Alongside the New 3DS, Nintendo launched two games that were meant to showcase the new c-stick. There was no doubt in my mind that I would love The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D, since it’s a remake of a game I’ve always loved, but Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate was less of a sure thing. Despite a significant cult following, the series never got much headway in the U.S. If Majora’s Mask is the crowd pleaser, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is there to prove that the New 3DS can handle hardcore games well. I think this game might be able to buck both the lack of popularity in the U.S. that plagues Monster Hunter and the lack of hardcore gaming that plagues the 3DS, which is saying a lot for this series.
The Monster Hunter series has been around for a long time, but it only really got significant attention in America with its portable entries. I never even tried it until I got the previous 3DS installment as a gift from a friend. The games cast you as a hunter, traveling the land hunting monsters. In this case, there are a few bases, the first one being a port town called Val Habar. Here, you can buy supplies, craft equipment, and select missions. The missions may have you gather 3 of an item, fight a number of small monsters, or fight one of the game’s major boss monsters. Once your mission is selected, you can head out into one of the many field maps to give it a go.
The core of the gameplay involves exploring these maps and hunting monsters. You can choose from among a wide variety of weapon types, and it’s very important to choose one that fits your playing style. You can hit hard with a Switch Axe, move swiftly with Dual Blades, shoot from range with a bow, or mix things up with the new Insect Glaive. Especially when fighting a boss, every misstep is costly, so knowing your weapon is key. There are 11 melee weapons and 3 ranged weapons, so it’s worth giving them each a shot to see what works best. You get access to all of them in the beginning for just that reason. In between combat, you can also participate in mining, fishing, and bug catching.
Whatever you end up doing, you’ll probably end up doing it a lot. Though there are ranks to gain and many missions to complete, the driving force of gameplay is often gathering enough monster body parts, bugs, plants, and ores to forge new equipment. On one hand, this is a good thing. It allows for more customization, and it provides another motivator in a game that’s almost entirely devoid of a story. On the other hand, this also leads to what may be the biggest issue with the Monster Hunter series: it’s extremely repetitive. You will need to finish the same mission over and over before you have enough for a full equipment set, and it gets tedious. If it weren’t for this, I’d have latched on to the series long ago. It remains the biggest issue with the gameplay.
Fortunately, things are better when you’re hunting down a giant boss monster. Nothing beats the feeling of teaming up with a few friends to destroy a massive beast. There is no HP bar for any monster, so you can only tell how well you’re doing by its actions. You’ll need strategy, strength, the right equipment, and some knowledge of the area to succeed. You will also, again, need some friends. Monster Hunter is made for multiplayer, and even though you can take on the multiplayer missions alone, it won’t end well. Monster Hunter bosses have always been quite tough, and that hasn’t changed in this entry. The graphics haven’t changed much either, for better or worse. Like the 3DS version of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, it gets what it can out of the portable system, but it’s hard to soak up all of the details, and things are not very clear. Still, for everything that it gives you on a portable, it works better than one might expect.
Quite a few things have changed, though. The biggest update is that this is the first portable Monster Hunter game that supports online multiplayer. This is excellent, because again, the game is meant to be played with others. The online multiplayer works well, so as long as you have Wi-Fi you can enjoy the full extent of the game. This entry is also a lot more accessible than its predecessors, which makes a big difference. Monster Hunter doesn’t explain much, which is a defining feature of the series. You really have to get down and dirty to find your way. This one at least makes it easier to start, with some basic tutorials and a much clearer system for single player missions. It means that the game is less frustrating overall. It also means that newcomers to the series can have some confidence at the starting gate, which is a must for any tough game.
Like its predecessor, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate supports the Circle Pad Pro, as well as the New 3DS’s C-Stick. Without them, your only options for camera movement are the d-pad and the touchscreen. It’s amazing how quickly you get used to the touchscreen option (the d-pad isn’t in a viable position), but having a second stick is so much nicer. If you are already a fan of Monster Hunter, and you have a New 3DS, you will thoroughly enjoy this game. For everyone else, it’s a more difficult choice. Monster Hunter is really not for everyone. But, if you want to give it a try, there’s no better place to start. Perhaps because of Nintendo’s push, this is the best Monster Hunter game for beginners. While I floundered through Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate until I got guidance from a friend, this one laid things out quite clearly. It’s still quite difficult, as is the Monster Hunter way, but at least now more people can enjoy it. If you’re up for a challenge and don’t mind some serious grinding, there’s a lot you can get out of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. If you prefer more story-driven content, though, this is the wrong game for you.