"Unfortunately however, Monster Hunter required more than I was prepared to give, and its strong focus on online play, coupled with the burden of monthly fees, soon put me off. Apparently I wasn't alone either, as Capcom have gone to great lengths in order to rework the gameplay, porting it to the PSP while fleshing out the overall experience. "
Modern living has made you soft. No really, it has. Your alligator boots and swanky, snake skin wallet may look all that, but until you've hunted a Velociraptor with a simple knife, you're just another link in nature's food chain. A 12 course, buffet lunch if you will, minus the gravy with extra salt. As luck would have it however, Capcom know this to be true, and they've given PSP owners the option of fending for themselves with Monster Hunter Portable: this season's hottest import. Packing all the visual finesse of the Playstation 2 original, full ad-hoc support, and a range of improved, single player hunts, it redefines natural selection with a manly blade and a wallop of testosterone. BBQ sets of course, totally optional...
Welcome to the jungle
For me, the original Monster Hunter was always something I wanted to check out. As an RPG, it broke new ground with a heavy emphasis on co-operative action over story telling, then filled in the gaps with some customizable characters and sweet, variety. Indeed, watching an in-store demo revealed only a fraction of the title's true potential, as the more mundane objectives (fishing and mushroom picking for example) were spliced with clips of serious, big game hunting. Boars were gutted, raptors slain, and during one particularly memorable sequence, a wyvern was lured into a nearby ambush. Oh yes, here was a game that spoke to me on a level I never knew I had.
Unfortunately however, Monster Hunter required more than I was prepared to give, and its strong focus on online play, coupled with the burden of monthly fees, soon put me off. Apparently I wasn't alone either, as Capcom have gone to great lengths in order to rework the gameplay, porting it to the PSP while fleshing out the overall experience. The PS2-centric controls have been perfectly replicated, and thanks to some ingenious coding, nicely side step any and all complications. Pressing the shoulder button once will recenter the camera, holding it down however, will access your inventory. It's a system that's both neat and simple to use, though none too surprisingly, combat disappoints.
Through no fault of its own, MHP was painted into a corner thanks to the original's reliance on the right analogue stick for fighting. As a Playstation 2 title, the controls worked remarkably well, imbuing the over-stated action with a wonderfully fluid, sense of movement... but that's a luxury the PSP simply does not have. Rather than reinventing the wheel then, Capcom have de-evolved combat to the point where it's started to feel like any other, third person action adventure. Attacks are either light or heavy, and combo strikes can be reeled off in a bloody fashion, so long as players get their timing right.
And where a game like MHP is concerned, timing is everything. Selecting your next hunt only to run headlong through the jungle in search of your prey isn't going to end very well, so why not take things slow and strike when the moment's right. Wait until your mark has separated itself from the herd, then bring you massive sword to bear with a mighty smack. And if the local carnivores still haven't noticed your presence, you'll be able to gut the beast, pulling souvenirs from its corpse for sale at a later date.
Still, as good as it gets, there'll come a time when you need your friends, and that's when the MHP's true scope begins to reveal itself. Played out across the wireless, ad-hoc network, these 4 player hunts consistently rebuild the single player dynamic into something truly special. With half your squad carrying projectile weapons, and the rest packing swords, battle hammers, and lances, your options for carnage increase exponentially. Gunners for instance, could force a flying wyvern to land with a few well placed shots, giving melee specialists a chance to score a piece of the action. Alternatively, someone could walk into a wyvern nest as bait, allowing the rest of your team to grab an egg while mum's not looking. How you get the job done is up to you and your friends. Work as a unit, and everyone gets out alive. Split up and... well, you'll be on the menu.
When the hunter becomes the hunted however, it's good to know you'll always have a few tricks up your sleeve. From flash bangs to pit traps, chunks of poisoned meat, paint balls, and stink bombs, there's a special item for all occasions. Binoculars can be used to scope out your prey in advance, while BBQ sets are great for roasting steak between each kill. And providing you've had the foresight to sell a few of those lovely trophies, you should have no problems affording the best of what's on offer. That being said however, the more industrious of players may want to make their own supplies. The basic ingredients are always available in the wild, so why not take the opportunity and hunt down what you need for free?
But of course, I've saved the best for last. Saying Monster Hunter Portable looks great would be an outright lie. For a PS2 game, it might live up to such standard adjective use, for the PSP though, we're in oh bloody hell, would you look at that!? territory. Starting with some relatively picturesque highland greens, Capcom's hunting party is a visual tour de force, taking in desert regions, tropical jungles, and lava caked hell holes. Cloud cover rolls by over head, dimming the screen as you slowly creep through knee high grass. A change of altitude later however, and you're standing high-a-top a mountainous peak, the wind roaring in your ears. Meanwhile, the soundtrack works its Celtic magic by establishing a unique, cross blend of cultures, aiming for something that's equal parts pre-historic survival drama, and magical fantasy rolled into one.
If I've been doing my job right, you should now be drooling over Monster Hunter Portable like a herbivore over a salad bar. But OK, what's the catch? Simply put, there's no online support and monster AI could have been better. The loss of the former is hardly noticeable thanks to the game's ad-hoc mode, while the latter is a mild irritation at best. Yeah, I've seen how some monsters walk around in circles, but the game still works for all the right reasons. Monster Hunter Portable is thick on atmosphere, heavy on team play, and features more variety than you could possibly shake a thigh bone at. Ever wanted to know how manly portable gaming can be? Here's your chance! Survival of the fittest, you know what needs to be done...
* Expanded, single player hunts
* Full ad-hoc support for 1-4 players
* The controls have been well ported
* A successful hunt requires both brains and brawn
* Both weapons and armor are upgradable
* The number of special items is impressive
* There's a great range of environments
* One of the most convincing game worlds around
* Celtic tunes in a hunting game? Awesome!
* The hunter/gatherer life works well as a game
* The monster AI isn't as believable as it should be
* No infrastructure support
Staff review by Michael Scott (December 08, 2005)
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