(This game was played with Nintendo 3DS hardware, not New Nintendo 3DS hardware.)
(I cannot speak for the performance of the New Nintendo 3DS.)
I love the Monster Hunter franchise. Ever since I sunk my teeth into the world of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, I kept returning to the different worlds that Capcom has created; from Monster Hunter Freedom Unite to even the original Monster Hunter that released back in 2004. Needless to say, I took the leap of faith into this series, and I came back with a smile on my face and a pile of dead Duramboros to make armor with.
It goes without explanation that when Monster Hunter 4 was released in Japan, I was anticipating a release with bated breath. However, that day wouldn’t for another three years with Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. Promising more vertical combat and more monsters than ever before, MH4U aims to be the best game in the franchise, and I’m happy to say that this game does not disappoint.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is a game about hunting monsters. As you defeat these monsters, you obtain items that you can use to make armor and weapons and make yourself stronger. Unlike other RPGs, this game has no experience to gain and no levels to work towards; your equipment makes your strength and weaknesses, and equipment does not come easily. More on this later.
You start with making a character and your Ace Palico. Though most players that started with MH3U will not know about Palicoes and Felynes/Melynxes besides “those annoying cats that steal your things,” Felynes used to be your partners, like Cha-Cha and Kayamba. You could hire up to two Felynes to assist in hunts, and each one would have unique combat preferences. These little kitties return in MH4U as your partners once again, and they have a lot more fight in them.
MH4U has a story now, and much more so than the wild goose chase that was the story of MH3U. You start on a sandskiff that gets attacked by a Dah’ren Mohran, a freakishly huge monster that resembles MH3U’s Jhen Mohran. As you fight back, you gradually reach the small merchant town of Val Habar, and this is where your career as a hunter begins.
You work with a man known only as the “Caravaneer,” and he holds a strange shard that nobody knows about. So now you, as a fresh hunter, have a goal; find out what this shard is about. Now the story is nothing to write to home about, but it’s much more enjoyable than MH3U at least.
Once you begin hunting, you’ll quickly realize that the controls are stiff and different from most other games. Monster Hunter is known for having an extremely harsh learning curve for newcomers of the franchise, and I can safely say that MH4U is probably the best entry point for newcomers. Why, you ask? Because the movement and controls are the most fluid that any game in the franchise has ever had.
Let’s start with basic movement. You have a run button [R] and a dive (dodge) button [B]; both use stamina when you use them. This is standard fare for MH, but new to 4 Ultimate is jumping. It’s relatively simple to do so, and the first area in the game actually shows this off well; just run or dive towards an edge and you’ll jump. It’s a short hop, sure, but this branches into combat. More on that later, and I know you’re getting tired of hearing that.
Next is climbing. Whenever you walk near a climbable wall, you can climb it, and you can climb faster by pressing up on the Circle Pad and pressing the dodge button. This also uses stamina. However, if you press ‘A’ while staying still on a wall, you will vault off; a very useful technique to master for some later monsters.
Using these skills, you can freely explore the areas as you wish, gathering resources like Herbs and Blue Mushrooms to make Potions. You’ll need to gather everything in order to make whatever items and equipment you need, at least in the beginning. Like I mentioned before, your experience is shown by the equipment you bear, and you legitimately feel satisfaction every time you obtain that one rare drop you need to finish your set. (Carve rates can be 1%.)
There are many choices to go with, as well. As you complete quests, you unlock access to more varied quests that you can play as many times as you wish. MH4U also has quest-lines that actually have stories tied to the people you get requests from, although some players might find this addition annoying, at least in terms of having to remember who gave what quest and where they’re located.
In terms of weapons, players will be happily satisfied with the full roster of weapons; 14 weapon types in all. Returning weapons include your typical fare since MH3U, but what’s important are the two new weapon types. New to MH4U are the Insect Glaive and the Charge Blade. The Charge Blade is a more combo-oriented version of the Switch Axe, forcing hunters to continually strike monsters while in Sword Mode in order to “charge” the elemental phial for use during Charge Mode.
