There are notes of poetry in this Wild hearts cuts so generously with Monster hunter. After all, Monster Hunter is a series about an unknown alien who brings down ancient beasts by hacking away at their best parts to create weapons and armor. Forget sleeves, Wild Hearts wears its inspiration as a full set of clothing crafted from the bones, fur and teeth of Capcom’s ever-popular series. Inevitably, these materials may seem smaller than the whole from which they were assembled, but they are nonetheless worn with pride and confidence.

Also, as a rare contender for Monster Hunter, Wild Hearts is acutely aware of the difficulties involved in trying to create something new. Maybe that’s why the monster action game Omega Force is so welcoming to newcomers. Finally, here is a game ready to teach the player why this ancient genre is held in such high regard. Wild Hearts is the perfect entry point for anyone who has ever dreamed of becoming a Monster Hunter fan. An explosive, brilliant good time held back by frequent, annoying performance issues on PC.

Wild Hearts is all about killing monsters, or hunting them if you will. The village of Minato is under constant threat from the ferocious Kemono, huge creatures that destroy the environment with little care for the human structures they destroy as a result. These huge pigs, chickens, porcupines, squirrels and a bunch of other animals are not docile or peaceful, but extremely dangerous. As a hunter, you’re the only thing stopping Minoto from being completely crushed by a giant tree branch ripped from the ground by a fire-breathing gorilla.

Battles take place in a strict cycle. You choose on the map which beast you want to fight, and then after some tracking you find a monster that will proceed to collect everything in its power to give you an absolutely terrifying time. Fights are tense and chaotic, often lasting over 20 minutes as you desperately try to take down this massive creature without the reassuring help of a health bar to let you know how close you are to your goal. Your dance of death has a combat rhythm, balance, and rhythm. In small pockets of peace, you’ll drink health juice and the monster will also retreat to its lair to lick its wounds while you both prepare for the next encounter. After you track him down again and eventually deliver the final blow, the tattered carcass can yield precious upgrade materials to aid you in your future monster-slaying endeavors.

A hunter dressed in warm clothes looks at a robot made of wood.
You are always accompanied by these little wooden robots that are Monster Hunter’s equivalent of Wild Heart and Palicoes. Although they are just as capable as the Monster Hunter’s companions, they are not cats, and as a result are fundamentally worse.

Of course, this will all seem very familiar to anyone who has played Monster Hunter before. Structurally, they are almost identical, but why fix something that isn’t broken? Repetition and routine are what make Monster Hunter so compelling, and by completely subverting that formula from its competitor, Wild Hearts manages to capture that same magic. Yes, you will hunt the same monster several times. He will attack you with the same moves. You will get knocked down again and again and again. But don’t worry. Above all, your goal here is mastery. Not a cool new pair of boots or a hat with a raccoon face on it. Skill. The ability to predict what a monster will do next and counter it without getting hit. That was the joy of Monster Hunter, and it’s just as easily found in Wild Hearts.

Of course, everything is not quite like that. The biggest difference is in the form of Karakuri, an ability that allows your hunter to summon crates and tools out of thin air using a resource called Thread. These trinkets serve as your special moves and allow you to both counter and damage Kemono. One karakuri allows you to stack a bunch of crates, allowing you to perform a devastating jump attack by jumping off the top of them. The spring pulls you safely out of the way of the charging monster. A tiny helicopter allows you to glide gracefully above the chaos before plunging your sword into the creature’s exposed brain.

Trying to fight the beast by knocking karakuri together is difficult at first, but quickly becomes second nature. It helps that more complex designs created by combining different basic types of karakuri are gradually presented to the player as the main story progresses. Before long, you’re building bombs, wobbly hammers, and fortified walls that knock enemies back and send them flying like a punctured balloon at a Thanksgiving parade.

The huge dog creature is attacked by a hunter with a great sword.
Gritdog is kind of a dog/raccoon hybrid and is my favorite monster of the pack. They are able to mimic your karakui, creating bombs and walls of a soot-like substance. They also have a movement where they pat their bellies a little, which is as adorable as it is dangerous.

