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Game Review

by Branden Johnson,

Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate

Nintendo Switch

Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate

I've long aspired to be the sort of person who is into Monster Hunter. It's a real “gamer” series: brutal difficulty, complex systems, a strong community. Being a fan of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, I figured I would get into Monster Hunter, if I could only find the time to give it a shot. This year, Monster Hunter: World hit current-gen consoles, and it was heralded as a fantastic entrypoint for newcomers to the series. Simplified systems made it easier to grasp for players not already steeped in the world of Monster Hunter. But I didn't want to come on board that way. Call me old school, but I wanted to get my feet wet with something more purely Monster Hunter.

Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, for Nintendo Switch, is that kind of Monster Hunter. For better and for worse.

The world and story of MHGU don't seem particularly rich. In a land populated by humans and anthropomorphic cats and ravaged by gigantic monsters, you are a hunter, tasked with keeping several small villages safe. Townspeople will occasionally ask for your help, which often comes in the form of hunting Quests. The basic gameplay loop (and this is really, really watered down) involves restocking in a village, accepting a quest, preparing for the quest by equipping yourself with everything you think you'll need, then setting out into one of the game's environments. You'll then move through numbered areas until you find the subject of your hunt -- either a monster to slay, or items to gather -- and carry out your mission. Upon completion, you're rewarded with money and “points” that can be spent in town, as well as items that can be used for different purposes, such as upgrading your equipment. Return to town, and begin again.

Playing the game like this, however, without digging deeper into its systems, will see you quickly overrun by the game's creatures. From choosing the right weapon to picking your preferred Hunter Style to grinding and farming resources to upgrade your equipment, you have an enormous amount of control over your fate. No monster is unbeatable; however, the game will punish you for not doing your homework. Unfortunately, the game doesn't provide the textbook.

Let's start with weapons. There are 14 to choose from right from the start. From the standard Long Sword to the traditional Sword-and-Shield combo, to more exotic choices like the Charge Blade or the Insect Glaive, you're almost certain to find a weapon that fits your personal style. A conservative player might like the sword and shield, with its emphasis on defense, while a more gutsy player would be into the Switch Axe's transforming ability and extended range.

Each weapon can be upgraded along various paths, and each step along the path requires money and resources. At certain points, the weapon can branch off and take on new characteristics. For example, say you begin with a Petrified Great Sword. Upgrade it to Level 3 and you'll have the opportunity to take it on one of several new paths, such as the Type 41 Wyvernator or the Khezu Shock Sword. The former provides a boost in Water damage, while the latter focuses on Lightning. Moving to a new path sets your weapon back to Level 1, but the rewards for increasing it from there are greater and more focused. Armor is simpler to upgrade, requiring a few different types of Orbs to do the job, but you'll want to keep on top of that, too. You'll also want to forge and equip Decorations on your armor, as these will increase your skill points in different areas.

The challenge in writing about Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate's systems is not letting the review turn into the sort of tutorial the game sorely needs. Suffice to say, rivers of digital ink run the length and breadth of the internet detailing the nitty-gritty of skill points and armor decoration and the like. Here, I'm only skimming the surface to give you an idea of what Generations Ultimate is bringing. New players absolutely should take on all the Tutorial quests first thing. While they won't get into the fine details about the game's many, many systems, it will teach you the top-level basics, letting you stay alive long enough to learn the rest on your own.

All the grinding and resource gathering and upgrading is in service of one thing: killing giant monsters. And MHGU brings a ton. Apparently, it draws monsters from across the series' storied legacy, leading to a game stuffed full with nearly 100 unique creatures. The monsters display a wide range of behaviors -- some fly, some are poisonous, some tunnel through the ground. Stumbling upon a new creature is both a delight and a terror. Still, at the end of the day, this is Monster Hunter, not Monster Admirer, so you need to take them out. There are several ways to go about that.

