Stewart: Monster Hunter is the Real Deal

BY SAM STEWART | MARCH 28, 2013 5:00 AM

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Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate's title tells you everything you need to know about it. It's the Ultimate Monster Hunting game. With intricate mechanics and huge beasts to slay, it certainly lives up to that title, and you will need the skills of a hunter if you wish to succeed — the patience of a deer hunter sitting in his perch in the early hours of the morning, the bravery of a bear hunter standing his ground as his target barrels toward him.

Sure, you aren't in any real danger, but in the heat of the moment, it can feel real. Just know that a hunter's life is a punishing one, and it will take hard work and dedication to reach the top.

Accepting and completing monster bounties is the core of Monster Hunter. From the small fishing village where you live, you will accept a quest, then set off to wherever your target resides. Your target may be a large raptor terrorizing a forest or a giant dragon living in a volcano.

Every locale is split into 10 small zones. You start in the camp zone, or safe zone, and from there you start tracking your mark. You will move from zone to zone (enduring short load times between them) until you run into the beast you are looking for. Once they see you, the battle begins.

In battle, you have two modes: armed and unarmed. While unarmed, you have better mobility and you can use items, but you can't attack. Once you draw your weapon you are in armed mode and can only attack and dodge. Drawing your weapon, as well as putting it away, takes a few seconds, so knowing when to switch modes in crucial to smooth combat.

Each weapon type has three different attacks, which can be chained together to create combos if you get the chance. Monster Hunter's combat is intentionally clunky, forcing you to pick you moments carefully, or get punished by powerful monster attacks. The slow, deliberate combat can be annoying at first, but it is very satisfying once you master a certain weapon.

Monsters are tenacious, rarely giving you a moment's rest. They don't stay still, and their wide variety of attacks will keep you on your toes. Memorizing their different "tells" is key to dodging and surviving a hunt, since some can take upwards of 30 minutes to complete.

Adding to the tension is the lack of an enemy health bar. You will never know if a monster is weak unless you recognize the physical tells, such as a limp. The first part of a battle is just wearing a monster down. Once they are weak, they will attempt to escape, eat, or rest to regain stamina. This is your chance to finish them off or capture them.

Once a monster is killed, you can salvage its body for resources, like pelts, horns, and bones. These resources can be used to make new weapons and armor. New gear means a stronger character, who can handle stronger monsters. This gear loop is the driving force behind Monster Hunter, sometimes forcing you to grind hunt after hunt of the same monster to make a single weapon. You character doesn't level up, his gear is of utmost importance, second only to your own skill.

Resources don't only make gear, though, they make everything. Potions, traps, ammo, bombs, food — everything comes from resources, which must be managed carefully in and out of battle. Your character needs to be fed, and his weapons sharpened every few minutes or else his attacks will be ineffective. Sometimes you will find yourself picking mushrooms for 30 minutes just so you can have enough potions for your next fight. Keeping track of all of these things is overwhelming at first, making the series very unforgiving for newcomers.

Luckily you can enlist friends for online co-op play (only on the Wii U version, 3DS must be played locally), which is highly recommended. Monster hunting alone is OK, but monster hunting with four friends is a blast. Helping each other progress, sharing strategies, and just goofing off is what really makes this game great. Multiplayer is the way the game was meant to be played, and it is hard to recommend the single-player campaign..

The Monster Hunter series is a tough sell to anyone who doesn't already love the series, but once you are in, it is a rewarding experience unlike anything else. If the idea of getting better gear to get better gear doesn't excite you (totally understandable) you won't be playing for long. But get a group of friends to play a few hours a week with, and you will likely enjoy every minute.

Reviewer Score: 8.75

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
Developed by Capcom
Platform: Wii U/3DS
Cost: $59.99/$39.99
Released: March 19
Rated T for Teen

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