Do you dream of the chance to get dropkicked by a lava-monkey the size of a building? Of course you do, and goodness gracious is Wild Hearts excited to make that dream a reality. Omega Force and EA’s take on co-op monster hunting is a remarkably familiar one, spicing up enormous elemental animal fights across its gorgeous feudal Japanese locations with on-the-fly building mechanics. But even though its crystal-clear inspirations lead to unavoidable comparisons that aren’t always flattering for Wild Hearts, learning how to best take advantage of its karakuri contraptions both in and out of fights is always a lot of fun.
Let me be perfectly blunt: it’s nearly impossible to talk about Wild Hearts without bringing up Monster Hunter. That’s not to put it down as a “clone” or anything, as developer Koei Tecmo provides plenty of interesting additions and fun little twists to the formula. But in pretty much every way that counts, Wild Hearts is so fundamentally Monster Hunter that you could very easily mistake it for the newest game in Capcom’s series if it weren’t for the name. That’s true of its giant monster-slaying missions, which have you whittling down your opponent and breaking their body parts as you pick up materials while chasing them from arena to arena. It’s true of its crafting-based equipment progression, which has you turning those fearsome beasts into cool pairs of pants with your choice of eight drastically different weapon types. And it’s even true of its campaign structure, which continuously escalates and remixes previous encounters alongside a fine but largely ignorable story about a town struggling against local creatures that have unexpectedly started attacking outside of their usual territory.
Wild Hearts – Gameplay and Screenshots
Importantly, Wild Hearts plays this recognizable part very well, making it extremely easy to recommend to any current Monster Hunter fan hungry for new prey. Its combat recaptures that excellent mix of tactical and terrifying, pushing you to be thoughtful about your attacks and pick your moments carefully against foes many times your size, some of which can make your health bar disappear in the blink of an eye. Dodging is your best friend, and (depending on your choice of weapon) attacks often lock you into animations that make you a sitting duck until you finish them – although Wild Hearts follows in the footsteps of recent Monster Hunters by increasing your mobility quite a bit, even giving you a dedicated jump button. Combat is as much about learning the ins and outs of each monster, your weapon’s capabilities, and even the terrain around you as it is about actually executing the right button inputs.
The karakuri building system is excellent.
But because Wild Hearts is not actually a Monster Hunter game, it gets to unburden itself from certain mechanics that have started to feel a little dated as Monster Hunter World and Monster Hunter Rise continue to streamline and modernize that two-decade-old series. I didn’t miss things like weapon sharpening or cluttered inventory management, and the simplified nature of stat-boosting food and support items meant I always felt like I was spending more time out in the field and less on pre-hunt prep. At the same time, Wild Hearts does lose a little bit of the complexity I enjoy about Monster Hunter along with those clunkier parts – for example, you can’t choose to capture monsters, they don’t get tired or go to sleep, and their “rage mode” simply seems to trigger when they hit a certain damage threshold, which makes fights play out more similarly from hunt to hunt. But the ground-up approach Wild Hearts has taken does mean it’s simpler to pick up, making it easier for me to recommend to brand-new hunters than even Rise was.
The biggest way Wild Hearts truly sets itself apart is in its karakuri building system, which definitely helps fill in for a chunk of that complexity gap. Karakuri allow you to create tactical objects like walls or springboards in the middle of combat, as well as place structures like fast-travel tents or ziplines anywhere across its four hunting maps. This system is excellent, with the number of structures you can build being limited enough to make me really consider where best to build a custom base camp or a convenient shortcut while still being flexible and open enough that I never had to overthink it, either. It turns the wonderfully detailed maps into little puzzles to be solved in whatever way you see fit, rather than simply arenas to fight in.
During those fights, your karakuri play the role of quick-use support items – though everything you place sticks around until it’s destroyed (either by you or a monster), so battlefields can often be strewn with the remnants of past encounters in a pretty neat way, especially when you join someone else online and see what they’ve been up to. You can summon simple blocks to jump off of or build walls, springs to launch you in any direction, or torches to give you a fast fire attack. It’s an interesting mechanic, but it really shines when you start unlocking fusion karakuri, which let you stack these basic objects in specific patterns to make special constructs like huge bombs or chain traps. You can only equip four of the six basic karakuri at a time, which gave me a real choice to make between the utility of an object itself versus what it could combine into, which ends up feeling like a mini combo system of its own to customize and master.
