Video Games Review: Monster Hunter Generations (3DS, 2016)

Monster Hunter, Capcom’s hunter-gatherer action RPG series, has stuck around for quite a few years, first appearing on PlayStation systems with inventive, straight-forward gameplay and a winning formula: prep for quests, head out on quests, and complete those quests, usually by bagging and tagging magnificent Jurassic-inspired beasts. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

The series continued building upon that formula and struck gold in 2010 with Monster Hunter Tri on the Wii, cementing the series to a wider global audience and doing wonders for the Wii at a time when Nintendo were in a creative rut. Six years later and there are now rumours that Monster Hunter will be made into a live-action film, and the very mention of the series is enough to send both Japanese and USA-UK-Australia gamers into frenzy. It’s a big success for Capcom, and this latest iteration on 3DS, Monster Hunter Generations, will undoubtedly continue pushing those wins in the right direction.

Monster Hunter Generations is basically a refined Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, only more accessible with little tweaks and changes that will satisfy newcomers to the series without alienating long-time fans. It’s simple, straight-forward, no fuss hunting but, like all Monster Hunter games, that still doesn’t spill over into initial excitement. In fact for a newcomer the game can be downright tedious until you build up the knowledge and skill set needed to get into the title’s nitty-gritty, where it gets really exciting. Until then you’re stuck learning the basics, and how fast you progress towards the part of the game that matters depends on how much attention you pay to craft, and how quickly quest prep becomes second-nature for you.

Traditionally, the Monster Hunter series hasn’t been too friendly to newcomers, maintaining steep learning curves that often frighten away potential players before they even get stuck with the meaty hooks of immense monster design and exciting, methodical boss battles. Generations keeps that learning curve in tact but tweaks it ever so slightly to strike a nice balance that seems necessary now that interest in the series has skyrocketed. Newcomers will find plenty to love about how accessible the game has become, they just need to show a little patience – like most good RPG’s demand – in return. It’s not long before a newcomer is ready to tackle a beast hunt online co-op’ing with three other hunters for the peak of giddy -eyed action RPG pleasure.

Generations plays heavy on nostalgia for veteran players, bringing back some of the series’ best monsters and also scattering more than a few easter eggs throughout, it results in a fun play-through with familiar beasts and maps that – mostly – don’t feel like tired retreads, although there are some moments when constant déjà vu can feel frustrating. For example, crafting is always going to be a painstaking process and it doesn’t help that the animations are at times clumsy and disengaging. It does help though that the small, but welcome, change of having to hold ‘A’ rather than tap it to mine for items makes the process easier. Bringing it all together to then upgrade equipment also seems to be easier this time, streamlined for a less drawn-out process and a vastly improved user experience, although the interface stills feels rusty and amateur for a game in 2016.

Hunting Styles and Hunter Arts (the game’s two biggest additions) means that your key player is more customisable than ever, and there is eventual access to four villages to help spread variety even further, though the major ways of prepping and combat are still central. Collection quests, as always, may seem like chores, but putting all that loopy work into your character makes battle sequences all the more exciting, jaw-dropping at times with how inventive the beast concepts have become, even if many are rehashed.

Hunter Arts are basically well-timed special skills and moves that you can assign to a character in order to dramatise the battles and keep things fresh. The animations can be a bit frustrating as the lock-and-aim system still has its weaknesses, but powerful punches and monster slashes means that you have more room to control to tide of monster battles. The Arts are tied to the 14 weapon categories so its much more encouraging to specialise in a variety of weapons rather than stick to one. You’ll be rewarded with everything from emergency health refills to impressive weapon combos if you master these tricks along with your Hunting Styles, another new angle that lets you customise your character’s move set based around your preferred method of hunting.

Another substantial addition is the newbie-friendly Prowler mode which basically allows you to play as one of those cute, odd Feylne cat-characters. The mode takes away the need to watch out for stamina and weapon sharpness while also giving you a faster combat style to play with, essentially a go-to should you want an easier experience that subtracts the complexity but also takes away a lot of the fun and depth that comes with the traditional way of playing. The good news is, it’s just a mode that exists should you want to engage with it – there’s no need for the more “serious” players to ever bother with this.

At the end of the day, this is an RPG at its core, so going into this expecting something other than a high degree of repetition would be foolish. However, what Monster Hunter has always excelled at – especially with recent expressions – is to offer battles that require skill and a certain degree of strategy, meaning that there are plenty of ways the bread-and-butter of this game can spread, and as a bonus you get these awe-inspiring monsters thrown in to keep the entertainment value high. Generations won’t break any new ground for Monster Hunter fanatics, but it is a great way of refining Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate while also opening the gates for more fans to jump on the bandwagon. As mentioned above, as long as you have patience, you’re going to have a very good time playing through this title, even if Capcom still haven’t put in a decent enough narrative to tie all these epic quests together.

Score: 8.0/10
Highlights: Nostalgia, refined gameplay, simpler mechanics, boss battles, Hunter Arts, customisation, online fun.
Lowlights: Meandering learning curve, collection quests too reptitive, some clumsy animations, very little narrative.
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release date: July 15, 2016.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Image: Nintendo.