Game review: Monster Hunter Generations – incredible beast hunt hits new heights
Generations is fabulously complicated and maybe a little unwelcoming to newbies, but it rewards players by creating a complete world of incalculable depth and longevity
Monster Hunter Generations
Among the many ways to make video games at the very top end is iteration, and one of the masters has always been Capcom. The original Monster Hunter was released on PlayStation 2 in 2004 and since then it has become a phenomenally successful series in Japan, mostly on hand-held platforms, with more modest sales globally. Each edition of Monster Hunter adds to its predecessors with new locations, monsters and weapons, plus hundreds of more subtle changes, but the template remains familiar.
Put so baldly, iteration might seem at best formulaic and at worst exploitative – money for old rope. But interactivity flips the table. Making iterative games requires one non-negotiable quality. The core game has to be absolutely brilliant. Monster Hunter has always ticked this box, but Generations shows the series at a crossroads.
Video gaming is a highly competitive field – a brilliant design in 2004 doesn’t necessarily stay that way in 2016. Generations is the most radical change to Monster Hunter’s core game that Capcom has dared to make, a move towards a much more action-oriented and flexible system, but one that still exists within the classic frame. This makes Generations (for the Nintendo 3DS) a fabulously complex proposition – but, as ever, Monster Hunter’s worst enemy is itself.
I love Monster Hunter games, and over years of recommending it to people some have tried and returned disappointed. I suspect this is because Monster Hunter’s opening tutorials cover the very basics, but weapon-specific tutorials and move lists have to be sought out by the player. Such a filing system is a necessary evil, because there’s so much to Monster Hunter’s various gear and systems that you couldn’t conceivably front-load it, but it does mean new players can be overwhelmed by detail or – even worse – misunderstand critical mechanics.
Generations exacerbates this by stripping back the single-player mode’s traditional town-building story in favour of serving up quest after quest across four villages, and the multiplayer hub. As a long-term player, this is unquestionably the right move, and the superb localisation gives this world its charm and characters regardless, but previous campaigns were at least able to ease new players into such a unique style of game.
Generations feels sink-or-swim and so, despite the sheer quantity of great game in this tiny cartridge, its developers may come to regret undervaluing accessibility.
The game’s core loop is going out and hunting monsters, returning to town and making armour or weapons with your spoils, then using this gear to take on even bigger monsters. Generations’ biggest addition is four new fighting styles and various bespoke Hunter Arts (think special moves) for each of the game’s 14 weapons (one more offensive option, Prowler, remains unique).
Players may have many more and better options than ever before, but Monster Hunter is still a game about boss fights, and Generations has the greatest line-up ever. Partly this is a benefit of accumulation – over the series
Capcom’s monsters create an illusion of personality by having countless moves they can throw out, limited stamina, and getting angry and wounded as the fight wears on. These battles are so great because, while you gradually become more comfortable with each monster’s attacks and strategies, they always retain the capacity to surprise and overwhelm players – there are few things more terrifying than being knocked across the turf then chased by a late-game monster, relentless and determined to put you down.
Generations is made by an experienced team on familiar hardware, and it shows in each location’s spectacular pocket worlds. Monster Hunter’s maps are divided across a dozen or so zones, each of which is a self-contained part of scenery. One area in the dunes is a long ridge in the sand you can run either side of, or use to jump on to monsters. While here the wind sometimes picks up, whipping through the 3DS’s tinny speakers as a sand particle effect coats your screen. In other locales, lush hillocks sprout where the sun breaks through an overhanging canopy, and as you run towards them the orchestral soundtrack swells. We often marvel at technical achievements on high-end hardware, but Monster Hunter Generations really makes the 3DS sing. Creating a world in someone’s hands is no small feat, and there are times in Generations you can almost taste the air.
It is difficult to imagine what more Generations could achieve, so comprehensively do its arts and styles revolutionise the combat system while leaving the foundations untouched. The sheer volume of quests and weapons and monsters also means that, quite apart from being a brilliant game, this has incalculable longevity. The life of a hunter isn’t for everyone. But if killing something massive, carving it up and making a snazzy hat seems in any way appealing, then Monster Hunter Generations might be your game of the year.