For years, my experience with Monster Hunter was limited to about 10 minutes of Unity on PSP, a quick glance at Monster Hunter: World, and a couple dozen hours into clones like God Eater and Freedom Wars. The series was always too daunting and unwieldy, and I was scared I’d never be able to appreciate it, but with the release of Generations Ultimate on Nintendo Switch, I finally took the plunge head first into what fans call the most accessible game of the original (Pre-World) series.
Monster Hunting is a meticulous profession. After the 3-5 hours of tutorials, you’ll learn that there is more to it than just whacking a beast until it dies. You’ll learn the importance of scavenging, crafting, sharpening and navigation before you even see your first Maccao. The game wants to ensure you have every option available to you but does nothing to assist you past the instructions. The fun of learning is often undervalued in the world of gaming, but there’s a real special feeling you get when the giant tutorial ends, and everything starts to click. You are becoming one of the big boys; will you sink or will you swim?
That’s the overall gameplay loop in a nutshell. You explore and scavenge for resources as you pick mushrooms for some villager, and then you build new tools so you can excavate entire regions for their goods. You fight smaller monsters and learn their attack patterns, making armor from their hides until finally, you’re ready to hunt the big game. Only after vast exploration, diligent preparation and a fluent understanding of the monster’s abilities will you have the upper hand.
Nothing is quite as satisfying as persistently chipping away at a big ass monster for 30 minutes only to finally bring it crashing down before you. Eventually, capturing monsters becomes the next big challenge, yielding greater rewards and a gratifying sense of pride in your skill. When combined with over 80+ playstyles, Generations Ultimate keeps that independent feeling going strong so you can be the hunter you’re destined to be, but reminds you that any slip up could cost you the hunt.
Just when you think you know everything the game has to offer, it expands. Each time you rise through the ranks the world progresses with you, leading to new areas to explore, new ingredients to collect and, of course, new Monsters to hunt. So much goes into every bit of progression that you never quite feel like you’ve overcome the game. It really keeps you invested as you strive to be better. You collect more, you craft more, you cook more, you hunt more, and by the end of it all, the game still says, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” And it completely blows you away. There is no lack of content here, and I’m shocked at how much they pushed the limits of the humble 3DS.
That being said, the game doesn’t do much to hide its handheld origins. Despite having a vivid art style and breathtaking locales, Capcom dropped the ball when it came to bringing Generations’ aesthetic to the Switch, the biggest offender being the inconsistent texture work. One area can look amazing with dense foliage and realistic water reflections, but then the next area contains an abandoned hut looking more like a big brown ugly pentagram, and a decaying monster corpse resembling ugly mixed Play-Doh.
The biggest offender is the meat, which is so shiny and blurry I was convinced it was an Unreal 3 texture pop-in. In no way did I come into this game expecting Monster Hunter World quality visuals, but the lack of consistency in the upscaling hasn’t gone unnoticed. Not even handheld mode hides the obvious flaws. It’s easy enough to get past once you’re adjusted, but it’s jarring for newcomers expecting to get instantly enveloped in the world.
Animations on the other hand are amazing. A lot can be (and has been) said about combat in the series being clunky and stiff, and while both sides can be argued, I’m talking about the amazing actions performed by your hunter and others outside of hunting. The way you’ll just throw yourself back into bed or tap your foot while waiting for steak to cook, or when you struggle and tug to catch a 5cm Goldfish with a fishing rod and stop for a quick flex after downing a consumable. There’s so much character packed into each movement that the complete lack of a plot can be forgiven or in this case even slip by unnoticed.
In place of an overarching plot or world state, you’re simply given the most compelling motivation possible for a game like this: Be The Best. Every time you hunt, you’re told how much bigger or smaller the monster was than last time. Almost every NPC compares you to hunters of old, and with the constantly rising difficulty and heightened stakes, you’re made to press onward. Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate really involves your own sense of being. Your story is entirely up to you. You can be a wandering hunter who travels from town to town in search of cash and a beast to hunt. You can fall back into the Hunter’s Guild and completely focus on multiplayer hunts with friends and strangers, or you can stay loyal to a single village and work hard for their approval, loyalty, and love.
There is no set goal in beyond your own aspirations. No big evil baddie, no tyrannical government in need of overthrowing, not even a dedicated rival hunter to get your goat, er, Moofah. Capcom gives you an intricately realized world to thrive in and forge your own path through. There’s a feeling of grandiose importance once you recognize that you’re not playing through someone else’s story, you’re creating your own.
Having never played the series before, I was cautious about being chosen for this review. Learning a whole new game and expecting to justify it seemed like a formidable task, but after over a week of playing, it couldn’t be easier to explain the love shared by so many for this series. Everything from the animation and locales are loaded with character. Each village feels so distinct but fits right in with the world. Palicos are dope as hell and they make playing alone still feel like co-operative fun, and doing anything, whether it be looting, cooking, sleeping or petting your pet pig is accompanied with a characteristic and unforgettable jingle.
It’s the kind of game that demands your time, only so it can grow on you and earn your love. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to the fanatic stage of looking for teammates at every social gathering, but after playing this game, those people make complete sense. I can easily recommend Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate as a strong representation of the series for newcomers and a “Best Of” compilation for veterans.
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Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate pushes you to be better. As a newcomer, I’ve learned so much in such a short period of time that the recommended breaks between sessions became mandatory to retain all the new information. The staggering amount of content included is worth the price of admission alone. And yeah, combat can feel janky at times, and there aren’t many visual enhancements from the 3DS version, but there’s a distinct charm and life to Generations that still shines through, compelling even the least competitive of gamers to strive for greatness.
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