A beast stirs in its cave, its pallid hide shaking with effort as it heaves a hulking frame to its feet. Great hairy knuckles rub at bloodshot eyes before a gob full of yellowed fangs emits the most terrible roar. "What do you mean, ONM gave Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate Wii U only 79 per cent?" it bawls. Uh-oh, the internet commenter is awake. But is he wrong?
Capcom's beast-bopping behemoth is digital Marmite: for every gamer guzzling it down like well cooked steak, there's another chewing unhappily on burned meat.
This reviewer (there is no ONM consensus where MonHan is concerned) found it to be a delectable dish. It helps if you buy into the lovably daft concept: it's little more than a parade of increasingly screen-hogging boss fights. Capcom decks it out with a time-devouring craft and trade system, but at its heart the game taps into the childish fantasy of finding a beastie and whacking it with a massive stick. Taken in its crudest sense, Ultimate takes a game full of monsters you've whacked before (2009's Monster Hunter Tri) and populates it with whackees afresh.
You fight giant blue bears that pin you down and steal your lunch honey. Desert dunes hide Nibelsnarfs, with maws full of glinting teeth and rubbery tonsils that scream out to be poked for massive damage. A volcano jaunt introduces Volvidon, a Groudon from the wrong side of the tracks who boasts a tongue that could demolish a crate of Cornettos in a single lick. A personal favourite is Duramboros, whose demolition ball tail is whipped in a deadly arc in what resembles a bizarre burst of fevered breakdancing. He'll have someone's eye out and head pancaked.
Play a Monster Hunter game for months on end and it's easy to forget the thrill of the initial monster encounter: the pulse blip as the battle music kicks in, the dismay when you realise just how big it is, the catharsis of finally bringing it down. Time sees that magic fade - you begin to see intricate designs as nothing more than hit boxes and handy giblets - but Ultimate's injection of some 30 or so beasts into the ecosystem will delay it for another 100 hours. Even returning faces pack a few surprises with reworked attacks and animations.
It's a shame, then, that much of this is buried in a straight retelling of Tri. We counted five new tasks in the first four ranks of missions, front-loading the game with familiar mushroom collecting and Jaggi-bagging. It's 20 hours in a game some will invest 300 in, but casual Tri dabblers might feel fobbed off. An easy fix is to embrace a new weapon. Classes handle so differently that putting down your trusty Long Sword for a bow is like stepping into a new game. Four all-new types (see box, opposite) equals four new approaches to well trodden ground.
As for Wii U versus 3DS? For starters, the bitty mission structure and focus on gradual grind (you pop into areas to harvest resources for kit upgrades) are a more natural fit for half-hour sessions here and there.
The act of squeezing it into a 3DS is also a bigger leap than buffing it up to 1080p. Where Wii U merely offers a sharp Wii game, 3DS delivers Wii quality in handheld form. Any loss in TV scale is made up for in 3D depth, with environments that really pop and a tangible sense of monsters charging towards the screen.