Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate Review (Nintendo 3DS)
The Monster Hunter games, in my experience, always fell prey to their cyclical nature. The game is essentially "accept a quest, leave on a quest, complete quest, upgrade, and repeat" on a big loop until I kill everything there is to hunt or give up before the end. This endless cycle quickly became monotonous, which would lead to me losing interest and putting previous games down for another adventure.
After about 15 hours of playtime in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate I suddenly had an epiphany; I was deeply entrenched in the monotonous cycle I had loathed in previous MH games, but for some reason this time I was loving it. My lack of interest in the questing format had been eradicated, and I was developing a new appreciation for everything Monster Hunter. In short, I could not (and still cannot) put this game down.
I wanted to see more, explore more, hunt more, and continue to build my character Fane, and his feline comrade Meowsy McDermott, into a force to be reckoned with. For the first time I felt like a true Monster Hunter, and the game led me to that point without me even realizing it. That's the beauty of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate: what used to be overwhelming is now perfectly streamlined, perfect for both newcomers and veterans alike to jump in and start slashing. The first few quests were enough to get my feet wet, calling on me to gather mushrooms or slay a few dinosaur-looking creatures called Jaggi, but before I knew it I was taking one some real behemoths with full confidence in a victory.
The most difficult part of the game for me was deciding on how to customize my personal monster hunter, as there are hundreds of options available making for thousands of combinations. Most of the weaponry is rather straight-forward, like the Sword and Shield combo or the Hammer, but some arms require a bit more strategy to wield like the energy-storing Charge Blade or the bug companion-summoning lance called the Insect Glaive. After that we have the armor, broken down into Head, Torso, Arms, Waist, and Feet, with complete sets giving my hero Armor Skills that buff him even more.
These new weapons and armor bring more than just a new look, as each piece comes with stat boosts to attack power, defense, and more, as well as a slew of abilities that enhance my hunting prowess. With each completed quest comes new items to use in crafting armor and weapons, leading to me changing armor after almost every quest just to see how the new stats would work against the next big threat. That's some in-depth customization, especially for a handheld title.
Each of the areas that host these giants are beautiful landscapes impressively designed and animated on this tiny 3DS screen. The Ancestral Steppe where the game starts has cliffs to climb and a few hidden areas to seek out, and each land after it gets larger and more robust. I can't decide which one is my favorite, though the Primal Forest and its giant dragon skeleton looming overheard is certainly in consideration. Every place the game sends me to hunt is overflowing with colorful flora and fauna, making me feel like I'm truly one with nature before I slay a massive carnivorous part of it.
I could also venture these giant areas with up to three friends, hunting these giant adversaries with a team of other experienced hunters. Despite each player on a given team having his or her own approach to hunting, every team quickly learned the other players' nuances and gelled into a fearsome crew. We struck a lot of monsters down and we were a group of strangers, so I can only imagine how powerful I'll feel when a group of my friends and I decide to challenge this world. I will admit that finding games to join was difficult, but I think I'd equate it less to technical issues and more to the general public not being a part of the scene yet. Once the release date hits, I don't expect that to be a problem anymore.
As much as I enjoy questing against these massive forces of nature alone and with friends, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is not without a few blemishes. Controlling my hunter can sometimes be a chore, as lining up attacks on an enemy can be surprisingly difficult. He's also one slow guy, but I've noticed that in every Monster Hunter game relies on slow, methodical movement so I wasn't too put off by his lack of speed.
My biggest issue stems from the camera, as the game gives me full camera control but implements that control is awkward ways. I suppose this is more of a critique of the 3DS itself than the game, but moving my right thumb to the touchscreen or my left thumb to the D-Pad in the middle of a group of enemies doesn't make for the best battle strategy. There is a lock-on feature that allows me to focus on one monster and that does help, but once that monster is dead I'm back to the weird camera format and sometimes I'm not able to lock on to the next enemy fast enough to avoid it. Having not played this on the New Nintendo 3DS yet, this complaint could evaporate within a week's time, but for now it's a frustrating issue.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate finally hooked me into the entire Monster Hunter series. I now understand why this franchise has so many die-hard fans, and I get why hundreds of hours are spent roaming the hills and deserts looking for new prey. Where previous MH games tended to exclude those who weren't familiar with the games (whether they intended to or not), Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate makes things easier to understand and pick up on, opening the world of Monster Hunter to a whole new legion of potential hunters. I would not be surprised if this game is the catalyst for turning Monster Hunter from a "niche" or "cult" series to one of the top names in the business, and I'll be there with all of those new converts sharpening my blade and getting ready for one more dance... then another one... then one final one before I put it down... or maybe another.
This review is based on a download code of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate provided by the publisher for Nintendo 3DS.