It’s been an agonising wait for Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. After Monster Hunter 4 issued a call to arms across Japan in late 2013, those around the world particularly keen to join the hunt have had to await Capcom’s souped up successor. And, while the wait has been arduous, early impressions indicate that this comprehensive iteration has best prepped the Nintendo 3DS exclusive’s western quest for breakout success.
The Monster Hunter series has been one that proudly looks for refinement and worthwhile expansion at every turn, its exceptionally diligent development team always wanting to deliver their millions-strong following with a Gourmet Steak experience rather than leaving them with unsavoury Burnt Meat.
Ask about what’s changed, and I’d point to verticality as the most significant game changer. Hunters now have far greater agility to scale their surroundings, clambering vines and clawing their way up rocky climbs as they look to catch their prey unaware. That initial strike can significantly weaken even the mightiest creatures, and the thrill of catching the monster that you’ve been tailing off-guard is a resoundingly satisfying one. This is only heightened by a new ability that lets you mount a monster that’s flinched, a bucking bronco moment that sees you struggling to cling on as it fiercely tries to shake you off – all while you incessantly carve at its hide.
Monster Hunter’s hardest choice, for me at least, has always been which weapon to choose. Capcom’s already diverse armoury has now been extended to 14 weapon types, which arena tutorials will guide you through if you wish, and whilst old favourites return it will be the two new additions that will turn heads. Of these the Insect Glaive excites most, a martial arts staff reworked to fit with the Monster Hunter universe. The weapon’s unique proposition is that its wielder can mark targets that a summoned Kinsect will fly toward. This bug-like critter will harvest extract from your prey, with the colour coded substances – red, white, orange and green – empowering your hunter. Whether that be temporarily increased attack power, heightened speed, knock back protection or health recovery, these bonuses are subtle yet beneficial toward your continual success. That you can freely vault only makes this an even more diverse addition, meaning that new and experienced hunters alike will enjoy putting it to the test.
But, it is the new Charge Blade that grace’s Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate’s pack shot. Bearing some similarity to the Switch Axe, it allows you to freely choose between either a deft Sword and Shield or colossal Axe mode. This is made more methodical by players accumulating energy to charge phials in the Sword form, after which you’re encouraged to alter to Axe where you can unleash an Amped Element Discharge to destroy your hunted foe. That you strike with such weight makes this all the more gratifying, while the chance to switch to more defensive tactics will surely make this a popular choice for those that like to strategise their monster takedowns.
There’s evidently far more meat to Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate’s core, and while new mechanics and weaponry are designed to pique your interest Capcom have worked hard to streamline and diversify your adventure. You begin sailing across sand dunes destined toward Val Habar, the bazaar that serves as your initial base camp, when your skiff is attacked by a Dah’ren Mohran. This introductory sequence thrusts you into action using cannons, loud noises, and the new Target Cam (that lets you centre the camera on any selected larger monster nearby), as you fend the elder dragon away from your chosen route. Even as a novice hunter, it’s a battle of titanic proportions and sets expectation for the creatures that you will eventually face later in the game.
Joining the Caravaneer’s troupe you will help discover the mystery behind an item he is carrying, referred to as the Article. Recruiting a cook and merchant is your first goal, later casting off to discover new areas that will freshen your quests by switching up the environments you trawl and monsters that you’ll face. Much of your time will still be spent visiting the Guildmarm to accept posted quests, but you can also head out on solo Expeditions that will see you hesitantly wander through uncharted territory to see which critters inhabit them.
Online multiplayer, absent in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate’s 3DS version, will be a huge draw this time around, but lone wolves questing alone can enlist the help of two trusty Palicoes. Each have their own role to play, whether that be charging headlong into combat with you or supporting your battle lust from afar, and makes the game all the more managable when you don’t have other hunters available to you.
I’ve been lucky enough to take Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate for a spin on the New Nintendo 3DS, after a brief spell on my 3DS XL. While Capcom say that they have worked hard to maintain the same experience across both systems, Nintendo’s revised hardware expectedly leverages more benefits. That notably comes from integrated Circle Pad Pro support with the C-Stick replacing the second Circle Pad, but also in a stabler performance thanks in part to the improved CPU and stereoscopic 3D. I can admit to being among those that began to use the 3D effect less and less, but the wider viewing angle has renewed my intrigue and Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate looks all the more resplendent for it.
We’ve certainly come a long way in the 11 years since Monster Hunter’s debut on PlayStation 2. But, from what I’ve played so far, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate has learned from that all that came before resulting in a hunting experience that is looking set to be every bit as addictive as I remember it and tyrannically bursting with content.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate will release exclusively for Nintendo 3DS across Europe and North America on February 13th.