Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate Review
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate makes big strides to ease new players into its intimidating, decade-old gameplay formula. Expanded tutorial sections and online connectivity vastly improve the game’s playability. Cool new weapons, feline companions, and online play also improve upon the established framework.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate’s early optional tutorials succeed where my well-meaning friends’ past indoctrination attempts have failed. Even without a MH sensei always on hand to guide me, MH4U capably taught me the essentials. After a handful of hours, I understood the fundamentals of combat with each of the 14 weapons, how to hunt monsters, and what goes into crafting basic potions and traps. The frontend of the game may be loaded up with wordy text boxes, but the awesome localization kept me groaning-then-chuckling with plenty of cat puns and goofy dialogue.
In case you never previously understood the fervor surrounding Monster Hunter, at its simplest level it’s about fighting big boss monsters, harvesting their corpses to craft new armor and gear, then repeating the process, preferably with friends. That simple, enticing premise is buried under a thick layer of cryptic menus, stats, and items that the game doesn’t always capably explain. That’s where MH4U begins to remind me of Dark Souls – you can carve out a fun-enough time playing solo, but talking through confusing elements with knowledgeable players adds satisfying new depth to the experience. I began having a blast once I finally wrapped my head around all the once-confounding systems, but be sure to keep a wiki or seasoned hunter friend handy.
Speaking of friends, MH4U is the first handheld entry in the series that lets players team up online (local play is also still available). Working with friends to tackle monsters like the huge, crustaceous Seltas Queen is a treat. Strategizing who should hack off the tail (extra loot!), hammer the head (make it dizzy!), and set the trap for capture is a thrilling trial with satisfying rewards. Finally finding that last monster scale or fang to craft a new sword or hammer is supremely gratifying.
Combat in MH4U sticks close to past entries. Most attack and healing animations are lengthy, and mistiming them leaves players vulnerable. Deliberate, methodical strikes are crucial. I love examining a monster’s routines and attack cues, then learning when to strike, dodge, or run like hell. Some players may become frustrated by lengthy knockdown animations and some monsters’ erratic, aggressive behavior, but I grew to revel in the challenge.
The New 3DS XL DifferenceThe New 3DS XL’s c-stick vastly improves MH4U’s core playability (and the new hardware reduces loading times!). Using the little nub to move the camera and scan the environment for resources or target enemies is a game changer. Playing MH4U on an older 3DS works well enough, but for me as a relative newcomer, there’s no going back to the touchscreen/d-pad camera controls after using the c-stick. If you’re new to the series, understand that playing without these advantages is a significantly inferior experience. The Circle Pad Pro accessory is supported for the original 3DS, but the position of the extra circle pad feels awkward compared to the New 3DS' c-stick.
Thankfully, if you find yourself getting stomped by a pesky monster, the Palico companions come through in a pinch. You eventually recruit a small army of the felines and send them off on away missions to collect scrap that can be crafted into new cat armor. Up to two charming furry pals can join you in the field to distract monsters, heal you in a pinch, and collect resources. These adorable helpers are more than cuddly trimming – they offer just the right amount of genuine assistance without getting in the way.
Two new toys have been added to players’ arsenals. The Insect Glaive lets you use a flying bug to collect stat-boosting buffs off monsters and pole vault into the air for high attacks. If you’re lucky, you may be able to mount and deal damage to monsters rodeo-style – a fun new way to subdue even the saltiest of creatures. The Charge Blade is a transforming weapon which lets players deal big damage by hacking enemies up in axe form, then changes into a more nimble sword and shield for increased dexterity and defense. Both of these cool, unique playstyles blend in well with the existing weapons.
I’ve poured a ton of time into MH4U, but in the context of this series I understand this is only the beginning. Hundreds of solo and multiplayer missions await, along with a staggering number of huge monsters to hunt and lots of gear to craft. Don’t let the early learning hours and initially perplexing systems deter you; this is the best opportunity to find out what keeps fans coming back to Monster Hunter. As an enamored new fan, quitting isn’t an option.
[Editor's note: Thanks to Daniel for correcting me by sharing that the Charge Blade is one of MH4U's two new weapons. Not the older-but-still-awesome Switch Axe]