Monster Hunter Generations demo impressions

Will Generations be the title that finally brings Monster Hunter into the mainstream?

In 2016, we’re so far from the decades that Japanese video games dominated the industry that it feels like we only dreamed a time when every release from Capcom, Konami or Sega was a legitimate phenomenon.

Sure, we’ve still got Nintendo ticking along (the Wii U’s less-than-successful outing notwithstanding) and Japanese RPGs have their own die-hard fanbase, but where are those legitimate cross-over successes we remember now? Dark Souls, perhaps?

Capcom’s been banging away at trying to make Monster Hunter -- its phenomenally successful-in-Japan franchise in which you do exactly what it says on the box -- a worldwide hit, and if you’ve been following the series, which has jumped from Sony’s PSP to Wii and then 3DS, you’ll be aware that it never quite seems to reach that tipping point. Generations is their latest -- and most hopeful -- release, with a large presence at this year’s E3 and even early access to this very demo priced at the $4 tier in Humble’s E3 bundle. Capcom wants this to be a hit, and this demo -- they hope -- will sell it.

The strangest thing about playing something like Monster Hunter Generation’s demo, however, is the way in which it’s like falling right back into that dream of a dominant Japanese industry. But something is lost in translation. While Capcom’s localization team have been fighting the good fight -- Andrew Alfonso’s GDC 2016 talk on taking Monster Hunter worldwide is essential -- there’s only so far they can push it, and Monster Hunter Generations demo promises another incremental improvement that may keep the series a joy only to those “in the know.”

As in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, even on a New 3DS, the graphics -- menus especially -- feel muddy. Every task seems to involve the use of tens of these menus, and the demo’s much-needed tutorials only help if you love reading dialogue boxes that interrupt play the second you try to do anything.

And Monster Hunter Generations’ play will remain obscure to any new player even at that. Despite being on 3DS, Capcom’s slavish dedication to maintaining the legacy controls from the PSP mean that tasks that should be effortless with a touch screen -- using your inventory, for example -- are instead still controlled by holding down a trigger and using the face buttons. It’s absurd.

Other aspects feel just as unforgivable in single-player -- like the the terrible amount of camera management required to hit a monster, even with a supposed ‘lock-on’ option. But then, you’re missing the point: the series only starts to makes sense when played with others.

This demo includes three different monsters to fight and random matchmaking, allowing you to experience the weird thrill of working together to take down genuinely threatening foes. When played with others, facing the wrong direction or accidentally sharpening your weapon when you meant to perform a killing blow is part of the fun. A strange sort of fun, but one that grows on you.

Because, you see, perhaps the biggest problem with Monster Hunter Generations’ demo is that it misses one of the most important things about the series -- the sense of reward you get from not only getting new gear, but the gratifying sense that you’re getting better at the hunt itself.

It tickles the same itch -- and is arguably the originator -- of the satisfaction you get from your Destinys and your Dark Souls, so it’s rather tragic that any new player of the Monster Hunter series that starts with this demo will likely only see a clumsy, endlessly talky third-person frustration that seems to have come from about 2002.

Should you play this demo? If you’re new to the series and have always fancied it, you definitely shouldn’t. Monster Hunter Generations is almost certain to be the best the series has ever been,

but it requires a Dark Souls-esque dedication and a sense of character ownership that this small taste can’t provide.