Gird your loins. Sharpen those knives. And sit in front of the fire pit preparing that succulent hamhock. Monster Hunter (MH) is coming back, and in a major way for the Nintendo Wii U and 3DS with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. For the uninitiated, Monster Hunter is an immensely popular action role-playing game, where the player character (obviously) hunts monsters for rewards. With incredibly addicting and rewarding gameplay, one can get lost for many hours tracking the elusive beasts the game offers. While more of a cult hit for North American gamers, Monster Hunter is kind of a huge deal in the Japanese market. With Nintendo capitalizing on the franchise first, Sony may have been dealt another blow in the handheld market.
Addicting portable titles with RPG elements are the cornerstone of handhelds. A Nintendo handheld is synonymous with the Pokemon series. While the traditional Zelda and Mario games were great, Pokemon defined what a Gameboy is. This is the role that Monster Hunter once held with the PlayStation Portable and Sony in general. It was the definitive title that gave credence to owning a PSP. With MH3, albeit a souped up remake of Monster Hunter Tri, coming to the Wii U and 3DS, Nintendo is stealing Sony’s only Pokemon-esque game for the PlayStation Vita. This is going to be a major blow to them as the Japanese market is going to choose/need the 3DS to satisfy their hunting appetite.
One thing that Sony has pushed to the forefront with the PS Vita is the ability of cross-play with the PlayStation 3. While there have been some interesting titles included in the list, none of them have the command to send people scrambling to use the feature. This is where Monster Hunter would have been a perfect fit for Sony. Finishing a hunt on the big screen and then heading on out to continue monster poaching on the go with no compromises is how many envisioned it to be. Unfortunately for Sony, Nintendo is going to have the first crack at it and they get to set the precedence in how the mobile hunts will go.
Even though Sony is going to be reeling from this damage, they have some advantages up their sleeve if Monster Hunter 4 does indeed make its way on the Vita. Control placement on the Vita feel just about right and are generally more comfortable than the 3DS. Yet the big advantage here is that Sony has dual analog sticks without the need for an attachment, a la Circle Pad Pro for the 3DS. Controlling games in 3D need to have dual sticks and this is where Nintendo comes in with a handicap. If there is one rule for an enjoyable gaming experience, it is that controls should be seamless and intuitive. No gamer wants to fumble around with the controls during an intense and draining battle. Especially after a lengthy and grueling fight with an elite hunt. It is going to take some restraint not to throw the handheld across the room if a missed arrow caused by a lackluster control layout was the difference between life or death. Here Sony has the edge.
The other advantage is that the Vita has graphical superiority to the Nintendo systems. This is even more evident with the recent showcase of the PlayStation 4′s capabilities. Even though the game engine may be the same in a MH game, the Vita will be able to claim a visual victory if time is taken to make sure it looks better than its Nintendo counterpart. If rumors of connectivity with the Vita also turn out to be true, it will invariably be the definitive version to own when monster hunting. To help further enhance their position, Sony should push Capcom to provide content only possible on the Sony ecosystem by way of expansive maps or exclusive hunts. This can be justified due to better hardware and resources.
Sony has left a large void to fill with the potential loss of the entire MH franchise to Nintendo. However, if they act fast and emphasize that Monster Hunter 4 for the Vita is going to be the one to play because of superior graphics, better cross-play and controls. They may be able to reclaim territory that once belonged solely to them. With Nintendo leading the way in the handheld market and stealing this gem from Sony, it will be interesting to see how they respond to all the MH faithful.