Folks, we’ve got ourselves a special guest review from Michael Mullooly of Ninety Nine Percent Gaming. Enjoy, and be sure to give him a warm welcome in the comments.

In almost every aspect of life, Japan is entirely different from the Western world. We have different alphabets, lifestyles and cultures. Even in shared hobbies such as gaming, what’s popular over there may not work in English speaking countries and vice versa. Such has always been the fate of the “Monster Hunter” series.monster-hunter-main

That is, until now.

“Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate” for the Wii U and 3DS is Capcom’s latest entry in their fiendishly difficult, immensely addictive “Monster Hunter” series. Hugely popular in Japan, where an amazing one in four people have played at least one of the games, “Monster Hunter” never really made it in the West; its brutal learning curve and non-competitive, co-op feel throwing a nation of CoD players. Back in 2010 however, “Monster Hunter Tri” for the Wii did well enough to justify a worldwide release of Ultimate.

To call 3U an expansion is to call “World of Warcraft” an updated “Warcraft 3”. The additions and changes from Tri are enormous, with the game more than doubling in size. A plethora of new monsters, quests and weapons mean that Tri veterans needn’t worry that this game is worth the price tag. For all intents and purposes this is a brand new game, worth picking up if you’ve played all the “Monster Hunter” games or none of them.

The core appeal of 3U however, remains exactly the same as previous games. Grab an oversized sword, a flaming bow or a spiked hammer, pack a handful of potions and maybe some cool drinks and then try to fell a terrifying wyvern or savage dinosaur. Alone or with up to three friends, “Monster Hunter” is all about toppling the leviathans and capturing the toughest of beasts. It’s a game where every quest is a boss fight, every fight a fight to the bloodsoaked end, and every decision a life or death choice. Preparation is key, and no matter how big your weapon, skill will ultimately be the deciding factor.

3U has over 200 quests for you to tackle, taking you from greenhorn hunter to walking legend. Capcom have wisely listened to longtime fans and tweaked the game so that the learning curve isn’t quite as off-putting this time around. The game’s beginning hours are easily its dullest – gathering mushrooms and seabed pearls is not what this game is really about. However, things quickly pick up, and before you know it you’ll have your hands full with Wyverns that imitate other monster’s calls, and sea-dwelling beasts as beautiful as they are scary.

A large portion of all “Monster” hunting games has been about the never ending grind – forge a sword from monster parts to kill a larger monster, forge armour from this monster, rinse and repeat. To make that sweet poisoned lance or forge yourself a complete set of impenetrable armour may require several runs of the same monster. Having a friend tag along either online (Wii U) or locally (3DS) can help with the tedium, but the fights are so dynamic and grinding so well implemented that usually you won’t find yourself feeling frustrated at the game.

No, when that happens, it’s usually because you’ve hit a wall. It’s hard to convey just how tough this game is until you become immersed in it. Every single big monster can and probably will kill you. Again and again. And again. 3U is all about learning individual monsters patterns, their weaknesses and their timings. It may seem too hard at times, you may want to scream at times, but the game is rarely unfair or cheap; when you scream it’s because you messed up, not because of unsatisfactory AI. And the feeling of elation when you finally do complete that one quest you’ve been agonising over (I’m looking at you, Dual Brachydios…) is unmatchable in today’s era of games that hold your hand and do everything to help you breeze through. Think “Dark Souls” here, not “Super Mario 3D Land”.

Graphics-wise, this game has taken a step up from Tri. In both versions, monsters are absolutely fantastic looking, lifelike and savage. On the Wii U, however, locations and backgrounds look a little unimpressive for HD. It’s not game-breaking by any means, just a little bit lazy. On the 3DS’s smaller screen, this game is jaw droppingly beautiful, one of the handheld’s best for visuals. Monsters and weapons are fantastically varied, and each set of armour your hunter can don comes with it’s own unique style and charm. This game is stylised, just a few steps aways from looking like three dimensional anime, but completely with its own feel.

In terms of length, a 100% complete playthrough would take you hundreds of hours. Both editions come with every quest, which are split into Village and Port quests. The Port is further split into Lo-Rank, Hi-Ranked the infamous G-Rank. There is so much to do in this game it can sometimes feel more like an MMO than anything. There are fourteen weapon types to master, thousands of potential armour sets and monster after monster to slice to ribbons.

I’ve been a fan of “Monster Hunter” since the original for the PlayStation 2, and I feel that this latest installment will be the breakthrough entry into Western pop culture. “Monster Hunter Tri Ultimate” is a system seller, for both of the consoles it’s on. Anyone interested in a game that will actually challenge them should run out and buy it at once. Highly recommended.