Wild Hearts is the Messiest and Most Endearing Monster Hunter Rival Yet

It needs time to sand down the rough edges, but Wild Hearts has a beautiful structure underneath.

Wild Hearts is one of those games that wears its influences on its sleeve. Set in a pseudo-magical world where natural disasters take on physical form as monsters, you hunt the beasts down with an absurd mix of weapons and LEGO-like technology called “karakuri” that shapes itself into boxes, springs, hammers, cannons, and a whole lot more. Defeating these “kemono” then grants random crafting materials you can turn into new weapons and armor to take on even bigger and badder creatures.

The Monster Hunter comparisons come fast, frequent, and easily. The obvious outlier being that bit about summoning walls and other contraptions — beating and burning down foes as well as allowing you to slingshot yourself around the world. Early on, you can only use wood-and-thread launchpads to throw yourself a few feet in the air, dishing out aerial damage as you crash back down on a kemono’s head. Later down the skill tree, however, there’s a giant monocycle to carry you across the game’s island environments, mini-tornadoes to send you flying on pinwheels, and harpoon guns to pin down your foes.

The tone of Wild Hearts is a bit grimmer than Monster Hunter, but the sorts of antics you enjoy on the hunts themselves are every bit as wacky. If not more so, simply because there are so many possible combinations of high-flying contraptions. The game never stands in the way of doing whatever you think might be the silliest, coolest possible way to smack a big cat in the face.

You might build a fireworks launcher to knock a gorgeous and horrible rainbow-colored rooster out of the air, for instance, then assemble a tower of blocks to launch yourself 25 feet in the air for a downward strike of your hammer. The mallet then extends to comical proportions as you swing — like something Tom use to try and flatten Jerry.

Or you can just construct a zipline launcher to take you to the top of a beached pirate ship, hopping off at the last second to plink a beast with a supercharged arrow from your bow. A charging boar the size of a house, on the other hand, is no match for the impenetrable walls you can instantly build like you’re taking sniper fire in Fortnite. It charges and the barricade distends, like rubber cement, before the boar rebounds into the sky and lands on its head, just waiting for you to chop off its tail and carve it for parts.

These moments are really something. Whereas Monster Hunter remains laser-focused on refining the best possible version of its combat — iterating on the same dozen-or-so weapons from game to game to game until each feels tuned to perfection and every hunt is a scripted dance you can recite from memory — Wild Hearts is nowhere near as polished. How could it be, when Capcom has had 20 years to sharpen its homemade blades on monster hides?

Omega Force (the team behind Wild Hearts, as well as the Dynasty Warriors spinoff machine) has instead opted to go wide. There are always more combinations of tools to try. More gadgets to unlock on the skill tree. More angles to attack from and upgrades to find hiding out in the open-ish worlds you explore.

Everything else is simply (and quite obviously) borrowed whole cloth from the best. You see it in the big and obvious ways: fighting minivan-sized monsters on maps loosely split into “zones” that kemono roam between when they become too wounded. But Monster Hunter fans will also surely pick up on smaller similarities: such as your little AI hunting helper, the Tsukumo, which is basically just a Palico. Right down to the way it deploys a healing fountain of green mist when in support mode.

Inviting comparisons to such a beloved franchise is, as always, a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there just isn’t that much competition in the monster-slaying space these days. Omega Force itself used to make these sorts of games during the PSP era, so the studio does have a pedigree there. But the last of those was in 2016. Very, very few competitors have risen to take on Monster Hunter since. It’s nice to have someone — anyone, really — breathing some life into the genre besides Capcom.

On the other hand, maybe nobody else fights for the championship belt because Monster Hunter is still so very good. The beat-by-beat combat in Wild Hearts, excluding those moments of explosive delight with the karakuri, isn’t quite as deep. Though it does get the sense of impact and weight mostly right.

