Back when the 3DS handheld was looking for saviours during the Holiday season of 2011, a certain mustachioed plumber was joined in Japan by Monster Hunter 3 G, an expanded version of the popular Wii title Monster Hunter Tri. Its sales were eye-catching and reflective of the fact that handheld Monster Hunter titles are hugely popular in Capcom's homeland, and now it receives a major test in the West with the localisation of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. What we have is a technical accomplishment that impresses, and a level of content unprecedented to date on 3DS.
While 12 months separated the two releases in Japan, with the 3DS title coming first, this entry arrives alongside a Wii U contemporary, which you can learn about in greater detail in our Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate review. Most pleasingly it is, in almost all respects, the exact same game. That means an incredible amount of content that, given a player ready for a challenging, grinding and intense level of immersion, will take the potential hours-played tally into three figures.
The early running is undoubtedly slow paced, with around five to six hours of learning the ropes and tussling with small, relatively weak monsters. They're important foundations, however, as you learn about gathering resources of various kinds, the equipment needed to do so, and the basic concept of accumulating goods and trading, selling or combining them for the best possible effects. You can also take the chance to try the varied weapon types, with melee weapons of various sizes and speeds, while gunners can also get to grips with the aiming mechanics and controls. It's a steady introduction to the world of Monster Hunter and Moga Village — which you're trying to save from mysterious earthquakes — that is invaluable knowledge when the difficulty steps up, and it most assuredly does, later in the adventure.
As the monsters become stronger and more dangerous, this 3DS entry hits its greatest challenge: controls. MH Tri, and particularly Ultimate on Wii U, benefited from dual analogue controls, but like the Wii version's optional Classic Controller setup this supports the Circle Pad Pro as well as the upcoming Circle Pad Pro XL. With the standard setup, Capcom has undoubtedly made the best of the options available to it; a lock-on camera redirects the view to the target with a tap of L, and the fully customisable touch screen panel setup is perfectly suited for a virtual D-Pad on the right side, a short stretch of the thumb for some camera control. Both options work well, though underwater sections that demand constant camera control to dictate direction are undoubtedly trickier with the touch screen alternative.
Aside from that it's a very strong setup, with the touch screen panel customisation being an excellent addition, giving freedom in terms of the shortcuts you want to access and the option to clear some of the clutter from the top screen. And it is the action on the top screen that steals the show, with the varied lands — incorporating forests, icy tundras, a volcano and more — coming to life in 3D. It's one of the finest uses of the technology to date, with the world and, most importantly, its cast of monsters looking terrific on the handheld. Capcom's team did a solid job of making the effect impressive to see, but also avoided pitfalls of excessive ghosting or discomfort on the eyes.
The single player campaign is hugely extensive, with the story mode concluding — after 30 hours or more — by simply opening up a raft of new challenges. There's then Port Tanzia, a separate hub that includes another range of shops and equipment forging experts, with its own single and local multiplayer quests to take on. Following the quest structure of the Moga Village campaign as the means to level up — much preferable to the ranking points grind of Monster Hunter Tri — you simply step up by completing quests once. Conquering them on your own will be much easier with the help of your pint-sized Shakalaka team-mates, Cha-Cha and Kayamba; by necessity this will encourage you to learn your craft in the main campaign, before diving into these tough quests.
Local multiplayer is also an option with fellow 3DS owners — everyone needs a copy of the game — or with someone playing the Wii U version. Playing with other handheld gamers is intuitive and flawless to set up, with the game notifying you as soon as another hunter is detected, while joining a home console gamer necessitates the Wii U player taking on the role as host. In both cases it's a lag-free, fun experience that enhances the thrill of the hunt.
Unfortunately, the absence of online multiplayer feels like a missed opportunity — unless you utilise a Wii U / Wii LAN adapter and a Wii U app. With some notable 3DS releases featuring solid multiplayer — Heroes of Ruin in particular shows that the tech can support voice chat and reliable online lobby systems — it's a shame that the option isn't included. As it's such a major plus in the Wii original and Wii U co-release, its absence feels rather conspicuous.
Aside from that omission, and as suggested already, this title does an admirable job of matching the visual fidelity of the Wii source material; it's certainly one of the best looking titles on the system. The animation remains fluid and smooth most of the time, with very occasional and minor slowdown in some areas where there's extensive foliage and water effects alongside a large monster; it's never too distracting or influential on gameplay. At times the title's origins as a home console release also betray it slightly, with the larger adversaries and crowded environments squeezing onto the handheld's screen and being harder to handle than on the broader space of a TV. We can imagine that the area designs in Monster Hunter 4 will have a little less filling the screen, to avoid such instances overwhelming the senses.
An area that does suit the platform unlike its home console brethren is StreetPass sharing, taking the multiplayer exchange of Guild Cards on the go. In addition, it looks set to follow up with the same huge range of free DLC, catering to varying levels to add even more quests as you progress. The promised launch day inclusion of cross-save sharing with the Wii U title also means that, for those investing in both versions, it'll always be possible to seamlessly continue the campaign in Moga Village or Port Tanzia.
This 3DS release of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is an exciting option for those without a Wii U, allowing hunters to invest countless hours in another adventure to conquer hundreds of quests. It's an excellent interpretation of a home console experience, though with occasional moments where its smaller home isn't entirely optimised; the absence of online play is also a great pity. It's an accomplished effort, though, and a must for fans of the franchise that can't access the new home console version, or those that simply want to always be able to slay an almighty monster when on the move.