I step into the room at Capcom's pre-NYCC gathering, and my attention turns immediately to the four 3DS XLs on a table in the corner. I sit down and grab one of the handhelds, and suddenly I'm hunting a big ol' monster with three other people. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate feels a lot like other Monster Hunter games, but that's not a bad thing. Why fix what isn't broken?

The demo started with me picking my weapon type and there were plenty to choose from. Most of them came from previous Monster Hunter games, like the Long Sword, Dual Blades, and the Hammer, but now there are two brand new ways to hunt down the big bads: Insect Glaive, a double-ended staff that comes with an insect companion that can be directed to attack a monster, siphon perks from it, and bring those perks back to you; and the Charge Blade, a sword/shield that fills vials of energy with successful attacks, which then can be used to charge up the blade into a giant and mighty axe.

While I didn't get a chance to try the Insect Glaive, I did kick some major monster butt with the Charge Blade. Transitioning from standard sword and shield mode to the giant axe is as easy as pressing a shoulder button and a face button at the same, and charging the weapon when it's time is just as easy, but you press a different face button. I did notice that the giant axe form was a bit sluggish when swung, but the insane attack level makes every hit worth the extra time.

One of the most impressive things about the Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate demo was the environment, which looked rich, detailed, and impressive considering the 3DS is producing them. My demo took me to two very different areas, a mountainous region with trees and cliffs and a desert with sand dunes and a blazing sun. Each area played home to an unique set of indigenous flora and fauna with no noticeable crossover, meaning that each area could be completely unique from the rest. Each area is cut into zones like other Monster Hunter games and a little map on the right side of the screen will tell you what zone you're in and what zone the monster is currently in, once you find it. There is one caveat, however: the demo was programmed to always let us know where the monster was, we never had to explore for ourselves. The transition from zone to zone is minimal, with a few seconds of loading before the adventure continues, so the action doesn't feel too broken up by traveling to different areas.


When it came time to fight the target of our hunt, the game shifted right into familiar Monster Hunter territory: target the creature, attack, defend, repeat until victory. There is no life bar on these monsters, however, so instead you'll have to look for little clues on the monster itself like frayed hair or a limp in order to know how much longer he'll last. A few times during the battle we had to employ some interesting tactics in order to fell the beast: at one point a hunter jumped on top of the monster, latched on, and attacked until he was shaken off. Another hunter placed traps along the ground that immobilizes the monster and gave me a few free hits. Teamwork played a major part in our success, as I don't know if I'd be able to down those giants myself. After defeating the monster, we harvested his body for hides and other items all falling in a rarity scale from common to legendary. If I was looking for a particular drop and didn't get one, I'd have to fight the monster again to get it.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is exactly that: an ultimate version of the Monster Hunter experience that you can take with you on the go. There are no major shakeups in this new version, nor are there any insane new features to learn at the start. My time with Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate felt like the true Monster Hunter experience, which is how I expect the game will feel when it launches next year.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is expected to launch in North America in early 2015 for the Nintendo 3DS.