On the subject of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate: What does the announcement that it will be released on the Wii U mean for Japan? Is the series finally ready to make the leap in the U.S. now that it's about to released on a (presumably) mainstream console? The answers may not end up deciding the Wii U's ultimate fate, but they should offer some insight into how the system's library will shape up.
Most of you have probably heard about the Monster Hunter frenzy in Japan by now, since it's a good five years old at this points. Thanks to a unique combination of urban density, falling PSP prices and peer pressure, Monster Hunter has become a cultural force in Japan. In the face of this cultural climate, any new Monster Hunter game brings with it a certain amount of pressure to join in with the group.
Monster Hunter has enjoyed niche success in the U.S., but the factors that propelled its meteoric rise in Japan have been largely absent on this side of the Pacific. Put simply, it's tough to find another Monster Hunter fan in the west, which is a problem for a game that puts so much stock in its multiplayer experience. If you're really dedicated, you can attend meetups organized over the internet, but not many gamers seem persistent in that effort. I know I'm not.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, however, will be a Wii U (and a 3DS) game, playable in high-definition and online. I may still have to work hard to find people to play with me, but at least I won't have to leave my house.
So on paper, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate should make a bigger impact in the U.S. than previous versions – also, in part, hinging on the success of the Wii U. And there are still a few stumbling blocks ahead:
It's extremely technical: Ever played a Monster Hunter game? It's heavily reliant on precision, it doesn't have a lot in the way of pyrotechnics, and above all, the characters feel slow. Those elements don't make Monster Hunter a bad game – far from it – but it's a slow burn, which may hinder its attempts to find a wider audience.
The Wii U: Being such a new console, the Wii U won't be quite as burdened by the biases that have cropped around around the Wii over the years. It will also have an easier time standing out among the Wii U's post-launch offerings than it would on a more established console. But the Wii U's success isn't a given, and it will still be building up its install base by March. Such factors will likely limit Monster Hunter's breakout potential.
It's not Monster Hunter 4: This applies more to Japan than the U.S., but it would have been nice to see a direct sequel on the Wii U. Instead, we're getting what appears to be an enhanced port of the Wii game. Not a bad consolation prize, especially given how niche Monster Hunter Tri turned out to be, but a fresh start is generally preferable.
Having said all that, Monster Hunter has plenty going for it as well. If Capcom follows through on its promise to thoroughly revamp the graphics, it ought to be one of the Wii U's more striking games. The PSP and the Wii have never really been able to do its expansive landscapes and huge monsters justice. For once we won't have to extrapolate how nice it might have looked if not for all the fuzzy pixels.
It all comes back to the online play though. Yes, 2010's Monster Hunter Tri has online multiplayer, but the original Wii isn't the most ideal platform for online play. With Nintendo pushing online on the Wii U – including a full-blown MMORPG in Dragon Quest X – this looks to be the moment for mainstream gamers to jump in and get their feet wet. In my case, this is the moment that I've been waiting for. Up until this point, I've generally held out on Monster Hunter because I have no interest in seeking out other warm bodies to play with, and I don't know many people willing to play it on the Wii. I feel like this is my big chance.
Looking at its overall chances, I think Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate has a chance to do very well on the Wii U, even if it doesn't end up doing Mario or Pokemon numbers. It's the kind of game that lends depth to a library beyond the expected first-party games like The Legend of Zelda. These days, I don't really get excited about a platform's selection of games until I hear about the first round of games. In Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, the Wii U already has a big one.
Kat Bailey is a freelance writer based out of San Francisco, California. Her work has been featured on multiple outlets, including GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, gamesTM, and GameSpot. You can follow her on Twitter at @the_katbot.