There’s also an enormous unlock tree for the karakuri, complete with new objects to build and upgrades to existing ones. Many of those are extremely useful, from drying racks or fermenting jars that increase the stat-boosts of your food to a sick wooden wheel you can speed around maps in like a motorcycle. Others are entirely cosmetic, letting you place benches, signs, and decorations around the maps and hub town alike so you can doll it up a bit to impress online visitors. I didn’t come anywhere near completing this tree in the few dozen hours it took me to roll credits and reach Wild Hearts’ endgame, letting me prioritize upgrades for the karakuri I used most and leaving plenty more to chase.
The Claw Blade can make for some absolutely epic aerial attacks.
Speaking of set dressings, Wild Hearts is a visual conundrum to me, simultaneously one of the prettiest and muddiest games I’ve seen in recent years. It didn’t run super consistently when I first tried it on my PC (which has an RTX 3080 paired with a now well-aged i5-8400 CPU), so I spent most of my time playing on PS5 where I was both wowed and perplexed. The actual design of its world is often stunning, with fields of flowers and blossoming trees a real sight to behold, frequently changing into different seasons as the story progresses as well. But then every so often that beauty is paired with strangely low-quality texture pop-in, flickering lighting issues, and what is undoubtedly the worst-looking snowfall effect I have seen in a video game. I do think it all balances out in Wild Hearts’ favor and makes for a very lovely game overall, but those issues can add some unexpected stress to fights.
Outside of your mechanical contraptions, each of the eight different weapons play very differently from one another during a monster encounter. There are your simple-to-understand options like a middle-of-the-road katana, giant but slow greatsword, or… well, literally just a gun. But there are also a couple of unique choices like the quick, bladed umbrella that’s built around parrying attacks. Wild Hearts’ combat is always a fun dance of reading attack patterns and timing both strikes and dodges well, but it was admittedly a little daunting until I found the weapon that clicked with me: the Claw Blade. This fast-slicing knife also lets you pretty much fly through the air after hooking onto a monster, making for some absolutely epic moments as you strike from above.
The monsters themselves are all fun to fight too, with their cool and creative designs each boiling down to “normal animal plus elemental type multiplied by big.” That could be the poison-based Fumebeak crow, the icy Deathstalker wolf, or the aforementioned fire-based Lavaback monkey. It’s always satisfying to learn their behaviors and turn an initially challenging encounter into something trivial through practice and grinding alone – although it should be said that Wild Hearts really feels like it wants you to play co-op rather than solo, as downed allies can be resurrected without using one of your three “deaths” when in a party of two or three people.
The monsters are all cool, but the variety is pretty low.
But while all the monsters are exciting to face, the amount and variety of them is pretty low. There are only about a dozen base monster types, with some then having a recolored variant (usually with a different elemental type) – for example, the Fumebeak trades in its purple poison for blue ice as the Pearlbeak, with some new moves to match. Monsters are also buffed into stronger versions of themselves after a certain point in the campaign to reset the bar and give you better versions of their equipment to chase. This structure also closely mimics Monster Hunter games, but because the comparison is so direct here, the lower variety noticeably stands out. I haven’t necessarily gotten bored of fighting these monsters, but their reuse happens alarmingly quickly and makes the overall pool feel pretty shallow as a result.
That may also be a symptom of Wild Hearts’ campaign, which is quick to put you up against foes it’s confident you won’t be able to beat right away. That means doing side missions or replaying past ones to collect monster parts so you can craft new armor and upgrade your weapons through a sprawling tech tree. It’s another system that’s as fun as it is familiar, but there’s slightly less to tinker with here than I hoped outside of planning around some simple perks – those can be exciting buffs like a chance to light enemies on fire, or less thrilling options like largely invisible stat increases. That meant I always enjoyed upgrading my kit, but without many impactful knobs to turn on my build, I would sometimes feel forced to grind for armor and weapons tailored specifically toward getting past the latest difficulty spike monster rather than what interested me.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Koei Tecmo’s Omega Force is using Wild Hearts to flirt hard with Capcom right now. But using a beloved game as the template for a new one isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and Wild Hearts manages to introduce plenty of fun new ideas to the Monster Hunter formula while recapturing it well enough to stand proudly alongside the series that so clearly inspired it. The way it simplifies and streamlines things makes for a slightly shallower package, but its karakuri building adds a fresh new way to interact with the map in its place. And while its lower monster variety is certainly disappointing, I’m still having enough fun that I’m excited to party up with some friends and dive back into both challenging endgame fights and fanciful karakuri decorations alike.