Some years ago, I decided I would hunt monsters. Now, whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing in front of game shop windows, regarding the latest and upcoming releases with tired eyes, I feel the urge to return to the Hunting Hub. This is my substitute for the Rocket League hat trick or Overwatch killstreak. If only others knew the staggering brilliance of the hunt, they would cherish it as I do.
Despite the July-released (in the UK and US, anyway; Japan's had it since November) Monster Hunter Generations getting some stellar reviews, it hasn't quite caused the rumble that 4 Ultimate did a year ago (this was VICE's contribution). If like me you poured upwards of 300 hours into 4U, then maybe you are reticent to abandon your G-rank gear and pay £30 for the chance to start at the bottom again. Perhaps you're entirely new to the series, and feel like the prospect of whacking giant beasts with improbably sized weapons isn't enough to sustain a game for a prolonged period of time (you're wrong). Either way, Generations is the perfect jumping on point for this 12-year-old series – and here's why.
First and foremost, all of the 14 weapons in MHG are, in a word, incredible. From the Gunlance to the Bow, right through to the signature Great Sword and transforming Switch Axe, each is more adaptable than ever thanks to the new Styles and Arts. Fans of games like Bayonetta and Dark Souls should feel their ears burning at the mention of MHG's duels, where split-second decisions and deep knowledge of each weapon's complexities offer tantalising opportunities for mastery and showmanship.
Battles are gruelling affairs pitting tiny hunters against fast, feral beasts. While the Souls series is frequently lauded with bringing poise and cautious timing back into action games, Monster Hunter has been quietly perfecting its own blend of melee magic for well over a decade. Stamina plays a huge part, and it'll drain as you sprint to dodge the huge swooping arc of a Rathian's dive, or the impudent charge of a Royal Ludroth – but positioning is even more important.
"Fights in games are rarely so comedic or as exhilarating as they are here."
If you've ever cheered because you've perfectly avoided an unfair, arena-covering attack in a Souls game, then you'll be jumping out of your seat when you skilfully sidestep the titanic lunge of some scaly titan, only to pivot on the spot and crack it right in its ugly, dumbfounded face. Every fight in MHG is a combination of these moments of joyous lucidity and riotous sequences of desperate hacking, running, diving and flailing as you try and get the upper hand – fights in games are rarely so comedic or as exhilarating as they are here.
The previously mentioned Arts and Styles in Generations push the combat beyond previous incarnations, allowing you to put a real personal stamp on your fighting. The character class you select at the beginning – Guild, Aerial, Striker or Adept – comes with its own advantages and move set modifications. Guild is the all-round style, whereas Aerial puts the focus firmly on getting off the ground, increasing the chances of mounting monsters while assigning flashy combo finishers to the climax of brutal aerial slams.
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Striker allows the equipping of up to three of the new Arts – unique moves that allow the player to do extravagant things such as hair-trigger dodges and cosmic weapon swings. Finally, Adept is all about waiting until the last second to react, allowing you to duck away from or even parry the mightiest of monster attacks. Never before have I been clotheslined by a berserk mountain ape while dashing towards them at sub-light speeds on a jet of fire from my Gunlance; but thanks to the Arts in MHG, I have. An unexpected bucket list entry comprehensively ticked off.
"Hunters hurtle across the screen, dashing and flying and exploding all over the place, as monsters caterwaul in the middle of the chaos."
The spectacle carries through to online. Monster Hunter's crowning triumph is its near seamless four-player co-operative hunting, with the focus firmly on team play and camaraderie. With the Styles active, hunters hurtle across the screen, dashing and flying and exploding all over the place, as monsters caterwaul in the middle of the chaos. Fights reach huge crescendos where a downed foe winds up on the receiving end of attacks that shower the landscape with sparks and great swathes of light and blood.
Even with all these tweaks to the hunters, the monsters of Monster Hunter are still the stars of the show, and there are 71 of them in Generations. Plenty of the 4U crowd returns, but there are some vicious new additions: the terrifying and awe inspiring Glavenus – a T-Rex with an almighty bladed tail – and the eerie Malfestio – a sapphire owl that can turn its head 180 degrees to catch you sneaking attacks in. The line-up has been pushed to its absolute bursting point.
'Monster Hunter Generations', launch trailer
And there's something to be said for just how much is squeezed onto this miniscule cartridge (size wise, we're talking just a pinch over 1.5GB). At times it's a veritable wonder, like the grandest of action games has been shrunk down through some illicit, arcane wizardry. Alongside its vast bestiary, the environments are filled with painstaking detail. At night, vast constellations sparkle and shimmer in the sky, while in the crater of a volcano the screen gets hazy with the suffused heat that gives the cooling magma its glossy sheen. The artistry and care bleeds through everywhere, right down to the twitchy dances that your Felyne Palico companions perform as you roast a juicy steak.
As someone who has never understood the appeal of MMOs, Monster Hunter was the game that got me like Odysseus, tearing at my restraints, desperate to sink hours in at every opportunity. It is, in essence, a never-ending fetch quest, but one that never grows repetitive. There is no final hunt, though the storied Elder Dragons present a ferocious late-game challenge. Progression is entirely personal. There's always a new piece of gear to forge, and some rare item needed to complete your dream weapon, but beyond that Monster Hunter is about honing your own skills rather than ticking off arbitrary demands.
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I've put well over 1,000 hours into the series since it first came to the 3DS with 2011's Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, and I still find fighting a Rathian utterly riveting. In Generations, the Queen of the Sky twists and thrashes with unbridled vitality. The series' most iconic monster has never been so furious that you've stepped onto her turf, and it's a brilliant endorsement of how much Generations improves on its predecessors.
A progress reset may be a hard sell for anyone so deep into a prior iteration, but Generations is a rare gift. It's a white whale that can never be slain, a personal challenge that is always out of grasp, an artefact of wonder that exudes passion and quality from every facet of its improbably small cart. Sincerely, there's never been a better time to sharpen your blades and join the hunt.
Monster Hunter Generations is out now for the Nintendo 3DS. Find more information here.
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