Next is the Insect Glaive, a fun little weapon that gives the user the ability to jump in the air whenever they want. Each glaive comes with a Kinsect, which is a large insect (usually a beetle) that latches onto your forearm and can be sent towards monsters to steal various “essences,” which depending on the color can give you various buffs. Though upgrading the Insect Glaive can be a bit unwieldy at first, since you have to upgrade your Kinsect by feeding it Nectars, along with upgrading the Glaive itself when the moment arrives.
All weapons have undergone major updates to match the now fluid and active combat of MH4U; including aerial attacks and an improved combo system for each weapon. “Aerial combat,” I hear you say aloud. Yes, there is aerial combat in MH4U, though very minor. Whenever you run or dodge towards the edge of a platform or cliff, you’ll jump, as I mentioned earlier. You can attack instantly from this, and this is especially apparent with the Insect Glaive’s [R]+[B], which boosts you into the air at will. Doing this to any large monster (Great Jaggi, Yian Kut Ku, Gore Magala, etc.) will have a chance of staggering it and giving you a chance to do a “mount.”
Mounting is also new to MH4U. Any time you jump onto a monster after staggering it from a jump attack (specific, I know), you can mount it. Doing this initiates a small sequence where you have to hold onto the monster whenever it roars or wrestles around, then stabbing it repeatedly with your carving knife when it’s standing still. As you wrestle with it, a monster icon will go left-to-right across a bar that also increases with each successful stab. If you fill the bar without the icon covering the end of your progress bar, the monster will get knocked down much longer than a usual knock-down. If you don’t, you get thrown off like a rider at a rodeo.
Speaking of the Gore Magala, he introduces a brand new status effect to the list of craziness; Frenzy. The Frenzy virus is a status effect that gradually fills a bar; if it gets full, you lose your healing potential. If you can deal enough damage while infected, you “overcome” the virus and become stronger as a result. This virus also infects monsters; makes them stronger, faster, and even gives them new moves. You have no idea how insane an infected Tigrex can get until you see one with your own eyes.
Once you’re done tackling quests on your own, take your fighting online, where you can play with up to four other players. The online is arguably the cleanest in MH history, though the framerate locks to a lesser framerate when playing with four players, however the frame-rate itself is stable enough to be playable. You can play Guild quests solo, locally, or online, with no gameplay-affecting lag. You can also share Guild Cards and Guild Quests, which act as personal helpers and up-gradable missions, respectively. With two players, your Ace Palico substitutes for a hunter.
Finally, there’s a new way to gain new, rare resources and to fight different monsters every time. Known as the Everwood, this area is given a random, linear path. Exploring this area gives you access to many rare materials and Relics, a type of weapon or armor that needs to be polished clean of its rust before you can use it. As you progress in single-player, you gain access to more monsters and resources, making the Everwood a very good place to grind for that one resource you need.
The graphics are gorgeous and beautifully detailed, and the levels themselves are just bleeding their own unique personality. The teeming, lush plains of the Ancestral Steppes to the frozen, aurora-lit Frozen Seaway are eye-popping and never dull or boringly colored. The HUD and text elements are much more polished for the 3DS, making them more easily readable than MH3U’s text.
The monsters are very detailed, with some monsters returning from previous titles getting a graphical update. This also applies when a monster has the Frenzy virus, where they turn slightly purple with glowing red eyes and billowing a black smog from their nose or mouths. No texture seems out of place, since all areas flow naturally with impressive attention to detail.
The music sounds excellent, and the sound effects themselves are well-mixed as well. Various songs perfectly match the strike of action that the area would have. While all areas have a special version of the fighting music that fits the theme, specific monsters themselves have amazing music, such as the Gore Magala’s, embedded above. Even the village themes are really well-thought, with the tone also matching the design.
The sound effects are visceral and sharp. When you slam a hammer into a monster’s head and knock them down, breaking their head, you can hear everything; the loud crunch of bone breaking, the impact of the monster roaring as it hits the ground, and even the loud whack of the hammer making contact.