The only window to this massive world over the past few years has been the PSP. In North America, the lone exception has been the Wii's Monster Hunter Tri, while the PlayStation 3 port of Monster Hunter Portable 3rd has remained exclusive to Japan.
But North America will finally be able to explore Monster Hunter's creature-filled worlds in high-definition in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate for Nintendo's Wii U. Ultimate is an HD update of the aforementioned Monster Hunter Tri that includes a large amount of new content. Playing the upgraded version after spending time with the game on 3DS felt right; it was like suddenly being able to see after being locked in a dark room.
A couple quick notes about the Wii U version of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. First, the controller is a big help. The touchscreen features a fully customizable menu setup, making it essentially a massive Nintendo 3DS. Second, I know that it's possible to play Monster Hunter with only one analog stick, but the Wii U GamePad's second stick is a huge help. With the second stick, much of the frustration I had felt from using the d-pad to aim my bow in the 3DS version evaporated. Monster Hunter on 3DS is compatible with the Circle Pad Pro, so it's possible that frustration could be alleviated with the extra hardware.
The foe I was tasked with hunting during my Wii U demo was Barroth, a mid-sized beast that looks like a cross between a T-Rex and an armadillo. It resided deep in the desert, so I had to use a cool drink to traverse the shimmering heat without losing a substantial amount of health. Almost as soon as I arrived within its resting area, the Barroth put its head down and charged at me.
After spending some time with the bow, I had opted to switch over to the dual blades class, and the difference was immediate. The dual blades user – one of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate's four new classes – is a bit of a fragile warrior, but his maneuverability offers a certain margin for error in a series that is so heavily reliant on finesse. The poor Barroth really never stood a chance – I was able to run circles around him. That experience was enough to make me think hard about picking up Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate for myself in March. I've had other stints with the series – most notably the PSP's Monster Hunter Freedom Unite – but it's never stuck for very long. I suppose the finger-cramping controls and the lack of sweeping grandeur found in the console versions overrode the advantages of portability.
All that said, I did give the 3DS version another try after my battle with the Barroth, and I found the results to be much better the second time around. For my battle with the Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate-exclusive Brachydios, I opted to drop the bow for a long sword, which was much more in keeping with my personal style. With the help of the new ability to orient the camera toward the monster with a tap of the shoulder button, I didn't have too much trouble with my perspective. As it turned out, the Brachydios was an order of magnitude tougher than the Barroth – a battle made all the more difficult by the sense of disorientation that seems to accompany third-person action games on the vanilla Nintendo 3DS' tiny screen. In a nutshell, the Brachydios is an acid spitting armored dinosaur that lives in a volcano. When it's not trying to whack you with its tail, it's charging with its head. And that acid that I mentioned? It explodes. So there were a lot of different variables at work, that weren't aided by somewhat inferior controls and a smaller screen.
I've always been of the mind that all I needed was a bigger screen and a faster framerate to get me hunting monsters in earnest, and for the most part, I was proven right. My experience with both the Wii U and 3DS versions of Monster Hunter have given me some reason to consider hunting monsters in earnest.
When the two versions launch together next March, it'll be something of a new era for the series. At long last, Monster Hunter will get its high-profile release on a brand-new system with all the trimmings. Maybe now we'll truly get to see what all the fuss is about in Japan.
Kat Bailey is a freelance writer based out of San Francisco, California. Her work has been featured on multiple outlets, including GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, gamesTM, and GameSpot. You can follow her on Twitter at @the_katbot.