Everything changed for Capcom’s Monster Hunter series in January 2018, which saw the successful release of Monster Hunter: World on the PlayStation 4. Not only did the series change platforms from Nintendo’s family to that of Sony’s (a reversal of the situation that took place only a few years beforehand, when it jumped ship from the PS2 and PSP to Nintendo's hardware), but it also represented a significant departure for its underlying design, streamlining much of it and lowering the difficulty considerably to appeal to a wider audience. Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate — an upgraded re-release of the 2015 3DS title — is a bit of an odd duck, then, feeling like a step back in many ways despite releasing after World. Even so, it represents the very best of what the old games have to offer; a strong case could be made for this being the best game in the series to date.

Let’s get the changes out of the way first and dig down into why that “Ultimate” was added into the title. Obviously, there’s the upgraded graphics and control scheme (more on these later), but Capcom has opted to add in a handful of other features, too. Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate features a grand total of 93 (!) monsters to fight, which is twenty more than were featured in the original Generations and is the most featured in any standalone Monster Hunter game yet. Some of these monsters are new, some are returning from previous games, and some are fascinating variations on existing monsters, but any way you cut it, that’s a lot of monsters to fight. On top of this, there’s a whole new tier of endgame quests called “G-Rank” which pits you against crazy-difficult monsters with higher health and more attacks, but also allows you to craft whole new armour sets designed with this late game play in mind.

In addition to this, there’s two new Hunter Styles — Valor and Alchemy — and a new type of Palico class called “Beast”, a new Hunter Art for each weapon class, and a new mechanic called Style Power-up (SP). SP is a chargeable mode that can be attached to a Hunter Art, allowing you to bolster its effects in battle, such as letting characters use items faster or reducing the stamina drain of certain actions. Considering all the extra content that’s thrown in, Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate certainly earns that extra adjective, although those who have already put in hundreds of hours into the original game may want to take a moment to think before jumping straight in; this is not a brand-new game. If you do deem it worth that full price tag, bear in mind that your save data from the 3DS version can be imported, potentially allowing you to tackle that endgame content right away.

As for the base game, it’s mostly all the same as the 2015 release, which is not a bad thing by any stretch. The core gameplay loop is simple, yet addictive, centred around fighting monsters, carving them up for materials, making weapons and armour out of those materials, and repeating the cycle again with a more powerful beast. This is a game that was designed as a homage to everything that preceded it in the series, meaning that longtime Monster Hunter fans will no doubt be pleased to see the return of locales, characters, and monsters from across series’ history. Fans of Monster Hunter: World will be disappointed to see that many quality-of-life changes that game introduced are nowhere to be found, but there’s a certain charm to the “put up or shut up” philosophy the game executes so well, and it’s important to remember that this game saw its original Japanese release before World came out.

Your adventure starts in the new village of Bherna and makes next to no effort at implementing any sort of story next to the gameplay. Some may decry this decision and see it as something of a step back, but it feels like the right decision in light of being what’s offered; Monster Hunter has never been a series focused on deep plotlines, as these would only stand to get in the way of the grind-heavy gameplay systems. That being said, many individual characters still have a certain goofy quality that makes them memorable, which makes the cameo appearances of figures like the Caravaneer from Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate a welcome sight, a bit like seeing an old friend.

After a hasty introduction by the Bherna village elder, you’ll be allowed to pick from a list of quests at your own pace — broken up into different star ranks by difficulty — with objectives ranging from defeating certain beasts to collecting various items from the field. Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate fortunately cuts back considerably on the tediousness of early game tutorials that plagued past entries in the series, limiting these to their own tab on the quest board, although collection and gathering quests still rear their heads rather frequently. Though we can see how these have their place in the game’s progression — they teach you lots about what items can be found and where — these quests certainly represent the most boring portions of the game, eschewing high-intensity hunting action with collecting mushrooms and flowers from obscure corners of the map, and they pop up a little more often than it feels they should.

The real stars of the show are the dozens of saurian and draconic beasts that you’ll be tussling with, and fortunately, these make up the bulk of the quests that you take on. The designs range from the outright terrifying, like the Nakarkos and Malfestio, to the more goofy and silly, like the strange rabbit-bear Lagombi, and every one of them is memorable in their own way. Not only does each beast look distinct, but lots of care has been put into the way that they move and strike, with many of the movements being based on real predatory animals studied by the developers. It’s striking how much detail goes into many of these monsters; many of them feel like they could truly exist in some distant corner of the earth, and that goes a long way towards making each fight that much more engaging.

Though it may not seem so in-depth on the surface, Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate is very much a game of strategy; charging into a battle with little planning or preparation beforehand will usually result in your character getting thoroughly mauled by the supposed prey and carted back to the base. The items and armour sets you prepare in advance can mean the difference between life and death, and knowing various animations is tantamount to success, given that there’s a slight delay to just about every action that can be made. Want to heal yourself mid-battle with a potion? Better get to a safe spot, as your character is a sitting duck while taking a long drink from their flask. Want to know the best time to strike that lightning fast monster? Study its movements and learn the tells that signal its various attacks. Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate is an uncompromising game, but that’s not to say that it’s an unfair one; it simply demands that you pay attention.

