Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on 3DS has all of the hallmarks of its PSP predecessors: the same playing mechanics, the same esoterica, and the same productivity-destroying gameplay.
But it arrives in a new context. Thanks to the recent success of hardcore games like Dark Souls and this game's ties to the WiiU version, we get the feeling that Monster Hunter is on the verge of blowing up big.
It's about hunting monsters, obviously. But it's not all hunting: you're also asked by the populace of the village - which is your central hub for missions - to gather items and fulfil other requests.
Each quest has a small description about what you need to achieve, as well as some utterly missable narrative (you're here for the loot, not the story).
After accepting a request, you head into various the lands of the Monster Hunter world, each of which is filled with an abundance of riches if you know where to look. Unfortunately, the game is pretty stingy when it comes to guidance.
Here's an example: one early mission asks you to gather Monster Guts, so you head out and kill some creatures only to come away empty-handed. You double-check the quest and in the description you discover that you were specifically supposed to get Apioth tripe.
Can you remember what an Apioth is? I hope so, because there's no mention of what they look like or where you'll find them.
Later on, you're in the ocean and see a massive creature that you can't possibly beat. Your adviser pops up and urges you to leg it, so you assume that the monsters you need to eviscerate aren't there.
You get so frustrated that you go to the internet, look up the creature, discover that it's where that gigantic monster is and that you need to risk life and limb to source the materials. This all takes 45 minutes of your time.
My fight money!
If you're prepared to give yourself over fully to the Monster Hunter universe, though, this is an exceptionally rewarding structure. You're walking a fine line between dominance over the elements and simply surviving, using your wits, knowledge, and skill to excel in an environment that wants you dead.
Combat is combo-based and methodical. You need to systematically approach creatures and give them the respect they deserve, understanding that each encounter can quickly turn sour.
There are loads of weapons to use, each with its own attack pattern and benefits in battle. This is augmented with a rich selection of items to use in the field. Maps and paintballs are used to track monsters that flee when injured, potions restore your health, food tops up your stamina, and so on.
When you return from the field, you upgrade your armour and forge new weapons to make you even more effective. When you feel you can handle yourself, you can then share the experience with others locally, though you'll need a WiiU to play online - a feature we couldn't test at the time of writing.
Time and money
Clearly this 3DS outing isn't as high-resolution as the WiiU, but the biggest downer in this department is the 3D, which blurs the small text in menus slightly. You'll turn it off within minutes.
The sound design is excellent, though: chuck a pair of headphones on and the world around you comes to life with the cries of animals and the passing breeze.
When you're not on quests there's still plenty to do, thanks to the plethora of content on offer here. Farming, fishing, renovating your village, gladiatorial combat - you're never at a loose end.
Apart from the investment of time, you may also need to fork out some more cash if you want the best experience. The second stick afforded by the Circle Pad Pro is almost crucial, and if you're planning on downloading the game you should know that the standard SD Card that comes with the 3DS is only just large enough to contain the game.
Make no mistake: this is still a niche game, owing to the demands it places on its players, but if you're willing to accept that challenge Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a substantial and extremely satisfying experience.