Hitting a large pig with a hammer kept me laughing throughout the game. A simple joke about a huge wooden hammer jabbing an unsuspecting creature in the leg never gets old. Of course, karakuri make fights more dynamic and interesting, but they also make them more fun, which is just as important. They can also be used outside of combat, allowing access to more permanent structures to carve shortcuts in the game’s open spaces. These karakuri dragons, as they’re called in-game, aren’t as exciting as the trinkets you use in combat, but they allow you to leave your mark on what would otherwise be little more than a confusing battle arena.

Monsters do not appear on your map automatically, you have to search for them using wooden radio towers that can be placed anywhere in the level. You can also create your own spawn points by building camps along with a cozy fire pit that allows you to start hunting missions. Building a forge while you’re on the road also allows you to upgrade equipment without having to trek back to the main village. These are minor additions, but they deepen your relationship with these areas, places you’ll inevitably return to time and time again throughout your time with Wild Hearts.

A hunter hovers in the air with the help of a hand-held helicopter.  With their free hand, they shoot a cannon at a large squirrel.
Each weapon is equipped with its own special Karakuri moves. For example, by hovering in the air while using a cannon, you can blast monsters out of the relatively safe sky for a few short seconds.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this awesome combat bears similarities to the developer’s hack-and-slash series Dynasty Warriors. The weapons are satisfying and weighty, backed up by impressive animations and inventive attack designs, but ultimately lack depth beyond a few basic combos. This isn’t necessarily a problem, as Karakuri offers some added complexity, but those looking to master a specific blade may find their options somewhat limited. Halfway through, there’s a choice of more complex weapons, like a super cannon that allows for ranged destruction, but again, it’s a much lower investment to master than anything in Monster Hunter.

I don’t think it’s bad. This speaks to the game’s desire to serve as the ultimate introduction to lower case monster hunting. Unlike the 19-year-old series it so actively fights back from, Wild Hearts manages to attract new players in a friendly and patient way. Tutorials are presented in the context of story missions where you fight smaller monsters with a limited selection of weapons and karakuri. Gradually, the game introduces slightly more complex systems such as elemental effects, weapon upgrades, and the importance of food before combat in a way that feels fluid and digestible. There’s very little bloat here, which is a breath of fresh air compared to the density of recent Monster Hunter games. If you’ve always dreamed of kicking a big chicken in the ribs, but were put off by the never-ending, seemingly endless drudgery of Rise’s text-based guides, Wild Hearts might just be the first step you’ve been looking for.

And yet, as is often the case with a first attempt, “Wild Hearts” is not without flaws. The monster designs are brilliant and expressive (their angry forms that cause trees and other flora to rip out of the ground as they roar in rage are a particular highlight), but the variety is sadly limited. This will no doubt change with the release of the inevitable DLC packs or sequels, but for now, a few extra monsters wouldn’t hurt. The same cannot be said for the game’s story, which could probably benefit from being shortened. Things happen and people talk to you about them, but the actual content of those conversations and events is so bland and uninteresting that I really can’t recall any events. The fact that you’re rarely offered dialogue choices is laughable. It literally doesn’t matter, and the larger story can be summed up as “go and beat these monsters before they turn around and hit you.”

A hunter in a big fur hat chatters
None of these dialogue options affect the story. Sometimes the game will only give you one option, which is laughably silly.

Then, of course, there are technical issues. We’ve got them covered quite wide on the site, but it bears repeating: Wild Hearts doesn’t run well on PC due to CPU bottleneck issues. It is impossible to achieve a constant frame rate – even on high-quality equipment. The game constantly slows down. Pop-in is terrible. Motion blur and depth of field, enabled by default, actively degrade the appearance of the game. Unfortunately, Omega Force acknowledged these issues before the game launched, but has yet to offer any significant fixes a week after release. On top of that, Wild Hearts works great on consoles, which makes the PC version even more boring. If it weren’t for these issues, nothing would stop me from giving the game the RPS “besttest best” badge.

Despite the stutter, I loved my time with Wild Hearts. It’s a fierce competitor to Monster Hunter and a great starting point for newcomers to the genre. Part of me suspects that the game’s ideas will come together in the sequel in a way that makes Wild Hearts important, but even in this slightly raw form, Omega Force has created one of the best games of the year.