A Year in Games: Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (3DS)

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Continuing with this series, I should note that I'm only covering games I've bought and played. It's felt like I've been playing a whole lot of games, but looking at the actual list, you could count it on your fingers.

I'm a huge fan of the Monster Hunter series, starting out on the PSP's Freedom 2 and continuing through every iteration on the PSP before it's jump to the Wii and 3DS. I'm by no means a fantabulous Hunter, but I think I'm decent enough.

Monster Hunter is a franchise that I've given at least 600 hours to over the course of five games. The grind for better equipment is always on, and it rarely dull. The hunts are loads of fun and highly addictive.

MH3 Ultimate is the latest game in a long franchise of games dating back to the PS1. This particular one is an "enhanced port" of MH Tri that was released for the Wii, with updated weapons and monster lists. For those familiar with the series, it's taken most of the monsters and weapons from 3 Portable on the PSP, and stuck it into the existing setting and systems of Tri.

Visually, the game looks great - that is to say that it doesn't look much different from the PSP iterations. I feel like it might run faster on the 3DS, because movement seems...nippier if that makes any sense. Movement seems more fluid and runs faster. Aside from that, it doesn't really have any additions to the PSP's graphics. Many of the same features remain from them, including the flat textures on things like shrubbery, trees and grass. It's nothing major, because if you're paying attention to things like that, you're probably getting trampled on by the monsters.The 3D function adds little to the game, and I recommend not using it as it'll probably be easier to play if you don't have to keep it within a small range of movement (to keep the 3D effect in focus). The cut scenes are gorgeous, perhaps even nicer than on the PSP. The 3D effect during cut scenes gives a lot more visual depth to the scene, bringing out the foreground-background effect.

Game play wise, like the visuals, not much has changed from either the Wii's Tri or from Portable 3rd.For those coming from the PSP games, the button layout is exactly the same. Both systems have the same buttons, meaning that the switch is pretty much seamless. The second screen on the 3DS opens up a world of convenience, allowing you to customize what panels are on it and where they are on the screen. The most important panels you'll probably want to have are the item bar, the map and the monster target. The item bar panel makes it much easier to manage and access your items, as the item bar is now just a tap away. The monster target locks your camera onto large monsters. It comes in handy, especially for when you lose track of where a monster jumped to.

From Tri, the underwater battles return and are as frustrating. They're easily my least liked element of the game. Perhaps it's because I never got used to it, but I found the movement to be sluggish and the addition of the vertical axis of movement made it difficult to chase down monsters (most of which move a lot faster in the water than you do). It's not a bad addition, just that it didn't work for me.

Also returning is the Free Hunt. It replaces the full farm that was in the PSP games, where you could forrage for free materials. The farm in 3 Ultimate is limited in that you spend Resource points, a separate currency returning from Tri and gained by successful free hunts or converting items, to gather farmable materials. The Free Hunt gives you unlimited (there's no timer) access to the Moga Woods, and initially spawns large monsters according to the forecast. Monsters that you've hunted for the village quests that were on the Moga Woods / Deserted Island map will spawn in the free hunt. I believe it's a continuous spawn, and you could technically just hunt one long string of monsters if you wanted it.

The game supports the Circle Pad Pro attachment, which adds the ZL, ZR buttons and an additional analog nub. I haven't played the game without it, but I hear it plays just fine without it. I prefer the attachment because it makes the 3DS (original) more comfortable to hold, and the Z buttons are a lot easier to use than the 3DS LR buttons. The Z buttons and the extra analog control camera movement, with the Zs controlling it on a horizontal, and the analog giving manual control. It's most useful in the water where you have more than just the horizontal plane to worry about.

The street pass functionality allows you to collect and exchange guild cards via street pass, allowing you to register passing by hunters to your "card list". Street Passed hunters can then be hired and sent out on quests, which seem to be chosen for you, while you do your regular business. The hunters have odds of successfully completing their quest, and you can raise these odds by sending more of the street passed hunters (up to 4). The more hunters you hire, the more it'll cost you (in zeny), but they'll bring back drops from their hunt once they're done. If successful, the hunters can help in either making zeny or gathering little bits of material from here and there.

Monster Hunter's great fun and highly addictive. You're always driven to either do better on the next hunt, or gather materials for inproved weapons and armour. The game really shines in multiplayer, as monsters are tougher to accomodate for the additional players. You could plan your hunting party to be balanced, with range, support and attackers, or throw caution to the wind and charge the monster with a party of 4 hammers. Easily one of the best games for multiplayer on the 3DS.

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate was released March 19th, 2013 here in North America, and is only for the 3DS. Monster Hunter 4 (3DS) is out in Japan, with no word on when or if it will make it to this side of the Pacific (I'm really hoping it does).

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