So there’s two genres that I can’t resist, no matter how ridiculous they get. The first is dopey anime fanservice games, probably because I’m a masochist. See pretty much every other of my reviews for examples. The other is hunting-action games (a neurotic friend of mine insists they’re abbreviated as H-AGs, not HAGs, but your mileage may vary), such as last year’s excellent Freedom Wars and the earlier Gods Eater Burst. There’s something about going up against impossible odds in the form of titanic monsters that’s just appealing, what can I say?
The latest offering for hunting aficionados is Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate for the 3DS, one of the showcase games for the latest models of Nintendo’s dimensional handheld and the – lemme calculate – tenth in Capcom’s series? It’s definitely not the fourth since they keep cranking out revised editions and fans keep snatching them up. Anyway.
The two most noticeable changes in MH4U are the two new weapons available for your monster-mashing pleasure. The more user-friendly of the two is the Insect Glaive, a polearm wielded in conjunction with an insect familiar called a Kinsect. You’re able to use the Glaive to target spots on the monster which the Kinsect then absorbs energy from; the bug then returns to you and infuses you with that energy for a buff. By mixing different types of energy you can activate different buffs. While the Insect Glaive isn’t as powerful statistically as some of the other weapons, it’s easy to massively buff your strength and kick monster butt. What’s more, the Insect Glaive’s capable of performing a pole-vault technique to hop into the air and mount monsters for some free hits. The last unique aspect of the Insect Glaive is the way you upgrade it: you need to work on both the Glaive itself and the Kinsect, since they’re two parts of one whole.
On the other end of the user-friendliness spectrum is the Charge Blade, a bizarre sword/shield/axe monstrosity. The Charge Blade starts off as a sword and shield which you’ll use to pummel monsters and block most weaker attacks that come your way. Beating monsters with the sword charges the weapon; you can bank the charge and turn it into energy to use for the Charge Blade’s more powerful attacks. When you’ve got some energy saved up, you can turn the whole assembly into a huge axe and get to smashin’. Axe form has a charge attack of its own where you turn the whole shebang into an enormous greatsword twice the size of your character and unleash the fury. If all this transformation sounds a little confusing, that’s because it is! In fact, it’s even worse, because the Charge Blade has auto-blocking frames and a shield-charging capability to keep in mind as well. If you’re set on using the Charge Blade you’ll definitely need to work at this for awhile to get the hang of it.
The new weapons are both cool, though they also suffer from a downside: the upgrade trees for both weapons are a little lacking. Unlike the older options, both the Insect Glaive and Charge Blade run into periods where you’ll have trouble upgrading to a new weapon. The Charge Blade in particular suffers from this, since the Insect Glaive can fall back on its buff mechanics to make up for any statistical deficiencies. You might want to wait until later Hunter Ranks before switching over so you have access to level-appropriate weaponry. As this is an “Ultimate” edition of MH4, there’s a lot of new content available over the original title (which didn’t get a Western release) but the majority of it is packed into the endgame including the new models of Insect Glaive and Charge Blade. You’ll want to rush to the end ASAP.
You’ll be killing some new monsters with those new weapons, naturally. The headliner of this game is the ridiculous necromancer dragon Gore Magala. Yes, “necromancer dragon.” It’s got freaky cloak-wings and it brings dead monsters back to life…sort of. It actually infects them with the Frenzy Virus, an infection that produces a weakening effect in Hunters and causes monsters to transform into berserk killing machines. Definitely a unique gimmick. Other new monsters include the Kecha Wacha, a snot-spewing monkey, the amphibian Tetsucabra and the sharklike Zamtrios. Naturally there’s a couple new elder dragons as well. The new monsters are definitely the highlights of the roster this time around.
Plenty of old favorites show up again as well, such as the return of the fan favorite Yian Kut-Ku! Previous wyverns like Khezu Gypceros and the elder dragons Kushala Daora and Chameleos are present and accounted for as well. There’s a massive selection of prey available so you’re certainly not going to be bored for a lack of stuff to kill.
You might get a little bored with the material grind, though. Recent hunting-action titles like Freedom Wars have tried to curb the amount of grinding you’ll need to do to upgrade your gear, but MH4U is a Monster Hunter title through and through, so you’re inevitably going to need to spend some time mining and catching bugs to keep your kit up to date. It’s not really any more fun than it was in the previous hundred Monster Hunter games, to be honest, which probably explains why other hunting series have curbed it a bit. Still, it’s no WORSE than previous games, so if you’re a Monster Hunter vet chances are you won’t be too disappointed by having to run around with a bugnet to make a better sword.
Thankfully it’s not all, uh, retro. There’s some quality-of-life improvements that make MH4U a little easier to handle than previous games. For instance, there’s a slightly greater emphasis on vertical movement (presumably because the similar emphasis in God Eater and Freedom Wars were a hit with players) so you can now climb up cliffs and vines without draining your stamina. As mentioned previously, the best weapon for getting high is the Insect Glaive since it has an actual jump technique, but the other weapons have new jump attacks as well. You also have a cat buddy called a Palico around at all times to assist with monster-slaying and it’s significantly less annoying than similar AI companions in earlier titles. What’s more, you’re able to customize your cat’s gear, which is pretty nice.
The single-player experience has also been revamped a bit too. It’s more of a “story mode” now, featuring the journey of your hunter and the caravan he works with as they search for answers about a mysterious crystal. This means you’re actually going to run into different towns and vendors; it’s neat to get a change of scenery, since that doesn’t come up too often in this series beyond the “online” and “offline” towns you see in several of the games. Grinding through lower-level missions is a little more bearable with an overarching plot tying them together. There’s also the new Expedition mission, a randomly-generated map that spawns, well, randomly-generated monsters to fight. It’s a nice way to load up on materials and extra currency.
In the end, though, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate isn’t a re-imagining of the series or anything. It’s more Monster Hunter, which means if you’re into fun you’ll probably have a good time with it. The material grind can be a little annoying and players looking for a whole new experience are going to come away disappointed, but these aren’t enough to stop me from unconditionally recommending Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. And if you’re picking up one of those fancy New 3DS XLs with the extra analog stick – is there even a question? It’s good. I promise.
Editor’s Note: For those of you curious we’ll talk a little more about how this one plays on the New 3DS XL when we’ve got our grubby hands on one, so check back in this weekend if you’re curious for the update!