I don’t have a long history with Monster Hunter. I’ve played one of the PSP titles maybe a dozen hours, but could never get very far into it because of the difficult controls. It’s still an intriguing concept and something I want to like.
There’s been a WiiU in our living room for weeks, and I’ve just not had any reason to turn it on before now.
The hardware is nice. There is no getting around the cumbersome, confusing tablet with a full set of modern controls, but ergonomically and in terms of build quality it’s all good. The console itself looks and feels good. I would rate it above both the PS3 and the Xbox 360 as a thing that takes up space on my desk. It’s good design.
The tablet is not up to par as a touch device – it’s better than a Nintendo DS, but not by much, and the sensitivity just can’t compete with an iDevice or anything modern in that vein. It’s just about enough for what it’s meant for, but a disappointment nonetheless.
In-game the tablet isn’t quite redundant, but it does feel like a gimmick. The only thing I liked using it for was the town map. It’s nice and natural to not need to exit to a menu to see where you should go. Elsewhere its usability is in question, even with all the options they give you for customizing what it displays and how it’s laid out. This would probably be a much better integration if the tablet controller was mandatory, but Nintendo wants to give you the option of using their more traditionally designed Pro controller, which doesn’t come with a screen. It’s a wasted opportunity, the screen feeling like an alien thing in your lap that you’re not sure if you should be looking at, getting noticeably warm in use.
However, out of game the tablet makes things modern. It’s simply more natural to browse menus on a touch screen than with a controller. It becomes a game changer when combined with the MiiVerse, Nintendo’s new channel of social spaces for games. You can hang out with other players of the same games you like, sharing tips and doodles. It feels like the way it should be – and I fully expect Sony and Microsoft to more or less follow suit with their new user experiences on the next-generation console platforms. This wouldn’t really work without a touch device, however, as typing and drawing are natural on the WiiU controller. It’s missing the ability to post screenshots and video and I would be surprised if that wasn’t added at some point.
Japanese series generally don’t change that much between versions, but I would’ve expected some evolution over the years. For most purposes this feels like just an (inadequately) upscaled version of the PSP game I played six years ago. So if that’s something you enjoy, chances are you’ll love this, too, but with no prior experience with the series, you may be in for a disappointment.
It feels like a game of inventory management for the most part. Your pockets are never deep or wide enough for the all the stuff you’re supposed to be carrying, and deciding whether to ditch root A or worm B to make room for rock C is just not compelling gameplay. This is made a lot more difficult than it needs to be thanks to the tiny fonts used.
When you’re not stuck in the menus, you’re face-down on the dirt, digging for stuff, an item at a time, with no way of telling how many items there are still to be discovered in that same spot. You just wait for the prompt to not come up anymore. Waiting for the animation to cycle becomes an exercise in patience. My wife remarked that it sounds like I’m playing a slot machine, and that’s pretty much how it feels.
That doesn’t mean that the grinding and especially crafting are not compulsive, because they are, but you’re hit with an empty feeling all through.
When you’re not in menus or digging for stuff, you’re hunting monsters. This is a much smaller part of the gameplay than you might expect, given the title, and it’s not very exciting stuff, either. It does take skill, but for all the wrong reasons. Where something like Dark Souls asks you to master its combat system, here it feels like you’re trying to fit something that’s organic and fluid into a rigid, constrained space. Your angles of attack are linear, combos are slow and lock you into slashing at air at an enemy that was there several seconds ago. The monster behavior is too mechanical to excite.
The controls are a constant problem, not least because of the unresponsiveness. There’s a disconnect between pressing a button and having something happen, making everything feel like you’re talking to someone, pleading them to do a thing.
In other places the design is just confusing and convoluted. Quests take you to a separate game state, something like an MMO instance, with a time limit and slightly changed rules (no fast travel, some quest mode specific items). There is a number of additional activities in the home village, with a fishing fleet, trading ship and a cat-manned (?) farm to manage, but it never feels coherent or fulfilling. I expected to eat this stuff up, but it’s just not compelling. It feels like a house that’s been expanded too many times, with the architecture becoming confusing and the original functionality obfuscated by ill-fitting additions.
The Monster Hunter world is a beautiful, evocative place – when you can appreciate it through the technical issues. Despite the very simple geometry, the framerate struggles. Textures are a muddy, compressed mess. Lighting has no dynamism to it. The game world is split into tiny areas with (brief) loading screens in-between. Monsters appear unconvincingly into the arenas out of thin air, with even giant dinosaurs fading away after being killed even though there are only a handful of characters present. Resources like plants and ore veins fading in and out of existence within plain view is hard to stomach in a game released in 2013. The excellent character design and colorful, imaginative locales help a lot, but there is nothing even current-gen about the world on display. This would’ve been unacceptable for an Xbox 360 or a PS3 game, years ago, let alone now. It’s not an ideal WiiU poster boy.
It’s a world I really like the idea of visiting and living in, but which in practice makes you work for it entirely too much, sidestepping issues you know you shouldn’t. We should expect more at this day.