad can be used to control the camera, but the placement of the d-pad on the 3DS makes this less than ideal (PSP Monster Hunter players will recall using “the claw,” where you wrapped your left index finger around the system to control the d-pad while leaving your left thumb free for movement).  Also like the PSP games, you can use the left shoulder button to center the camera behind you.  Two new ways to control the camera include a touch screen d-pad (if you’ve ever used a touch screen d-pad . . . yeah, it’s kinda like that), and a “monster lock on” option.  This option, turned on via the touch screen, does not work like Legend of Zelda “Z Targeting.”  Instead, it changes the left shoulder button from centering the camera behind you to focusing the camera on the monster.  This makes the game playable without the circle pad pro, but is less than ideal.  The game really needs dual stick controls.  Apologies to your bulging pockets.

Finally, both the Wii U and the 3DS make use of the touch screen.  You can move the HUD (map, health and stamina bars, and inventory) entirely off the main screen if you so desire.  I’m not entirely convinced this is desirable though.  In a game where one well-placed hit from a monster can knock off three quarters of your health, you really need to be able to monitor your vitals without looking away from the main screen.  The inventory is accessible via touch controls, but accessing an item is a multi-step process.  Ultimately, it is just faster to access the inventory the old fashioned way.  Other reviews have criticized Capcom for not using the touch screens in a bolder way, but I think this is unfair.  We’ve had touch screen consoles since the DS (and now iOS/ Android gaming), and the DS has shown that some games can be built around the feature wonderfully (the DS Zelda titles come to mind), some can use touch screens but come out flawed (Metroid Prime: Hunters), and some can use touch screens very little and still excel (like the DS Castlevanias, or New Super Mario Bros).  Every Wii U and 3DS game does not need heavy touch screen usage, just like every Wii game did not need motion controls.  3 Ultimate uses the touch screen little, but in this case, less is more.

The story is an area of complete disappointment.  If you are a story driven player and you’ve played Tri, don’t waste your money.  With one exception (I won’t spoil it), this game *is* Monster Hunter Tri (story wise).  It is confusing why Capcom would change the story with Portable 3rd, but not 3 Ultimate.  Surely the story line is the least cost intensive part of the development of a Monster Hunter game; why not just change the storyline?

How to conclude?  If you’re a fan of the Monster Hunter series who played online and who didn’t pay much attention to the single player of Tri, then this is a great game for you.  If you’ve never played a Monster Hunter game before and want to try one, this is the definitive version.  If you played Tri and want a new story, or if you insist on playing your 3DS without a circle pad pro, then you might want to look elsewhere.  These aren’t the monsters you’re looking for.

1 comment:

Dat Anon said...

Now THAT was the type of review I was wanting to hear.