Over the past couple of weeks, between a little interstate traveling and a dash of inclement weather, I’ve had the chance to spend some more quality time with my New Nintendo 3DS XL. Admittedly, even in the age of the Switch, that tends to be my family’s go-to system for video game entertainment, but there’s something about being stuck in a car on I-85 or trapped in your house during a temporary blackout that really makes you appreciate the 3DS hardware—not to mention its expansive library of quality software titles.
Recently, said library increased with two new games from two very old franchises, and, while both are stellar examples of the six-year-old 3DS line’s continued relevance, they are clearly tailored to noticeably different audiences.
Monster Hunter Stories
Roots Bloody Roots
With a history extending back to the early 2000s—the original Monster Hunter debuted on the PS2 in 2004, with its first handheld iteration landing on the PSP in 2005—the Monster Hunter property has proven widely popular in the Japanese market. Here in the States? Not so much.
Though Monster Hunter has a fierce, vocal following in the US, it’s proven relatively small compared to its sizeable Asian fan base. This is no doubt due to the series’ notoriously steep learning curve and often punishing difficulty.
A Kinder, Gentler Monster
Monster Hunter Stories, a new spin-off seemingly designed as a more accessible on-ramp to the sport of (fantasy) kings, arrived on the 3DS earlier this month. Eschewing the action-heavy slant of the core series, MHS reimagines the property as a more traditional turn-based RPG.
Moreover, the player takes not the role of a titular Monster Hunter, but instead becomes a Monster Rider. Your introduction to monster-ridin’ is handled via a beautiful, charming anime-style cut-scene that, in addition to highlighting the game’s focus on procuring and hatching monster eggs, both allows you to customize your player character and reveals that he/she may be more than just your run of the mill Rider.
In short order, you are thrust into a world of peculiar contrasts. The candy-colored visuals and insistence on referring to the world’s massive inhabitants as “Monsties” bely the near-constant mortal combat, not to mention the tragedy that befalls your village shortly after you and your friends return.
Gotta Catch ‘Em All
It is your job as a Monster Rider to find and befriend these Monsties by… stealing… their eggs… I mean, when you’re not slaughtering the adult varieties for resources to upgrade gear and fulfill mission objectives.
Admittedly, Monster Hunter Stories isn’t just for younger players—despite all that Monsties talk and its enticing E rating. The storytelling is engaging, even for adult gamers, and when you, honor bound as Rider to stay and serve your village, see your childhood friends drift further away (both physically and emotionally), it’s hard not see shades of the classic coming of age story tucked underneath its accessible RPG exterior.
While the game’s focus on battling and befriending creatures may easily lend itself to comparisons with Pokémon, Monster Hunter Stories actually draws more upon two other big-name Nintendo properties. The overworld exploration and even the character design, to a point, are very much cut from the same cloth as The Legend of Zelda. (Not to mention that your Felyne companion Navirou introduces himself as “Navi.”) Similarly, the rock-paper-scissors nature of its turn-based combat system seems firmly rooted in one of my personal favorites, Fire Emblem.
A Real Fine Way to Start
In short, if you’re looking for a classic Monster Hunter experience, this isn’t it. On the other hand, if you’ve always wanted to put your toe in the proverbial water but were turned off by the series’ distinctly hardcore aesthetic—or, like me, you just kinda sucked at it—MHS is exactly what you’re looking for.
With a lengthy core gameplay experience centered around defeating the Black Blight that’s infecting your region’s Monsties and extended support in the form of DLC, local and online battles, and amiibo support for bonus in-game items and materials, Monster Hunter Stories is another grand adventure that fits in the palm of your hand. Most importantly, you don’t have to be a longtime Monster Hunter diehard to appreciate it.
Metroid: Samus Returns
Let’s Take It Back
Like Monster Hunter Stories, Metroid: Samus Returns represents another amazing new entry in an iconic game franchise. However, instead of seeking to redefine the series’ core gameplay, Samus Returns perfectly refines it. Fans have been clamoring for a new proper 2D Metroid adventure, and this game is exactly what we’ve been waiting for.
Ostensibly a bigger, better remake of 1991’s Game Boy outing Metroid II: Return of Samus, Samus Returns finds our heroine batting cleanup on planet SR388 after the Galactic Federation’s forces prove ineffectual at eradicating the Metroid menace. This time around, she battles multiple monsters and many mutant Metroids in glorious 2.5D, with the 3DS’s stereoscopic capabilities providing an unparalleled level of depth and atmosphere.
The controls have also been refined, with the L-trigger used for more precise aiming for the game’s regular blast-and-jump environmental puzzle mechanic. The X buttons also serves to deliver a melee attack, which is especially useful in pattern-based mini-boss battles. And, oh, what mini-bosses!
In classic Metroidvania fashion, Samus Returns finds you powering up our protagonist with missiles and bombs, not to mention classics like the Ice Beam and Spider Ball, allowing her to traverse more and more of the massive, multi-tiered world map. Along the way, the battles, too, become more pitched, as your target Metroids evolve right along with you. This can lead to some rather convoluted, pattern recognition-heavy combat, but the game never feels cheap. Samus succeeds or fails based on your ability to problem-solve, and that alone makes for a wonderfully satisfying experience.
Help When You Need It
Samus Returns provides breadcrumbs without outright hand-holding, with visible map objectives and new Aeion powers, like the ability to scan an area for breakable blocks, taking the edge off of what could’ve potentially been an overwhelming navigational experience. That’s not to say that the game doesn’t sometimes flip the script, adding easily disintegrating platforms before sheer falls or hiding destructible bricks at the very apex of your ability to bomb-juggle.
I guess what I’m really saying here is that Samus Returns is a Metroid game of the highest order. Yes, sometimes the jump puzzles are punishing, require both timing and forethought, and, sure, some bosses may catch you unawares and deliver a hearty beatdown. But if you’re an old school Metroid fan? Well, you’ll likely enjoy those parts too.
For those more interested in its new school charms, Metroid: Samus Returns includes amiibo support for new and existing figurines. The former, which are particularly enticing, can unlock content like an Aeion Reserve Tank and a helpful Metroid map tracker. Also, the new Metroid amiibo itself is delightfully squishy. I cannot overstate that.
Semi-Automatic for the People
If you were one of the legions of gamers who turned your nose up at Other M and still shakes a gnarled fist toward heaven at the mere mention of Federation Force, Metroid: Samus Returns is for you. Of course, if you’re a more casual Metroid fan, or even a newer gamer who’s never experienced the wonder of the franchise’s classic 2D roots, it’s for you too.
In fact, Samus Returns is for everybody. Or, at least, anybody’s who’s ever said aloud, “I bet I can make that jump… if I just freeze that Ripper.”
Review materials provided by: Nintendo of America