In my first twenty-minute experience with the Wii U version of the action-RPG, I was able to step into the mind of a true hunter, both through my own travails against the giant Zinogre, and through the crowd of Monster Hunter devotees that surrounded the booth. Capcom gave gamers the chance to play Ultimate on the Wii U in twenty-minute blocks. Typically, Capcom, known for its fighting games, has one of the wilder fan booths (second only to Ubisoft's Just Dance booth). While some gamers lined up to compete in Darkstalkers Resurrection, the Capcom crowd gravitated towards the Monster Hunter section. And it wasn't just to check out the Wii U.
Hunters gathered to cheer (and heckle) other hunters. If you chose anything below a 9-star quest, the hecklers were quick to unleash a barrage of jeers. So when I stepped up for my turn on the Wii U, I did what any proud gamer would do. I took a deep breath and accepted the 9-star quest, "Howl at the Moon."
The demo set me up with a healthy supply of traps, potions and whetstones. The only thing left for me to do was to choose my weapon. Call me old fashioned, but when I enter a random game of Monster Hunter, I like to go with the Longsword. It's my inner Musashi wanting to bust loose.
"Howl at the Moon" featured Zinogre, a giant monster that looks like a blue-gold hybrid of a stegosaurus and a kimodo dragon. I didn't remember this monster from Tri, and the Capcom PR rep told me it was new to Ultimate but was on Monster Hunter Portable 3rd, the PSP adaptation. The Wii U's 1080p graphics offered lush environments with better use of lighting. You could see more vibrant separations between colors. Textures were more richly defined and I could see every fiber on the Zinogre's crystallized back. It also appeared that the game was running at a constant 60 frames per second, which the PR rep verified.
Ultimate adds on a new auto-lock control that helps to dynamically adjust the camera when you attack. It's a great boon in this case, since the Zinogre likes to do backflips and toss blue electricity balls, before crushing hunters under its feet. The auto lock allowed me to react faster to the Zinogre's attacks. Every time the monster ran behind me, I could roll out of the way and use the auto lock to snap the camera around.
If you've ever been in a fighting tournament, you know that there is a crowd of spectators around yelling out commands. At the Monster Hunter booth, all I heard was:
"Set a trap."
"Use the paintball if he runs."
"Max Health, idiot. Use Max Health!"
It was a cacophony of stratagems from hunters, who all wanted to play the role of coach.
At that point, I wished I were hunting alone, in my zen place. Playing with two or three other players is great. Playing with three to twenty coaches is a mess. This isn't some fighting tournament, with instant gratification. This is a tactical fight. Note to self – bring noise cancelling headphones next time.
Instinct told me to use Max Health. I just needed to survive with some extra support that my light armor failed to provide.
Sadly, I did not beat the Zinogre. However, when I heard that only one person was able to do it in the twenty-minute time frame, I called it a moral victory. I only fainted once (Ultimate's version of dying). That's got to mean something, right?
Then, it hit me. Monster Hunter gamers are die-hard fans. That's a fact. And if Monster Hunter is on the Wii U, then those Monster Hunter fans will surely pick up this console just get their hunter grind on once again.
Bags Hooper is a writer based out of Brooklyn, New York. He has contributed to multiple outlets, including BuzzFocus, USA Network, Showtime's Pop Tudors, Monsters & Critics and FHM. You can follow him on Twitter at @BagsHooper.