Out of all of the different developers that have worked on Nintendo's 3DS handheld, Capcom may be the best — in fact, for the most part, Capcom's only real competition on the 3DS seems to come from Nintendo itself. Series like Resident Evil, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and Street Fighter IV have all seen success on Nintendo's handheld ... but there's one series in particular that stands out from the rest.

Monster Hunter has always been one of the best action-RPG experiences in the industry. Its blend of weighty combat, giant monsters and crafting is still unique in the industry — long story short, you won't find anything quite like it anywhere else. Also, despite what the overall sales numbers may imply, the series has always been top-notch.

The latest game in the series, Monster Hunter Generations, is almost like a Greatest Hits album. Characters, monsters, weapons and environments from the entire franchise have come together to create a showcase for the series as a whole ... but after the stellar experience that was 2013′s Monster Hunter 4U, is a callback to prior games really enough for fans to get excited?

After playing through the first dozen hours or so ... well, it's still hard to tell.

Unfortunately, the story of Generations is something of a step backwards for the franchise. Players take on the role of a nameless Hunter, one tasked with helping the villages of a particularly monster-infested lands. It's a story that the series is well-acquainted with, and it's extremely simple ... in fact, it's too simple.

Few fans would ever claim that Monster Hunter has pushed video game storytelling forward, but the last 3DS title did a fantastic job of introducing players to the world of the game through a cast of lovable, goofy characters. Monster Hunter 4U wasn't just about slaying monsters, it was about pushing forward, exploring exotic lands and helping people in need. Simply put, it felt like players were leaving their mark on the world.

Sadly, Generations doesn't feature anything like that throughout its opening hours. Completing quests is more about checking boxes off a list — there's no sense that fighting off monsters and helping villagers out is actually making an impact on what happens next. Compared with earlier entries in the series, it's pretty much par for the course — but considering that Capcom absolutely nailed the sense of progression in last game, Generations' step backwards is an odd one.

With any luck, the game's narrative will improve over time — but judging from the first several hours of play, Generations features a much weaker storyline than its predecessor.

The overall design of the game has taken a hit as well. For the most part, the quest structure and progression systems in Generations are the same as in other Monster Hunter games: players complete quests, upgrade their equipment and head back into the field. The problem with Generations is that it throws too much at the player and takes things too slowly at the same time.

In previous games, different mechanics were unlocked over time: for instance, it took a few dozen hours to unlock the airship in Monster Hunter 4. On the other hand, Generations throws everything at the player right at the beginning, and it's too much to handle. Even in the earliest hours of the game, players are likely to overlook or ignore certain systems simply because there's so much else going on.

That being said, the actual quests in Generations take far too long to get going. Most games in the series start off with a relatively simple list of easy-to-complete missions, and it's been a good way to ease new players into the different mechanics. There is, however, a limit — most people would expect a game called Monster Hunter to focus on hunting monsters, but only a single quest in the initial batch of missions actually features combat.

To be fair, the mission structure does get better over time, and Generations eventually hits its stride — but too much of the game's opening is dedicated to picking flowers or fishing instead of stabbing dinosaurs with ridiculously huge swords.

Regardless of the game's story and design missteps, it's impossible to deny that Monster Hunter Generations is a gorgeous game.

Even in the first area, it quickly becomes apparent that Capcom can push more out of the 3DS hardware than just about anyone else. Environments are both wide-open and intricately detailed. Backgrounds seem to stretch on forever. Animations carry more weight and personality than some entire games. New particle effects add an extra ounce of detail. It's everything that Monster Hunter is known for, polished to a mirror sheen.

As always, the game's various monster designs are what steal the show. Granted, there aren't nearly as many new designs on display, but Generations' new foes fit right in line with the classic beasts. Each and every single creature, from the tiniest of bugs to the most massive of wyverns, is a joy to look at — frankly, the monsters are one of the biggest reasons why the games are so fun to play.

There are a few drawbacks. It's clear that a large number of assets were copied directly from Monster Hunter 4U, and monster vignettes are nowhere near as dynamic as those featured in prior games. There's an air of cut corners throughout parts of the presentation, which almost makes Generations feel like more of a stop-gap than a true sequel — and yet, despite these shortcuts, the game is still a sight to behold.

In the end, the strength of any Monster Hunter title is in the gameplay. Thankfully, Generations doesn't try to fix what wasn't broken: the vast majority of the tried-and-true Monster Hunter gameplay mechanics have returned untouched, and the few new additions generally add to the experience.

The basics of monster hunting remain the same: pick a weapon, pick a quest and go to work. Combat in Generations is slower than some may expect — there's a real sense of weight to the different weapons. Considering their size, it makes sense, and the heavy focus on timing adds a layer of complexity to the relatively simple combo list.

Generations' biggest addition to the gameplay are new Hunter Styles. Instead of simply picking out a weapon, players can now choose one of four different fighting styles that subtly change how combat works. One style may focus on high-flying acrobatics, while another will focus on quickly charging special attacks, and it's up to players to decide which style works best for them.

The only real problem with Hunter Styles is that they don't do enough to change up the gameplay. These are subtle tweaks more than anything else: longswords are still centered around combos, hammers are all about getting up close and hunting horns provide parties with a support class. Hunter Styles certainly don't break the flow of combat, but their addition doesn't drastically change the game, either.

At the end of the day, Monster Hunter Generations is a great game. Grabbing a sword and charging headfirst toward a giant armored toad is just as fun as it always has been, and Monster Hunter remains a unique action-RPG experience and an excellent handheld experience.

However, throughout the first dozen hours of the game, Generations takes a few steps backward. Grinding through uninspired fetch quests isn't fun, especially when there's no weight or gravity to the story. Hunter Styles are a novel idea, but they don't do enough to change the gameplay. Combat and traversal still feel fantastic, but there's nothing in the first few hours that takes advantage of them. It's an incremental step forward at best — and given the fact that it's been three years since the last game launched, that may come as a major disappointment to some fans.

As a result, Monster Hunter Generations can be hard to recommend. Again, it's a great game, and there's a lot of fun to be had — but compared with the last entry in the series, it can feel like a step in the wrong direction.

Monster Hunter games tend to get better the more you play them ... hopefully, the same holds true for Generations.

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