Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate finally clicked for me during a Saturday afternoon session in a Berkeley pizzeria. With me was USG alum Bob Mackey, who patiently guided me through a pair of hunts and explained some of the many differences between Generations and the newer Monster Hunter: World ahead of our forthcoming review.
Earlier in the week, I had picked up a code for Generations Ultimate with the hope that I would finally be able to appreciate an old-school Monster Hunter game. Instead, the old frustration began to creep in. Why did the weapons feel so slow? What were all the unfamiliar shops for? How was I supposed to track the individual monsters?
In many respects, Generations Ultimate is the exact opposite of Monster Hunter: World. Where MHW is intended to be an accessible entry for beginners, Generations Ultimate is effectively an expansion pack. One of its key features is the ability to transfer save data from the 3DS version. It's a tribute to old-school Monster Hunter, replete with old favorite monsters and familiar levels.
Like so many other people, I am coming to Generations Ultimate on Switch from World, where I finally came to appreciate the series for the first time. My positive experience with Monster Hunter: World—it's my current Game of the Year—filled me with hope for the Switch version, even knowing that it lacked many of the conveniences found in the newer game. Instead, I found myself lost and confused as I was dumped straight into the main village with no introduction to Generation's myriad differences.
Everything is different in Generations Ultimate. There's no elaborate firefly tracking system like the one in Monster Hunter: World. Instead, you wander until you find your quarry, then tag it with a paintball. Critical resources like whetstones are finite. There's no handler or tent in your camp. Online play doesn't mesh directly with solo missions, nor does it seamlessly scale up when adding in new hunters.
Seeing all the differences made me finally appreciate Bob's awe when playing Monster Hunter: World for the first time. I intellectually understood the excitement over seeing irritating mechanics streamlined away—I am a Pokemon fan, after all—but seeing the difference for myself has really been eye-opening. If anything, it's given me an even greater appreciation for the comprehensive overhaul the series received in its translation to the PS4, Xbox One, and most recently, PC.
All of this has conspired to make it difficult for me to go back to Generations Ultimate, enticing as it is to play on Switch. And I suspect I won't be alone in that sentiment. I'm guessing more than a few Monster Hunter: World converts will pick up Generations Ultimate, struggle with the regressive mechanics and outdated graphics, and drop it just as quickly.
But that doesn't mean Generations Ultimate deserves to be immediately kicked to the curb. There's a reason that this series has enjoyed so much popularity over the years, even without the improvements found in World.
For one, playing locally with a friend really is massive. Monster Hunter famously drove the popularity of the PSP in Japan, and with Generations Ultimate, I can certainly see why. As much as I enjoyed donning my headset to play with friends in World, it can't replace the simple pleasure of real-life company. Once I had Bob to guide me, I found many of my frustrations beginning to melt away (it helped that I dumped the cumbersome Great Sword for my old friend from Monster Hunter: World, the Long Sword).
With my feet planted more firmly on the ground, Generations Ultimate's relative strengths began to show themselves. Being an expansion pack, it boasts a staggering monster list—some 93 in all. That's roughly 60 more than Monster Hunter: World, which has occasionally struggled with repetitive monster encounters.
You can also make the argument that Generations Ultimate is deeper than World thanks to its Hunting Styles—advanced mechanics that let you fine-tune your build and approach to hunting. They allow you to, for example, dodge monster attacks and punish heavily (Adept Style), or use arts to more easily mount beasts (Aerial Style). For veterans, it offers a bit more nuance than the purposely streamline Monster Hunter: World.
Given time, even its weaknesses started to feel less significant. I was initially put off by the graphics, which mostly use existing assets from the 3DS version and look inferior when blown up on an HD television. But once I switched to handheld, I was really impressed by the details found in monsters like the Tetsucabra.
The upshot of all this, I think, is that Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate is best enjoyed in handheld mode. In that respect, it's very much a throwback to the days when every third Japanese businessperson was carrying a PSP. It's fine on TV, but the novelty of being able to join a hunt over some beers with friends shouldn't be overestimated.
Playing Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, I get the sense I'm witnessing the end of an era. The overwhelming international success of Monster Hunter: World—it's the best-selling Capcom game ever—simply can't be ignored. Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate is likely to the last time we see numbered regions or finite whetstones.
I wasn't around for that period, so it's hard for me to mourn it too much. I'm mostly hoping that Generations Ultimate paves the way for a follow-up that is optimized for Switch. But I've played enough to be able to appreciate what it has to offer for the old guard.
It feels like a coda to the days when Monster Hunter was a hardcore cult favorite in the U.S.—the days when entries like Monster Hunter 3 passed largely unnoticed. From now on, the series will be geared toward mainstream fans weaned on Monster Hunter: World. But as one final compilation of all the franchise's greatest hits, it's hard not to have some love for the old-school vibes of Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, even for relative newcomers like myself. In that sense, it's a solid follow-up in what is rapidily becoming a transformative year for ther series.