'Wild Hearts' Review: Monster hunting under construction
If you've yearned to explore a rugged wilderness and battle beasts many times your size with a ridiculously big sword, the Monster Hunter series was pretty much the only game in town. Rivals have struggled to put their own spin on the genre's bombastic combat and obsessively-customizable gear. This year, Koei Tecmo and Electronic Arts teamed up to try to take down Capcom's juggernaut franchise. Their new game, Wild Hearts, succeeds with a leaner formula ripe for newcomers that's almost — but not quite — as satisfying for veteran hunters.
Wild Hearts distinguishes itself with magical karakuri, six simple wooden contraptions that range from crates to torches to springs. Like in Fortnite, crafting them is nearly instantaneous and soon becomes second-nature. You can also combine basic karakuri to make larger structures like bulwarks and traps. You'll learn these recipes spontaneously in battle when the game decides the situation calls for them, demonstrating the power of a well-timed build. At times, I felt like I was playing Killer Instinct as a I desperately rushed a karakuri combo to throw a barricade up between me and a charging monstrosity.
Outside of combat, you can build special "Dragon Karakuri" to tame the wilderness. In one area, I encamped by a river with a fishing karakuri to gather fish, a tower to search for nearby monsters, and a zipline to quickly get over the water. Over time, you'll add more and more infrastructure to make traversing the giant maps a breeze.
The monsters of Wild Hearts ("kemono") are stunning and enormous animals superpowered by primal nature. You'll quickly switch between oversized weapons and karakuri to slice, parry, and outmaneuver the kemono. But fear not rookie hunters: Wild Hearts has a linear difficulty ramp that eases you into the mechanics.
While you can play the game solo with a robot "tsukumo" companion, the game shines in online play. With the maximum three hunters, the kemono have to split their attention and teammates can revive each other when they go down. Seeing a trio fly into a fight to construct walls and massive hammers to bonk the kemono looks like a bunch of vindictive Jerrys exacting their revenge on Tom.
Wild Hearts excels in standard hunts, but loses its way when it pulls away from that format. Some story moments force you to endure tedious gameplay for the sake of cinematic presentation. The first of these comes against the mountainous Earthbreaker, which you have to bombard with a cannon for several minutes before you're finally allowed to use your main weapon.
While far from perfect, Wild Heart's still has the building blocks of a successful franchise. Its exciting take on monster hunting is a roaring success, especially for newcomers to the genre.
James Perkins Mastromarino contributed to this review. contributed to this story
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