Monster Hunter is one of those series that has been around for about…oh, three hundred million years (Ed: 11 years) and has spawned over a thousand sequels (Ed: Once again, closer to 10. Your concept of scale—it worries me), with the first game being available on the PlayStation 2 in 2004. At current, the series has over 30 million in sales (Ed: Actually, this one is correct. For once) and I guess you can say it’s one extraordinarily popular video game series. I grab my sword, my bow, and MY AXE and wander around in search of dangerous prey to review this game.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, like its predecessors, opens with you creating a Hunter character in typical RPG fashion. Your character is then dumped straight into action on a sand ship heading to the town of Val Habar. The ship is attacked by a monstrosity called a Dah’ren Mohran, and after helping the ship caravan captain distract the beast long enough for a group of well-seasoned hunters to take it down, you’re dropped in town and handed out quests like they’re candy. Eventually, it turns out that you’re after an artefact called the Article, and your quests lead you to fight more and more dangerous and fell foes.
In game, Monster Hunter looks like a typical RPG, but veteran players will already be aware that it’s anything but. For one thing, your character does not change much, so no new abilities or levels or experience or any such thing unlocks through the game’s progression. In fact, your character doesn’t even have a set profession or class. What does change is your ability to buy or create bigger, more dangerous, and more powerful equipment, and this is what sets Monster Hunter apart from other standard RPGs. If you’ve played a game in the series before, you’ll know that the learning curve to get into the game can be a little daunting. Monster Hunter 3’s tutorial system was, at best, flaccid. Thankfully, for new players, Capcom revamped Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate’s tutorial system, making it easy for newbies to understand and get into the game quickly. The opening few quests, in particular, are there to get you used to the way the game’s systems work. Beyond that, there’s very little hand-holding. You make or break your quests on your own two feet; if you’ve been weaned off Demon’s Souls, you’ll be right at home.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate was made with the New Nintendo 3DS (or Circle Pad Pro) in mind, and in this game, the right analogue stick is absolutely essential, especially during battle. The camera on its own is not bad, but still inferior to manual control. Furthermore, the game loads faster on the New 3DS than the original, although the extra ZR and ZL buttons don’t have much effect by default.
Graphically, the game is beautiful; always has been. The intro video sets the scene for you quite nicely, but the design is delightfully colourful and so crisp it makes noises in empty churches. Each monster design should be immediately familiar to many older Monster Hunter players (barring the new monsters, of course), and it’s always good to see something of the familiar in a game. Speaking of familiars, you now have a pet that can hunt with you, called a Palico. It’s a little like the Felynes from MH3, but these guys will help you in the field whether by battling foes with you, or scrounging for materials.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is the first game on the 3DS that supports local and online multiplayer from the ground up, and I found the online experience brilliant, if a little difficult to find initially (hint: it’s in an area called “World Map”). Once you’ve completed the tutorial missions, the guild hall opens up, allowing you to seek other hunters, or join another hunt. It’s ridiculously easy to find a party of hunters to join over the Nintendo Network, and I found myself playing with several other hunters in short time—and you can invite other hunters that you get on with to join your friends list. Some hunters specify friends only, and others are open to random people joining them—you can create a session with your own specifications, and off you go. One big annoyance with multiplayer is that many of the same quests and hunts you go on in the solo campaign are the hunts you experience in multiplayer, and there’s no way to bypass the ones you’ve done, so you might find yourself redoing some quests.
Some of the greater frustrations with the game come from trying to use it on an older 3DS with the Circle Pad Pro attachment, an annoyance that doesn’t feature on the New 3DS. After waking the system up from sleep, the game decides that you don’t need a Circle Pad, and doesn’t reconnect it automatically. The Circle Pad is then disabled, and you have to go all the way into the options to re-enable it. Sounds minor, but having to do this every time you put the system to sleep gets annoying after about 70 or 80 reiterations. One of the other strange frustrations came about early on when trying to find my way down from a treetop canopy that I’d inadvertently climbed. Although the map showed routes downward, there was no simple way to me to get the prompt to head downwards. After some time running around the canopy to no effect, I eventually had to restart the quest. This sort of issue is rare, though, so don’t expect to run into it too often, thankfully.
If you enjoyed Monster Hunter 3 (or any of the Monster Hunter series, for that matter), there will be a lot of new gameplay, weapons, and yes, monsters to experience. It’s something that will suck hours from your life and likewise suck battery charge from your 3DS—keep a charger handy. It’s obviously tons better when you have a regular group of friends to play with, because the multiplayer hunts are an absolute blast. Still, that’s not to say that the solo game is slacking, because it’s still lots of fun to play once you get past the learning curve. And with the new tutorials, even that’s become less of a point of contention than it used to. Obviously, if RPGs don’t tickle your goatee, you’ll probably stay away, but if you’re into RPGs at all, get this. Even if it’s just so you can appreciate how a game can exist without the experience points that are so crucial to every other RPG.
Final Score: 9.5 Monster Prawns out of 10
Distributor: Nintendo South Africa
Platform: Nintendo 3DS (XL), Nintendo 2DS, New Nintendo 3DS (XL)
Age Rating: 16+