Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is the latest revision in the long-running Capcom series, the last of which was seen on Western home consoles in 2010's Monster Hunter Tri. When the developer adds an "Alpha," "Turbo," or in this case "Ultimate," to a game's title, it typically signifies that the core parts of the game are unchanged. With Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, players get the familiarity of Tri with the excitement of more quests, monsters and areas in which to hunt.
Ultimate spans two systems this time around, the Wii U and 3DS. Both versions kick off in Moga Village, putting you through the same tired paces as seen in the previous slow-burn introductions to the universe. Collect some mushrooms, defeat a Great Jaggi, catch three goldenfish, deliver some eggs and so on. Veteran hunters will have plenty of material to re-tread before the game resembles anything different than what they're used to. What's new this time around?
Thanks to the use of a second screen on both systems, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate benefits from a few extra customization options. If you don't like seeing your typical health/stamina HUD or the map on the main screen, you can move those items to the lower screen on the 3DS or the Wii U GamePad. Dragging and dropping an inventory module or a beacon button to the touch screen is a nice addition, but the touch screens on both versions aren't used to their fullest potential.
Ultimate is still plagued by a terrible inventory system with tiny icons, which is relegated to the main screen. There's no special item combination options for the touch screen, or even options to change the atrocious layout of the inventory itself. I'm fairly certain the game was mocking me when the GamePad screen read "look at the main screen" when accessing my collection of items. In these ways, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate really doesn't feel like it takes full advantage of the features each system has to offer. Why can't I read dialogue on the game pad? Why am I unable to manage my vast inventory of items using the game's touch screen? Really, Ultimate doesn't feel as if it needed to exist on the Wii U, as the system's features don't do anything extraordinary for it.
Once connected, lobby selection, party selection and chat are all done via the GamePad. The system worked fairly well, as I completed a few quests in a team of four with ease. A save data transfer app for 3DS allows players to port their save files between the two versions as well. Along with the plethora of DLC event quests to come, the game has promise. Even if I haven't had a chance to go GamePad-only on the Wii U yet – offscreen play will be implemented in a future update – transferring saves between the two systems has more than made up for it.
Ultimate also brings with it local cooperative play between the Wii U and 3DS. It took roughly 15 minutes to understand how to connect the two consoles but, as with everything Monster Hunter, it became second nature once I got it started. Local multiplayer was great, but we encountered a number of de-syncing issues that caused gathering points and even monsters to appear for one player, but not for the other. Thankfully, larger beasts synchronized correctly, making the other minor issues easy enough to deal with.
All that aside, a lot of what you'd call "new" in this game is mostly old. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is host to over two hundred quests and 73 different monsters. One of the monsters is new, Brachydios, while the rest come from Tri and Monster Hunter Portable 3rd, a 2010 Japan-only PSP entry in the series. Ultimate is really a combination of past games slammed together, then roughly adapted for 3DS and Wii U. It's a lot of content to take in, though, so fans that haven't played either of those games will want to start with Ultimate.
How's it hold up?
The Wii U's GamePad display is flanked by two borders, indicating the loss of real estate on the screen thanks to the lack of a 16:9 touch screen on the 3DS. That's not the only piece of this game that feels "upscaled," as surfaces on the Wii U version are noticeably flat and muddied, easily better than Monster Hunter Tri (Wii) visuals but certainly not as pretty as what the system is capable of. The 3DS version has its flaws as well, namely a fair amount of "ghosting" being visible around characters while the 3D slider on the system is on. 3D doesn't add much to the game anyway, apart from the way the menus and map hover on the screen. Nothing really jumps out in an exciting way.
Dialogue on the 3DS is readable, albeit blurry at times. I'll happily take that over the horrendous scaling done on the Wii U, in which dialogue is relegated to a microscopic box in the lower-left corner of the main screen. Even with a 42" TV, I had to sit about five feet away to read quips from villagers. Again, the GamePad's screen goes woefully underused here.
Hunting monsters, meanwhile, remains as addictive as it ever was. It's still a blast to take down the Lagiacrus after 20 minutes of hard-fought battling. In that sense, veteran hunters will find everything where they left it in Tri.
To catch newcomers up: players are given a handful of quests to complete in numerous environments, be it gathering goods for Moga Village or killing/capturing beasts that make life difficult for the people. Along the way, players turn into kleptomaniacs, gathering as many items from their big hunts as possible in order to forge and upgrade weapons and armor, benefiting from each set's specific attribute boosts. All of these gameplay hooks are practically unchanged from past versions (Monster Hunter Tri in particular), but their effectiveness definitely carries over to Ultimate.
Playing the Wii U version online resulted in dozens of disconnects at first. I managed to complete two multiplayer quests before busting out the ethernet adapter, at which point my issues seemed to clear up. Once I was able to hop into a hunting group, I could see missions through to the end with no glaring issues. Online multiplayer feels largely the same as it did in Tri, though I've never personally experienced these connection errors on the Wii.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a better version of Monster Hunter Tri, but it doesn't come off as a game fully optimized for the 3DS or the Wii U. Were it not for the additional content from Monster Hunter Portable 3rd, the game may as well have been a straight port from the Wii. A few of the game's prevalent design flaws makes it feel rough at times, but issues like barely legible text and connection failures occasionally don't hold it back from being a solid Monster Hunter game that's loaded with content.
This review is based on retails copies of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate for Wii U and 3DS, provided by Capcom.