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Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate review - definitive, dated but still delightful

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A grab bag of everything that made the purely portable iterations shine, Ultimate Generations is arcane but absolutely brilliant.

Did we really used to live like this? Going back to the last generation of Capcom's long-running series having spent the best part of 100 hours with all the mod cons of this year's Monster Hunter: World can be a galling experience. It's a bit like being in The 1900 House as you marvel at all the inconveniences and quirks that people used to contend with on a daily basis. Did you really have to carry multiple whetstones with you to keep your weapon sharp? Why am I having to repeat so much for multiplayer quests? And where are my beloved scoutflies?

This is a more primitive spin on the series, and the gulf between Generations Ultimate and World feels a lot bigger than the 18 months that have passed since this first came out in Japan might imply. Every system and quirk that the series has acquired over the years clatters around in often nonsensical ways, and if you're new to the series - or if Monster Hunter World was your first taste - it's a game to be played with a wiki by your side or, if you're lucky, a patient friend familiar with Monster Hunter's many foibles. There's no clean through-line, and the sheer amount of admin required between hunts as you organise items and sets is staggering.

But good god what we lost in the transition to Monster Hunter World, a game that serves a foundation for the new breed of the series - whereas Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate is a finishing point for the old ways. It's a ludicrously generous game, the 14 weapons each served by six movesets, with art styles and supers - a layer introduced in the original Generations and absent entirely in World - giving an obscene amount of depth and complexity to how you approach each hunt.

Dailies help mix things up - and of course G-Rank is now a part of the mix, if you think you're hard enough.

Generations Ultimate adds to the four existing styles of Generations by folding in Valor and Alchemy styles, effectively throwing a tank and support class into the mix. I've been dabbling mostly with Valor, soaking up attacks before being able to unleash an all-new moveset for a limited time, and it's as satisfying as anything else I've come across (whether it's as satisfying as other styles and sets in the game, though, is a matter of personal taste - seeing as you can swap in supers for any given style and weapon combo, it's near impossible to sample everything Ultimate Generations has to offer, though that near unlimited potential is surely one of this game's biggest charms).

And you've got some 93 monsters to pit all that up against. It's an obscene amount (Monster Hunter World, it should be noted, boasts some 31 at present), a roll call of the great and good and everything in between from the series. There are the more eccentric beasts missed in more recent years - the lolloping Nibelsnarf and its big dumb gaping maw, the Kecha Wacha, a monkey fox that manages to be both nightmarish and cute, and the adorably thicc Lagombi. There are all-new monsters, such as the Valstrax - the savage offspring of an elder dragon and a jet fighter that thunders murderously in your pursuit.

The assets might be on the dated side, but this still looks great both handheld and docked.

Throw all of that together and you've got an absolute abundance of game, and perhaps the definitive Monster Hunter experience to date. If you want to explore everything here there are hundreds, if not thousands of hours of play to be had. Making sense of it all though isn't quite so straightforward, especially if you're still relatively new to it all, with the dumb mess of villager requests and the inability to see what's a key quest and what isn't - and the separation of single-player and multiplayer that Monster Hunter World so wisely did away with.

Those older roots show themselves beyond the mad tangle of Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate's structure. Visually this isn't the measure of Monster Hunter World - as you might have already guessed given how it's a straightforward port of a two-year-old 3DS game that already was culling together assets from as far back as the PSP days of the series, and that in order to maintain compatibility with the older model of the game sticks firmly to 30fps. Is all that a problem? Given that Monster Hunter's always felt like a big AAA game that somehow been squeezed on to older portable screens it's hardly a concern, and as ever it's not so much about how many pixels or frames that are being pushed but rather about the art and animation. In that regard Monster Hunter Ultimate Generation is pretty much peerless, and as a showcase for all Capcom's good work over the years this port is impeccable.

Oh, and you can play as a cat. Maybe Monster Hunter World wasn't such a forward step after all.

And it restores a little of the magic that's been lost in the series move over to home consoles. The ability to play docked or undocked brings to mind Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, a game which brilliantly straddled the Wii U and 3DS (and it's worth noting that you can also port across you progress from Generations on 3DS over to the Switch). More importantly, playing in handheld alongside others in a co-op hunt brings into focus one of the series' defining attributes; that sense of camaraderie that's always strongest when sharing physical space with other players. Also, a word of warning - you'll have to rely on a third-party voice app if you want to chat to friends online, though sadly that's to be expected given how underwhelming the Switch's online offering remains.

Still, it's not much of a dint in what remains a fantastic game. This is Monster Hunter at its most arcane, but also at its richest, deepest and most generous. It's a variety pack of ludicrous scope, as mad as a bag of palicoes but every bit as charming too. Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate does ask an awful lot of you, but boy does it give an awful lot back in return.

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