Wild Hearts review

Wild Hearts is a new Monster Hunter-like game from Koei Tecmo and EA Originals. Capcom have been honing that formula for many years, with varying levels of competition, and now it looks like they may have a decent competitor on their hands. While the comparisons to Monster Hunter cannot be avoided, the team behind Wild Hearts have packed in plenty of innovation, making this an enjoyable action monster romp.

The conversation surrounding Wild Hearts is a tricky one, it’s hard to talk about this game (and any other game in this very specific genre) without talking about Monster Hunter. Monster Hunter has set the scene for many years, and it goes back multiple generations of consoles at this point. There are elements of gameplay and UI which could be lifted from Capcom’s latest entry to the Monster Hunter series. There are direct comparisons in huge monster battles, slowly chipping away at these giant beast’s health, chopping off bits and pieces of their body while you chase down these massive creatures throughout a semi-open map. As well as the gameplay, other game mechanics are similar too with crafting and progression in the game, plus the eight weapons you have at your disposal.

Wild Hearts leans into this comparison to Monster Hunter, without directly referencing it. Fans of the Monster Hunter series are likely to have their heads turned, especially as we’re inbetween major releases at the moment with Monster Hunter World years old at this point, and Monster Hunter Rise was optmised for Nintendo Switch, going back to it’s handheld roots (it did get a release on PC roughly a year after it’s initial release). Fans of the Monster Hunter games will be comfortable using the weapons to attack the massive beasts, plus dodging will help you get out of tight situations, depending on which weapon you are using. Rise introduced the Wirebug in the latest Monster Hunter game and Wild Hearts follows suit with some great mobility options, something which had been lacking from previous titles, meaning there is a feeling of speed and agility to Wild Hearts, which serves the game very well.

One of Wild Heart’s strengths is the simplification of game mechanics compared to Monster Hunter. One example of this is weapon sharpening. For those not familiar, your weapon can get dull during a battle, and this means it does less damage. That means at moments during a hunt, you would have to find cover and then whip out a whetstone and sharpen your weapon. No need to do that in Wild Hearts, you can simply keep smashing and slashing away to your heart’s content. Stat boosting meals and hunt prep has also be paired back to the minimum, meaning more time out there in the battle, rather than having to prepare for a large proportion of your play session. While Wild Hearts does simplify some mechanics, it’s also missing some features such as capturing monsters, which always felt like a more humane way to end a hunt. The byproduct of the simplifcation means it’s easier and quicker to pick up and play, offering less barriers to entry when compared to the Monster Hunter series, which has to be a good thing… I’ve spoken to so many people about Monster Hunter, and they all say it sounds great, but the complexity of the mechanics get in the way.

The most unique feature Wild Hearts has compared to Monster Hunter is the karakuri system, which is essentially building little platforms, devices and contraptions to help you in battle against the monsters. You can imagine the pitch at Koei Tecmo and EA Originals, this is Monster Hunter crossed with Fortnite. Fortnite’s building system is dynamic and fast, and over the years they have stripped away the complexity, and in some cases the building all together. Here in Wild Hearts the karikuri system allows you to build walls, jumping platforms and useful structures like fast travel points and ziplines. It’s quick and easy to build something, it’s not cumbersome and it’s easy to understand, which is a good trick to pull off given the complexity in the game already. Building flows with the combat and it all feels good together, which is so important. Much of the criticism of competitors, and previous Monster Hunter entries has been the speed and adding the building element into the gameplay loop could quite easily have slowed everything down, but this managed to get everything in the right balance and maintained the decent movement speed.

Karikuri items and structures are definitely very useful in a fight, they allow you to close the gap quickly on monsters, plus the structures stay around the in the arena throughout the hunt. You can easily build blocks to jump off, build walls to try and keep the monster away from you, plus torches to give you fire attacks. As you progress throughout the game you can upgrade your karikuri abilities and open up new structures like bombs or chained combo attacks. You can equip four karikuri at the same time, there are six in total, leaving the door open for gameplay expansions at a later date. Karkuri has it’s own upgrade tree too, and you’ll unlock new structures as you progress plus upgrades to existing ones. The upgrades really come in handy, including drying racks or jars that help increase your stats. Other upgrades are cosmetic items that include signs, benches and other decorative items that you can place around the maps and playspaces.

Karikuri is one method to navigate round a monster at speed, however, it’s your weapon that will be most effective when you’r eon the attack. There are eight weapons in total including a Katana, a huge Greatsword and a gun. These are some of the weapons you’ll be familiar with if you have experience in the monster hunting genre. Wild Hearts does have some unique weapons including the bladed-umbrella, which is well-suited to melee focused players. The Claw Blade is another unique item, which allows you to hop and jump around your target and inflict damage at distance and close up. It’s similar to a hookshot, allowing you to grapple onto an enemy and attack from all angles.

Our tools and items, plus our movement is all well and good, but the true stars of the show are the monsters themselves. This is another point of differentiation when it comes to Monster Hunter, whereas in Capcom’s titles we see a lot of Dragons and Dinosaur-style monsters, here we have a decent array of animal types. For example, we have a Crow, Wolf and Monkey. They are not regular sized, of course, they are all very large and very vicious. Wild Hearts is all about learning their attack patterns, movements and tells, and when you see an opportunity, go in for an attack. While there is variety in the monster’s visual design, the feel of the battles are very similar. We may have a different color vairant, or a different element on a monster, but once you get to a certain level in the game the variety seems to come to a stand still. I don’t want to give Koei Tecmo too much grief for this, as essentially they have reproduced an exciting gaming experience here, but there’s definitely room to imporve when it comes to monster variety, more weapons and karikuri variants. As a first go, this is great, but I would like to see more variation, especially if you’re going to pull me away from othr establsihed titles, where variety is core to the replayability.

Talking about replayability, that is where Wild Hearts gets cross rather than a tick. The monster vairety isn’t quite there and the campaign gets stale pretty quickly, making me lean into the co-op nature of the game, rather than the single player. If you have a big group, where you can call upon people regularly, then this will be fine, however, if you are a solo player then you might find your attention waning rather quickly.

Overall, this is a great first go from Koei Tecmo and EA Originals. It’s some serious competition to Monster Hunter, and while I don’t think it’s going to sustain attention for Monster Hunter fans in the long term, it’s a decent game to jump into while we’re inbetween titles. There’s some great innovation here with the karikuri building game mechanics, and the speed of gameplay is impressive. Graphically it’s not the best either, with some great detail in the characters and monster, plus some decent animation, but the environments are really bad, some of the worst I have seen on a next generation title. It’s a decent attempt, and good to see some competition for Monster Hunter, but I’m not sure this one has the staying power to hook players and draw their attention away from the sequel to Monster Hunter World.