I’ve always wanted to love the Monster Hunter games. From its pseudo-MMO trappings to the promise of an epic beast-slaying spectacle, on paper, it’s everything I want in a video game. Yet despite my best attempt to brandish its ludicrously oversized weapons, the series never quite clicked. Diving in with the barebones Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and then again with 2017’s menu-littered Monster Hunter World, I left the impenetrable early game yearning for a more accessible entry point into the monster murderthon. Someone has finally delivered what I was looking for, as I instantly gelled with EA and Koei Tecmo’s eyebrow-raising Wild Hearts.
A collaboration between the Western publisher and Dynasty Warriors developer Omega Force, Wild Hearts captures the essence of Capcom’s monster-slaying fantasy while repackaging it into a more accessible adventure. The result is a janky, derivative, and utterly bizarre game - and I can’t stop playing it.
A pleasant introduction
Wild Hearts immediately throws players into a comfortingly familiar-feeling tutorial. Roaming a luscious jungle, you learn the basics of the hunt as you sprint across a detailed, creature-ridden semi-open world. It all feels very Western, complete with the Sony staple of shimmying through rock crevices in a bid to hide loading screens. As you cross each new environmental threshold and slaughter happily grazing beasts, you’ll make the acquaintance of increasingly strange characters who educate you on this world by slowly muttering about the old ways and emphasizing lots of proper nouns.
It’s hardly original, but Wild Hearts early hours offer a refreshingly accessible introduction to the genre that’s a world away from the bombardment of menus that greets you in Monster Hunter. While the narrative is incredibly poor – prepare to become intimately acquainted with the skip button – the cinematic framing treats the hunting genre like a AAA single-player experience, leading you down a set path with a pleasing momentum.
Slay it yourself
Yet Wild Hearts hasn’t only taken inspiration from Capcom’s broody RPG. Set in a fictional take on Feudal Japan where mountain-sized titans named Kemono rule the Earth, it's up to you to take down these beastly behemoths while also mastering the ancient art of ‘Kakuri’ by building weird wooden contraptions along the way. The Kemono are much what you may expect, with creature designs feeling like a blend of Princess Mononoke-inspired forest demons and nightmarish Pokémon. From flying cat squirrels to moss-coated boars, each new foe is weird and unique, which suits this game to a tee.
The ancient Japanese take on construction is a huge part of Wild Hearts. Borrowing Fortnite’s building mechanic, Wild Hearts encourages you to get your DIY on mid-battle. You can hurriedly assemble wooden walls to block screen-filling attacks or down an enemy with an absurd-looking hammer trebuchet. It makes co-op battles look like a mix between epic battles and a half-finished construction site., Building objects requires sufficient Karakuri ‘threads’ – an abundant resource that players can draw from trees, rocks, or even tear out of monsters mid-encounter – which holds you back from spamming construction thougout a battle.
Narratively, the art of using a hammer is all framed in a suitably silly way. As masked NPCs stand in ornately constructed, towering buildings, they solemnly natter on about how everyone has forgotten how to build things, except you, the chosen one. Maybe the lady hammering together all the armor can knock together a few tables? Just a thought.
While its forced presence in the narrative is laughable, ‘Karakuri’ has other handy in-game uses. As you unlock more crafting blueprints, your lengthy journeys across Wild Hearts sprawling isles become more efficient. Where you once schlepped it slowly across the map, each visit to a land sees you adding to your network of zip wires, towers, and ladders helping you zoom across each island as you repeatedly return to hunt.
Like with Capcom’s Monster Hunter series, it’s all about finding the weapon that clicks with you. While Wild Hearts offers up the traditional cutlass-like blade and the giant car-sized great sword players have grown accustomed to, it’s in the Krato’s-esque claw blades that WIld Hearts finds its identity. These fast and furious scimitars allow you to embed a retractable wire into your fearsome foe, allowing you to zip onto an enemy’s back and land a flurry of blows before zipping out of the way of a devastating attack. It’s all very Attack On Titan, and combining this combo-ready cadence with a pal's carefully placed wooden weapons results in a chaining together of absolute carnage.
Wild Hearts continues its approach of something old and something borrowed, and something new in every part of its DNA, cribbing the climbing stamina meter from The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, the Monster scaling element of Shadow Of The Colossus, and even adopting the friend-summoning portal from Elden Ring. This design-by-committee approach makes Wild Hearts seem as if its mechanics were randomly generated, but the resulting Frankenstein's monster is a compelling collage. The haphazardly-combined pieces of other games were enjoyable enough to keep a newcomer like me playing, in what is a traditionally unwelcoming genre.
With Monster Hunter Rise recently leaping onto Xbox and PlayStation – and on Xbox Game Pass to boot – the proposition of a full-priced imitator may be hard to swallow. Yet there’s something about how downright odd Wild Hearts is that makes it endearing. It feels comfortingly janky, like the kind of underappreciated Xbox 360 7/10 YouTubers write passionate video essays about. If you’re looking for an engrossing co-op game, or a gentle introduction to the hunting world, you could do much worse than Wild Hearts.