Since the first Monster Hunter title released back in 2004 for the Playstation 2, it has become one of Capcom’s most popular and best selling series, with each new entry adding in new mechanics and innovations to an already deep and engrossing experience.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, an updated re-release of the fourth title in the main series, strives to be the best Capcom has ever made. And after playing through demos, and now the full game, I can safely say that the developers passed with flying colors.
Players start with a decent character creation in which you can customize gender, hair, skin, markings, face type, voice type and other details. I do wish there was a bit more variety here, such as more diverse hairstyles, body type and height, but it’s certainly not the worst.
Afterwards, your newly created Hunter is dumped unceremoniously in a boat and almost immediately must engage in a surprisingly exciting ship battle against a huge monster. Not only is it an excellent way to break in players, it helps to familiarize them with some basic controls and the dangerous world of Monster Hunter.
Once you arrive at the first village in the game, your Hunter is given a couple small tasks to learn the ropes of hunting and missions. It was honestly nice being eased into the world of hunting, while I got my bearings and stretched my metaphorical muscles after a brief respite from the series.
Of course, after this, the kiddie gloves come off and missions become quite a bit tougher. Each mission requires you to track down a monster, defeat it and obtain certain parts to return to the requester — which sounds easier than it actually is.
A nice touch to make things a little smoother are meals. Eat a freshly cooked meal before setting out on a mission and you’ll receive a nice buff lasting for its remainder.
First locating the monster itself is simple enough as well, but slowly whittling down their health while evading their powerful counter attacks is a horse of a different color. Luckily, your Hunter can bring along up to two Palico allies to heal you and damage the enemy.
For the uninitiated, Palicos are special companion cats who can attack the enemy and patch you right up during combat. You start off with one Palico but can recruit and use more as you go along. Keep in mind that the maximum amount you can carry around is two.
The next step comes after the foe’s health drops too low and it makes a hasty retreat, indicted not by any sort of health bar but by body language such as limping. This begins the process of tracking down the monster’s hideout, which can be rather arduous unless you use a paintball item to tag the foe.
If you’re lucky, the monster will be sleeping when you finally find it again, which gives you a lovely free combo or even time for “Monster Riding,” one of the brand new mechanics introduced to this game and will be explained in more detail a bit later.
Keep in mind that each mission is timed and that failure to comply with said time-limit will end your mission and send you right back to your village, regardless of how many tears you shed.
Emerge victorious, however, and you will still need to collect the require item(s) or bring the captured monster and make it back to the dropbox near the assigning village before time runs out.
While this whole shindig certainly sounds like a recipe for a boring and formulaic action RPG with the added stress of a timer, the beauty and diversity comes from — ironically enough — the hunting process itself.
Each monster has a unique design, behavior pattern, attack pattern, strength and weakness and learning how to capitalize on these features during each mission requires patience, time and copious amounts of skill.
There are also plenty of strategic elements that can go into a mission, such as the varied environments and changes in terrain, finding that monster’s hideout and leaving regular or poisoned food for it, considering which weapon type to use, how best to utilize said weapon’s ability and combat style and keeping your weapon’s sharpness maintained during battle.
Another point to keep in mind: Especially powerful monsters can now alter the landscape by making even ground jagged and raised, or even knocking your Hunter into another area; another well-implemented new feature that adds even more strategy to the system.
An additional motivating factor is the simple addictiveness of obtaining new equipment and strengthening your weapons. You’ll find yourself diving into mission after mission, eagerly anticipating the memorable fight and eagerly awaiting monster carves or any other items that will certainly net you a shiny new set of armor.
All of these factors contribute to a surprisingly lush and challenge-filled single player that never loses its luster. Even the time-limits in each mission (for the most part) only serves to enhance the sense of urgency and suspense without feeling restrictive; not to mention the sheer amount of satisfaction you’ll feel every time you fell a great beast and collect your hard-earned monster carve.
To aid you in your monster-slaying quests are several classic types of weaponry: Great Sword, Longsword, Sword and Shield, Dual Blades, Hunting Horn, Axe, Lance, Gun Lance, Light Bowgun, Heavy Bowgun, Bow and Switch Axe. Each one has its unique skill set, hit stun and method of wielding.
Dual Blades, for example, are incredibly fast with almost no hit stun but have very short range and are relatively weak. Conversely, the Lance is much larger and much heavier with a stronger attack but a much more devastating hit stun and far slower attack speed.
Two new classes have also been introduced: Charge Blade and Insect Glaive. The Charge Blade has a Sword Mode and an Axe Mode that it transforms between freely. The sword and shield in the former is swift and ideal for combos, while the heavy axe in the latter is made for strong and slower strike. Energy can be stored in the Sword Mode and released in the Axe Mode.
Furthermore, there is a special ability Charge Blades have called Elemental Discharge. This buffs the weapon depending on what mode its in. Sword and Shield gets an increase to defense and Axe nets an increase to attack power.