Similarly, some of the monsters feel as though they were designed to be flashy rather than fun, legible fights. The first boss-like creature you encounter, for instance, is that aforementioned massive boar: the Kingtusk.

wild hearts kingtusk

It really is the size of a house. One made of mud and brambles and flesh that explodes into molten fire when enraged. Like most of the kemono, it’s a sight to behold. At least when you can see the entire thing at once… The Kingtusk’s snout and tail are so high off the ground that you can hardly hit them by default (at least with a melee weapon). Just keeping your camera trained on the beast can be a pain.

I suspect this is to encourage players to leap off karakuri boxes and deal devastating plunging attacks. Yet it also means that, when the boar charges or moves to a zone just slightly too small for its bulk, your camera is constantly blocked by pig, making it impossible to dodge or parry blows consistently. Especially when the kemono begins summoning deadly root systems that explode under your feet from every which way.

Part of the issue with this, I think, is that I decided to use the “Bladed Wagasa” as my starting weapon. The spinning umbrella becomes a drill when you charge it by attacking. If you really want to get it going, though, you need to parry blows to fill up a heat meter. The more it’s charged, the faster it spins, eventually dealing absolutely ridiculous multi-hit blows as it saws through incoming monsters. Having graduated from the schools of the Charge Blade, Insect Glaive, and Hunting Horn in Monster Hunter, the Bladed Wagasa feels like exactly the kind of wacky weapon I enjoy in these sorts of games.

The problem is that the parry timing is laughably punishing. A friend of mine described it as similar to a “guard point”: one of the most advanced defensive techniques in Monster Hunter. Wild Hearts demands that same level of frame-perfect timing and understanding of attack patterns, but for the most basic block in the game.

wild hearts karakuri

You can attack without parrying, of course, but the umbrella does so little damage by default that it struggles to slay even basic deer in the overworld without filling up the gauge first. If it was just the tight timing, I think I could deal with it, but that same gauge depletes almost immediately if you don’t continue to attack and block perfectly almost nonstop.

The same thing happens when you build a barricade to knock out the Kingtusk, actually. That’s something the game actively encourages and tutorializes you to do. The Bladed Wagasa just… happens to get punished for doing so in a way that other weapons aren’t. I could deal with one or the other, but the weapon just feels “off” in a way that I can’t say I’ve ever detected from Monster Hunter — even when trying weapons I don’t particularly gel with.

Eventually, I switched over to the Odachi greatsword. I’m having a much better time now.

It’s just another example of the game’s general lack of polish in spots. There’s a mountain of little issues like that — from camera issues to balance weirdness and on to underexplained proper nouns. The most egregious of the bunch, though, is Wild Hearts‘s PC performance. I’m far from the first to point out that the game has atrocious CPU bottlenecking issues that make it borderline unplayable. Even on beefy computers. In fact, the reason these impressions are going up so late is that nobody here on staff could get the game running without it becoming an unplayable slideshow.

Omega Force has acknowledged the issue and tried to address it. Though it doesn’t seem like the first post-launch patch has helped much. Players have instead turned to bizarre fixes like setting the game’s audio to Stereo 5.1/7.1 to improve the frame rate. While this sounds like magical thinking, to my amazement it did in fact work for me. Which is the only reason I’ve been able to play enough of the game to render my thoughts without restarting on a console.

Wild Hearts Monowheel

It’s also worth noting that, if I wanted to restart, it’d cost me $70 USD. Wild Hearts has the unfortunate distinction of being in the vanguard of games at this new AAA price point. Which just doesn’t feel quite right for something that’s so ambitious and beautiful but… ultimately still flawed. Yet it’s also being published by Electronic Arts and they will have their due.

With a slightly lower starting price and the promise of future patches, I would absolutely give Wild Hearts a full-throated recommendation. Even now, I think it’s something worth trying and supporting for future improvement. It’s right on the cusp of greatness. Not to mention it’s proof that there’s room enough for more than one monster-hunting franchise in town.  Those brief moments where your karakuri, perfectly timed strikes, and delightfully grotesque monster design all collide just right are unlike anything else. Even if the individual parts feel directly pulled from other games.

As it stands, though, I have to fall back on that slightly tired adage of “maybe wait for a sale.” I truly think (or at least hope) Wild Hearts will get the technical tune-up that the strong bones of the game deserve.