The tools you choose to fight each monster with are a critical component of success as well, with there being fourteen different kinds of weapons, each with their own move sets, strengths, and weaknesses. For a large, hard-shelled monster with high defence, it might be wise to take a hammer that doles out slow, heavy damage, while a quicker and smaller beast might justify the sword and shield or the bowgun. Each weapon class feels distinct and useful in its own way, and the diverse lineup of monsters encourages experimentation and adaptability. This is all supplemented, then, by the equally diverse lineup of armour sets that can also be crafted out of monster parts.

Aside from the obvious defensive buffs they grant, each piece in an armour set contains a set number of skill points that, under the right circumstances, can grant the hunter passive buffs which change performance. One armour set may offer higher max health and quicker weapon sharpening, while another grants fire resistance and slower stamina drain. Like with weapons, there’s an armour set that matches every playstyle, and most of them look pretty cool, too. Crafting armor and weapon sets will make up the bulk of your experience with Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, meaning that there’s lots of grinding to get enough materials, but there’s something immensely motivating about always having something just beyond your reach that’ll improve your character in some way; Monster Hunter is excellent and coaxing you into ‘just one more’ fight.

Two of the main gameplay changes in Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate are the Hunter Styles and Hunter Arts mechanics, which further allow players to tweak the game to their liking. Hunter Styles are a way of changing up the way your hunter moves, such as how Aerial makes it easier to mount monsters or how Adept gives you a powerful counterattack if you dodge an incoming attack at the last minute. Certain weapon types feel geared more towards certain styles, but it’s still fun to mix and match and see what combinations work best. Hunter Arts are a part of styles, too, acting as passively chargeable special moves that can make a surprisingly huge difference in the outcome of a fight. They range from defensive things like a dodge that makes your hunter completely invincible for a few critical seconds to offensive options like a powered-up sword slash. Knowing when to best drop these moves in a fight can make things a whole lot easier, and depending on which style you have equipped, you can have up to three arts equipped at once.

Another defining feature is Prowler mode, which acts as a fun side mode that lets you play as one of your feline Palico companions. When playing as a Palico, you can’t use any items, but there are a series of equippable skills you can use in their place, and you also have the benefit of infinite stamina. Though not every quest is Prowler mode-friendly, it can be extremely fun to fool around as a weird cat for a while, and the Palico’s infinite stamina supply makes it ideal for knocking out the tedious gathering quests that you need to complete before the next rank of quests unlocks. This mode serves as a neat entry point for new players as it strips back some of the more complex mechanics for a more forgiving and straightforward play style, and can also be an invaluable support choice when hunting in a group. It’s not a significant feature, but it’s a cool one nonetheless and can make for a cool twist on an otherwise routine quest. 

Though Monster Hunter games are already incredibly time-consuming in single player mode, there’s also a whole multiplayer aspect that features prominently, arguably acting as the main draw. An entirely separate quest board and ranking system exists for the multiplayer component, potentially allowing for limitless hours of replayability. Monsters fought in multiplayer are generally much tougher to take down, but having up to three other people whaling away with weapons of their own makes up for this, and you get a much greater sense of satisfaction beating a monster as a team, rather than alone. Though you can play locally with other friends with Switch units, there’s also online multiplayer which works quite well. In our pre-release sessions online, setting up a party with friends was a relatively painless process, and we only encountered a few brief instances where the connection chugged. The omission of voice chat is a bit disappointing, but it’s not hard to use a third-party app these days to get around the issue.

On the presentation side of things, Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate manages to satisfy, even if it doesn’t necessarily dazzle. The game’s roots on the 3DS are evident in the simple level geometry, chunky models and 30fps cap (apparently introduced to maintain compatibility with the 3DS version, which was only released in Japan), though the new HD textures and realistic shadows go a long way towards minimizing this issue. What’s perhaps more alluring is the new control scheme, taking advantage of the extra buttons and second stick for an experience that’s much less cramped and more comfortable. Capcom did an admirable job in making this game control well for its 3DS release, but it feels so much more natural with the Switch’s setup, and playing it on the go only further hammers this home.

Conclusion

Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate may lack the smoothness and accessibility that made Monster Hunter: World such a smash hit, but it more than makes up for it by being a sort of ‘greatest hits’ collection of the high points of the series, giving you hundreds of hours of content to play through. Couple this with the HD visuals, easy to use multiplayer, and the ability to play the full experience on the go, and you’ve got a game that will easily appeal to both veterans and newcomers alike. It may not necessarily represent the future of the series, but Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate is an utterly fantastic experience in its own right and a worthy follow up to the 3DS original, and one that no Switch owner will want to be without.