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Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate preview: Groundhog day with 20 foot lizards

Hands on (and pointy claws out) with Wii U's high-definition hunt

Booting up Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is like watching Groundhog Day recast with 20-foot lizards. Instead of Bill Murray you've got an avatar of your own devising - ours is an old beardy guy with a pink quiff - and he's stuck on Moga Island, not Punxsutawney, but it's the same story of being trapped in a loop of events. Buying his first sword. Cooking his first raw meat. Hunting his first Great Jaggi. It's almost as if we've done this exact routine before. Question is, can he break the pattern and get it on with Andie MacDowell (played in this version by Lagiacrus)?

If you've played Monster Hunter Tri's opening as many times as us - five, in various preview/review/retail iterations - you'll find a scarce amount of Ultimate's 50 per cent promised extra content in this early stretch. Once again we're running errands for village chief's gadabout son, collecting the mushrooms, monster guts and minerals he refuses to get. Perhaps he played Tri in 2009, too? The only difference is that it's all in hi-def. All very nice, until you remember the game opens with a shot of said gadabout son climbing onto a crate in arseless chaps. Welcome to HD! It stands for highly disturbing.

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Groundhog Flay

Capcom's HD facelift at least means we get to enjoy Groundhog Day on Blu-Ray. Sharpening textures on otherwise untouched geometry results in a striking, if sparse, world. The grand reveal of Moga Island - stirring strings over a mountainous vista - loses some lustre when there's no Wii fog to hide the fact that yonder mountain range is just a load of big grey triangles. The touch-up works better on small-scale details, such as the glint of sun on armour or vibrant mosses beneath your boots.

Re-textured monster hides accentuate what was already brilliant design and animation work. Seeing a heaving Aptonoth (common herbivore) belly with realistic scales conjures a stronger impression of life - and a stronger gulp of guilt when you take it. And the Lagiacrus - 20 metres of snaking grace, tipped with an electricity-spewing maw - is a terrifying sight.

When he slithers from the ocean murk you can see every talon and tooth. When you spot him coiled up on the seabed, his piercing red eyes glinting with 1080p malice, you'll soon forget this was ever a Wii game.

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Fighting through early déjŕ vu confirms this is more than the Wii game. A second tier quest asks us to hunt the grizzly bear-like Arzuros, fresh off the PSP boat after a debut in MH: Portable 3. With his lust for honey he comes across like Winnie the Pooh on steroids: five metres tall and with claws that'd turn Piglet into pork chops in the blink of an eye. If you're foolish enough to go near him with honey in your inventory he'll pin you down and gobble it up. Much the same thing happens when people walk past this writer's desk with Wispa Golds in their pockets.

Arzuros is one of 33 large monsters added to Ultimate, many hiding in G-Rank quests at the end of the game. Brachydios, the game's cover star, may hog the boxart limelight with his lurid explosive plasma, but he faces stiff competition from the lightning-spewing wolf, Stygian Zinogre, a rare luminous Lagiacrus subspecies (complete with whirlpool attacks) and the tail-mounted axe of the Rust Duramboros. The one that scares us is glimpsed in the intro movie: Guran-Miraosu, a fiery elder dragon who has seven(!) orifices capable of launching fireballs. That's seven too many, in our book.

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