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Wild Hearts review: We’ve got Monster Hunter at home…

What happens when you copy someone else’s homework? You get in trouble.

Every single time I started to like Wild Hearts, the game almost instantly did something to make me put my controller down in frustration and walk away. Yet, the next day, I’d come back genuinely excited to play more. Whether I’d ripped off my headset in disgust after clipping through a rock and eating a face full of a monster’s super-charged rage attack – ending a 25+ minute hunt in the most unceremonious way possible – or just had the most exhilarating encounter with some ancient God-bird that was threatening my hometown, there’s little consistency to the Wild Hearts experience.

Despite everything, this is one of my favourite fights in the genre.

In Monster Hunter, the series Wild Hearts is so egregiously moulded from, Capcom has iterated and iterated on its killer central formula. Go out, hunt, make cool stuff from what you kill, go out, hunt more stuff, make even cooler gear. It’s gaming catnip, and modern Monster Hunter games (notably World and Rise) have polished this formula like a precious stone; this core conceit glitters and shines, with all the inclusions buffed out. Wild Hearts has a lot to learn, and a lot of iterating to do.

But that doesn’t mean this is a bad game. I can’t stop playing it, even though at times I think I hate it. The camera hugs your character’s ass too close, meaning all the cool overpowered attacks you do feel weird and inhibited. The lock-on mechanism is bad – terrible, in fact – so when a monster leaps up to punish your whiffed combo (that’ll happen a lot) you lose sight of them and will have a hard time dodging them when they finally unleash their payloads. There’s more of a focus on aerial combat, but it all feels loose and flighty, so sometimes your attacks will pop up damage numbers even if they don’t feel like they connect.

Compared to Monster Hunter – a game that delights in its overlapping mechanics, and where all the tiny moving parts work in unison to elevate the whole experience – Wild Hearts feels like the off-brand Aldi knock-off; a product using all the right bits of the design, but creating something that’s much less than the sum of its parts.

Wild Hearts apes a lot from other games (get it?)

But that’s not to say Wild Hearts doesn’t excel in some places. Some of the monster designs and fights are impeccable – in fact, I think the golden porcupine is one of my favourites in the whole genre! The online matchmaking, where you can simply pick a monster from a list and see who else is fighting it, makes Capcom’s convoluted menu system looks archaic and amateur by comparison. You can also wander into any fight you want – even the big boss battles – and ask for assistance. Maybe, if you’re lucky, another hunter will pop up and help you out, placating whatever beast you’re chopping up and reaping the rewards alongside you. In these moments, when you’re gritting your teeth and battling shoulder to shoulder with someone in the same boat as you, Wild Hearts feels amazing.

In the midst of battle, you need to juggle meter management, healing, avoiding damage, and studying monster body language. Pretty much all weapons require you to use a dedicated bar above your health in order to lead up to big attacks, or activate gimmicks. Getting into the flow of charging up your claw, say, and then attaching it to a beast and wailing on it so much you unleash a huge anime-style finishing blow… that’s the power fantasy of monster hunting, right there. The same goes for charging your odachi and doing the most powerful attack in the game, right on a monster’s face. It’s just what you want from a game like this; big, dumb, loud, colourful, powerful.

Lots of tension in this fight (and not just because of the bowstring).

But, what happens when you execute a combo perfectly, slashing away and dodging adeptly, building up your meter, only for your character to slip through a monster and waste your mega move? What happens when some weird clipping glitch means that you spend all your building resources on a contraption that just p**ses into the wind and does nothing? It takes you out the moment, undoes any goodwill the game may have built in the white-knuckle fight up to this point.

The same goes for chasing monsters between zones as you batter them into submission. The process feels slow; how they flee, where they go, the way they navigate the environments… it’s frustrating and it grinds on and on and on. The game insists on giving you ‘karakuri’ in order to help traverse the tropical islands you fight in with ease, but the first 10 or so of these you unlock are pretty useless – low-powered, finicky, and slower than walking in a lot of cases.

By the time you have established a more worthwhile travel network based on these conjured items, the game gets up to a good pace… just don’t expect that to happen for 20 hours or so. And God-forbid you try and build an essential ‘karakuri’ in battle – attempting to rattle together five or six of them in a block to make a fusion will, more often that not, just leave you with useless wooden crap all over the floor that depletes your reserves and leaves you vulnerable. Fun!

This isn't what Fleetwood Mac were on about when they made 'Tusk'.

In your downtime between hunts, you can choose to listen to the trite, tropey story, hunt for materials and minerals, or even make a sort-of zoo with all the smaller fauna you’ve pinched on your hunts to date. There’s something pleasingly bucolic about smoking meat, drying out your salmon, and pickling your herbs – putting this much effort into food rewards you with good buffs, too. It’s tantamount to gaming self-care, great! It’s just the thought of fighting a gorilla that’s on fire (again) whilst hoping it doesn’t knock you out of the air with an unknowable hurtbox that gets you down.

Wild Hearts often feels like a game that doesn’t want to be played. It’s fussy, it’s janky, and it constantly trips itself up. An erratic gameplay loop, an absolute bastard of a camera, and some ill-conceived weapon gimmicks prevent Koei Tecmo and EA’s experimental hunting joint from ever really succeeding where its genre rivals have. It’s ironic that building is such a core part of this game: if this is the start of a series, Omega Force has laid down some important groundwork, but it needs to make some serious structural revisions from the foundations up if it ever wants to look eye-to-eye with Capcom’s imposing juggernaut.

Wild Hearts releases on PC, PS5 and Xbox Series X/S on February 17, 2023. This review is for the Xbox Series X version of the game, with a code provided by EA. Tested on both Series S and Series X.

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