Meanwhile, you have the Insect Glaive, which allows the hunter to jump at any time in a pole vaulting move. The weapon is also capable of summoning a Kinsect to attack monsters.
The hunter can either freely send out the Kinsect or first shoot out a pheromone bullet at the target that works as a “lock on,” letting the insect to home in. When the Kinsect successfully hits an enemy, it will drain out an “essence” which varies in color and buff effect for the Hunter, depending on which part of the monster it hits.
Both weapons are well-balanced and require just as much practice and skill to wield as the other 12 weapon types. As an added bonus, since there are no set classes players can freely switch between weapons to find which one suits their playstyle best, as well as which weapon is best suited for the enemy type. For instance, if the monster is a flyer, choosing a ranged weapon such as a Bow or either Bowguns.
Environments are just as fleshed out and varied, featuring deserts, sheer cliffs, vegetative areas, snowy peaks and everything in between. These environments aren’t just for show either, as Hunters can climb along walls and cliffs or even jump from them to access new areas.
During battle you can still interact with the environment in the same way you would during exploration. If you jump from one and hit “A” when you reach the apex of your jump, you can perform a powerful air attack that may even knock down your quarry. This is refered to as “Monster Riding.”
By landing on a certain part of the enemy (usually the head or neck), the mechanic will automatically activate, letting you repeatedly attack for massive damage.
During battles the 3DS bottom screen is used for a few but vital tasks. The area map, which has your character and the boss monster marked, can be viewed there. You can also use items to restore your character’s health and action bar.
The action bar is a vital part of battle — it’s consumed when you perform dodges and sprint, and it steadily declines when you activate some weapons’ powered-up state (such as the Dual Blades).
Combat isn’t the only aspect of this game to receive enhancements, however. The story is also more compelling than previous Monster Hunter titles. This title revolves around the enigmatic monster Gore Magala.
Magala can take advantage of a variety of environments, due to the fact that its body parts are made for different types of terrain.
Its constantly shedding scales serve a deadly purpose — since the monster has no eyes stick onto hunters and other monsters alike as a way to mark and track them during its “Scouting” mode. Once that occurs, Gore will enter an aggressive and frenzied state called “Aggression” mode and use its wings as arms to attack.
Not only that, but the scales create and spread a “frenzy virus” of sorts that infect most other monsters and cause them to enter a frenzied state as well. Infected monsters become far more powerful and aggressive, as well as change in physical appearance.
However, Hunters can use an item called a Wynstone, which temporarily cancels out the effect while allowing you to deal more damage to afflicted enemies.
You spend most of the single-player mode gathering information from different villages and chasing down Magala; while the plot may not “A-list,” it’s more than enough to keep you engaged and invested. There’s also the fact that Magala has an insanely cool design and ability.
As a nice bonus, once you’re done with Gore Magala’s campaign, a new one starring the monster Seregios opens up.
Aside from the single-player, there are also Arena Quests, Expeditions and multiplayer to keep you busy for many hours to come.
Multiplayer is split into local and online, the latter being new to the series. Local play allows you to connect with nearby 3DS owners and tackle missions together. Online works similarly, allowing you to partner with up to four players using the Nintendo Network, and also has a basic text chat function.
Online multiplayer is an incredibly smooth and completely lag-free experience. It also makes taking on missions and Arena Quests that much more fun, as you cooperate with both friends and strangers while taking on powerful monsters.
For those who prefer their lone-wolf status, online is entirely optional and the game as well as most quests (barring some high level ones) can be completed alone.
Graphics aren’t exactly eye-popping in the game but environments do feature some nice details and diversity, as well as lovely color variety which makes up for the low resolution. The New 3DS version does have better textures, lighting and all-around smoother gameplay than the original 3DS one.
Controls are generally the same from previous Monster Hunter titles, such as stark differences in wielding speed and hit stun between heavy and light weapons.
If you’re playing on the New 3DS, the C-stick is an absolute godsend that allows you to freely move the camera. This and the monster targeting system that lets you easily track the foe during battle makes combat much less frustrating then previous entries.
For those playing on the regular 3DS or XL, you can use the D-pad to move the camera but it’s rather clunky and sometimes nigh impossible to wield with any sort of precision. In this case, I would highly recommend you invest in the Circle Pad Pro to alleviate this issue.
Another issue is one that has stayed with the series since the beginning: accessibility. Monster Hunter is notorious for its steep learning curve and while the introduction of proper camera control and targeting have made things easier, the game is still rather difficult to dive into as a newbie.
In this case, you can either work with more experienced players on missions or check out strategy guides for tips on how to play effectively and how to conquer certain missions, in order to better mitigate the demanding difficulty.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is honestly the best entry into the series, bar none. While I enjoyed 3 greatly, 4 improves on nearly every aspect of the game while still maintaining the full challenge that veterans so crave.
And even though its gameplay is still a bit dense and sometimes overwhelming for first-timers, the new mechanics and improvements make Ultimate the ultimate way to enter the franchise to date.
Players new and old, dive into the hunt without hesitation.