Monster Hunter is a special franchise. Becoming almost cult-like in Japan, it’s a rare game where improving doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve unlocked new content, but that you’ve managed to get better. It’s a title that draws people in for hundreds of hours, and has held up as one of the best RPG franchises in existence. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate not only manages to live up to the expectations of long-term fans, but also adds content that fits in perfectly and fixes the fairly steep learning curve that’s been a long-running complaint of the series. What does all of this mean? Well, essentially, that we have the best Monster Hunter game yet.
For those of you who are new to the fold, this series revolves around one thing: hunting monsters. Yes, it’s a simplistic look at a game, but the franchise shines by perfecting its mechanics as opposed to wasting your time. Outside of a small subset of missions, you’re not going to be running around the countryside just so you can pick flowers or complete other fetch quests. The vast majority of your time is going to be spent hunting beasts through the wilderness, carving them to pieces, and finding materials to upgrade your weapons with.
Now, I’m choosing the word “hunt” here intentionally, and not simply because it’s in the title.
Obviously, killing is part of many RPGs. However, in Monster Hunter, you truly have to hunt your prey to get the most out of your kills. You’ll have to find where your target is hiding on the map, keep it from retreating back into its lair to heal, and often have to find a way to trap it if you want to be able to harvest everything to its fullest potential. Even the combat isn’t straight forward, as you’ll want to target certain parts in hopes of cutting off a tail or a horn to either weaken the enemy or gain a valuable resource for upgrading. There’s honestly nothing quite like it out there.
The plot, this time around, is that Gore Magala, a giant black-winged creature, has brought a Frenzy virus to the land. The virus can not only infect enemies by making them tougher to take down, but it can also infect the player to limit their healing ability if they don’t act fast. The virus adds a great bit of variation later in the game, when you start tracking down infected versions of monsters you’ve seen before and realize that your old tactics just aren’t going to cut it anymore.
One of the other major things that separates this from the slew of RPG games on the market is that there isn’t any sort of level progression. There are no skill trees, or traditional skill sets, for that matter. It’s just you, your equipment, and what you’ve learned through your experiences. The closest thing to a true grind that you’ll find here is that you’re going to want to repeat some hunts for extra materials, but there’s nothing really stopping you from trying more difficult hunts with lower equipment. A large portion of the game is figuring out which of the 15 weapons best suits your personal playstyle, and then finding new ways to maximize your effectiveness with it.
Speaking of equipment, two brand new weapons make their debut in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate.
The Charge Blade definitely has the potential to be one of the best weapons in the game for those willing to learn the mechanics. Starting as a traditional sword and shield, the Charge Blade can switch to a Giant Axe at the flick of a button, giving a nice boost to damage. As you attack with the standard sword/shield pairing, you’ll fill up your charge meter. At this point, the sword does significantly less damage, but buffs the Giant Axe for even more damage until the meter drains.
This honestly has the potential to be the single best weapon for solo play, just based on how dynamic you can be on the battlefield. The only real fault I’ve found with it is that there’s nothing in the stats that directly tells you how much damage the Giant Axe will do when upgrading or forging, so there is a bit of guess work in play.
The other new addition to the armory is the Insect Glaive, and I have to say this is my personal favorite right now. The Glaive itself does okay damage, but its other abilities really shine in the heat of battle. The Kinsect companion that comes with it can be used almost like a range weapon to tag enemies, giving you a quick stat bonus based on not only what it hits, but where. It’s a blast micromanaging the Kinsect while surrounded by baddies, in an attempt to stay one step ahead. The other major ability of the Insect Glaive is the opportunity to actually throw the player into the air, allowing you to dodge strikes, crash down with a major blow, or even mount your prey.
Mounting is a bit tricky, but I have to think that’s largely due to the fact that it’s a brand new mechanic to the franchise. Once an enemy is stunned, you can leap from a ledge or use the Insect Glaive to latch onto its back and unleash some hefty damage through rapidly stabbing it with your carving knife, all the while trying not to be bucked off. It’s a bit difficult to get the hang of, but it’s incredibly rewarding when you can successfully pull it off.
We did review Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate on a 3DS XL as opposed to a New 3DS XL, due to personal reasons, so we unfortunately didn’t have a chance to test it out using the new C-stick. Without it, managing the camera did prove to be a bit of a hassle quite honestly. Tapping the L button allows you to focus on your main target or center the camera behind you, but other than that you’re going to have to use the touch screen to help manipulate the camera how you want it. That said, we did plug in a Circle Pad Pro we had laying around, and it almost felt like a brand new game with it.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate still shines the brightest as a multiplayer game. The 3DS allows for you to set up games either locally or through the Internet, and I was impressed with how fluid they were. At no time did we experience any noticeable lag with our testing. The only complaint is the lack of voice chat, as things are reliant on text. It’s nice having full text chat available, but not being able to communicate on the fly did make things a bit more complicated than they should’ve been.
Visually, the game isn’t going to wow you; however, I think that’s fairly standard for the 3DS. It looks great for a handheld game, but it’s still a handheld game. The frame rate doesn’t hit 60 FPS consistently outside of when you’re in your home, but it doesn’t drop low enough for it to be a problem either. I do want to commend the art team for the monster designs, though. I’d rather not spoil what you’re going to be going up against, but fans of the series will be happy to see that the tradition of grand and interesting monsters has continued with this entry.
In the end, it’s hard to not wholeheartedly recommend Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate to those with even a bit of interest. It’s a fantastic game, which provides not only high-quality gameplay, but also nearly unlimited replay value. Just try to make sure to have a New 3DS, New 3DS XL or Circle Pad Pro at your disposal before making the purchase.
This review is based on the 3DS title, which we were provided with.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate may very well be the best Monster Hunter yet. Everything that’s been done before has been polished to near perfection, the bar has been lowered to make things more accessible, and there’s enough new content here to keep gamers coming back for more. There’s really no excuse not to pick this one up.