This is where Hunter Styles and Arts come in. Hunter Styles affect your gameplay more than anything else, aside from your choice of weapon. Different Styles play in fundamentally different ways. For example: Guild Style is a basic Monster Hunter staple, and allows you to equip up to two Hunter Arts. Aerial Style lets you leap on monsters in order to deliver devastating Mounting attacks. Adept Style requires you to nimbly dodge in order to execute counterattacks. In all, there are six Hunter Styles to choose from, and you can swap them at any time from your residence. I always felt free to experiment, and finally nailing down my preferred style of play (Switch Axe and Aerial Style, if you're curious) was rewarding.

Hunter Arts, too, are important to master. You can equip a different number depending on your selected Style, and they take the form of devastating attacks or evasive maneuvers. Available skills vary based on the weapon you choose, so you'll want to get skilled at using a few, unless you're planning to hunker down with one style of weapon throughout the entirety of the game. Your arts are represented by meters that power up as you attack or take blows, and when they're full, you're free to unleash the skill.

With so many monsters to face, and so many options available for what to tackle next, you'll never feel railroaded. Can't take down a particularly nasty monster right now? Take on some other quests, grind for some loot, upgrade, and try again later. While I tend to enjoy a directed narrative in my games, MHGU's open-endedness works in its favor by always providing something cool to do.

I would never forgive myself if I didn't mention the Palicoes. These cat creatures can be trained in combat and will accompany you on your hunts. Special armorers will make unique gear for them, and given that you can take two of them with you on single-player hunts, you'll find they get you out of scrapes pretty frequently with a well-timed distraction or healing spell. Just be prepared to endure a lot of meowing as you travel around.

While the single-player content is already fairly robust, with tons of quests to undertake, the online and local multiplayer hunts should provide endless fun, at least conceivably. Unfortunately, as the game wasn't released when I took it on for review, I was never able to find anyone else online to play with. Tackling multiplayer-focused hunts (known in the game as Wycademy hunts) is not recommended solo. They're a lot of the same monsters you'll face in village quests, but several times stronger. Sure, taking down a high-level Tetsucabra by yourself might give you bragging rights, but for most players, it's not going to be worth it. I should also mention that, for players of the 3DS original, the game allows you to import your save data from that title, so if you already have a super-powered hunter on the smaller Nintendo handheld, you can bring them straight over into Ultimate. No sense being left behind by all your friends if you don't need to be.

So, the game is fun but fiercely challenging, and more-than-a-bit opaque in its design. How about its aesthetics? Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate is an updated version of Monster Hunter Generations for the Nintendo 3DS, and honestly, it doesn't try very hard to look like anything but a handheld port. The graphics would not be out of place in a particularly pretty PlayStation 2 game. There's also a weird amount of character pop-in within towns. It's so blatant it almost seems intentional, but if it is, it's a very strange choice. You'll see what I mean right away. But the game runs smoothly from start to finish, even when the screen is dominated by giant monsters trying to devour you. There's a decent number of environments with different ecosystems to be found (culled from past MH games, as I understand it). Some areas have environmental hazards, such as extreme heat or cold, that require you to use special equipment to keep yourself in the fight. While no single zone is a particular standout, the variety in hunting locales is appreciated. Just be prepared to see the Now Loading screen a lot. Each numbered zone is very small, and with around a dozen in each area, you'll be moving from place to place frequently, each requiring a brief load.

The music is epic and, surprisingly, very catchy. I haven't been able to get the end-of-quest victory music out of my head for days. I also want to take a moment to recognize the writing. I was caught off guard by the wit present in the localization. Characters have personality, and jokes are widespread throughout. Hats off to the Palico at the ranch who clearly hates talking in the Palico patented “cat-pun” style, and does so only begrudgingly.

Given that Monster Hunter: World is CAPCOM's best-selling game ever, it seems likely the Monster Hunter series will continue down that path. It's probably for the best. As much fun as Generations Ultimate can be, it gets in its own way a great deal, hiding meaningful systems from view and relying on the grind too often. I don't regret starting with the old-school Monster Hunter's swan song, however. If anything, it'll make my eventual transition into modern-day Monster Hunter easier and more fun. If you're not willing to put in the time and research, no one would blame you for jumping in with World. For all the rest, happy hunting.

Overall : B-
Graphics : C-
Sound/Music : B+
Gameplay : B
Presentation : B-

+ Epic hunts against giant monsters never get old
Complex gameplay systems are never adequately explained

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