If Nintendo games were like Monster Hunter quests, most third party offerings would be the equivalent of the dreaded mushroom gathering outings. They’re often nowhere near as exciting as a good old fashioned first party dinosaur hunt, but sometimes they’re the only thing going.
Capcom’s Monster Hunter series, on the other hand, is one of the rare exceptions to this rule, as it’s not only got plenty of legs, but its sharp fangs are more than willing to take a bite out of you if you take your eye off the prize – namely, crafting the most outlandish armour possible from the various horns, hides, sacs, shells, claws and general charnal matter from the carcasses of your felled foes.
Happily, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is by far one of the best entries in the series yet. After the slow, lumbering and often confusing start of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (or Monster Hunter Tri for those playing on the Wii), MH4U throws you straight into the action, plying you with more hunting quests than you know what to do with – although not without a cheeky dig at those aforementioned mushroom forages first.
Each monster has its own set of attacks and tell-tale signs of fatigue – capturing them when their health is low is often more rewarding than slaying them outright
In the first two hours alone, you’ve slain more ‘big’ monsters (often the king or queen evolutions of its smaller, more numerous offspring) than Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate managed in the first ten, but that’s not to say this is a game for seasoned hunters only. In fact, its clearer, more informed tutorials make MH4U one of the most accessible Monster Hunter games we’ve played, and its superbly structured single player campaign gives you a much better lie of the land than its predecessor could ever hope to convey.
Monster Hunter’s greatest strength, though, is the large number of different weapon classes on offer, as all of them drastically alter the way you play and affect the strategies you’ll employ on each hunt. Our weapon of choice, the Dual Blades, for instance, favours speed over power, so slaying monsters becomes more of a traditional hack ‘n’ slash affair than, say, the brand new Insect Glaive. This is a much larger, and therefore slower, double-edged staff that allows hunters to pole-vault onto their foes or deploy its titular insect companion to help harvest certain monster extracts to boost their stats, requiring hunters to be that much more calculating in their approach than other weapon classes.
The Insect Glaive is one of two new weapons in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, combining a powerful staff with an insect projectile
Mastering the vault (or jumping attack for other classes) is particularly important in MH4U, as you can now mount larger monsters for a chance to topple them to the ground or hack off rare parts of their body. Of course, the Insect Glaive’s built-in vault makes this much easier than other weapon types, but when each area is now riddled with cliffs, ledges and rocky bluffs, each the firmly grounded Dual Blade wielder can squeeze in the odd rodeo.
Compared to the flat plains of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, this stark difference in terrain is another point in MH4U’s favour, as it not only gives players more interesting landscapes to explore, but it also creates more strategic battle arenas to dual in, particularly when large monsters are so prone to slopping off to other areas when they’re low on health. Often you have no control over where they end up fleeing too, but there’s nothing like surrendering to the thrill of the chase when you know you’ve got them on the ropes and you see them move across the map to your favourite set of terraced cliff faces.
The Ancestral Steppe is your very first hunting ground, offering plenty of opportunity for impromptu aerial attacks
As with every Monster Hunter game, though, there is a certain degree of built-in tedium when gathering the necessary components to make that coveted piece of armour you’ve got your eye on. For example, if something requires four Great Jaggi hides (among other ingredients), you may only get one or two when you start carving up your spoils at the end of a fight, so you’ll need to set out again to take it down a second, third or even fourth time to get the right number of materials, either on the same quest or through one of the multiplayer quests.
For us, this wasn’t really an issue, particularly when the combat and monsters themselves are so satisfying to take down, but it obviously won’t suit everyone’s style of gameplay. We also found we were able to upgrade both our weapons and armour much faster than in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, so you shouldn’t have too many problems getting that prized piece of kit.
Mounting a monster will allow you to wrestle it to the floor, but you’ll have to hold on tight lest you get thrown off yourself
As good as the single player campaign is, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate’s real longevity will no doubt come from the copious number of multiplayer quests that you can tackle either via local co-op or online. These quests are specifically designed for more than one player, with many featuring harder, meaner beasts than the single player game. We tried a few local multiplayer quests during our time with the game and we have to say that hunting with two is definitely more enjoyable than going it alone.
Solo players don’t necessarily get a bad deal, though, as your new Palico helpers are there to fill in that multiplayer gap when playing through the main story arc. While their feline meows and yowls can start to grate on your ears after a while, they can be particularly useful for finding additional items, applying buffs and helping out with general attacks if you deploy and train up the correct kitties, adding yet another layer of depth onto its already engaging combat system.
Playing with friends is the best way to tackle larger monsters, but your Palicoes can help make up numbers if you’d rather tackle monsters solo
Despite being the fourth main entry in the series, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is fantastic fun for both newcomers and seasoned pros alike, offering plenty to sink your teeth into while still being incredibly accessible. There may be a lot to get your head round at first, but MH4U knows exactly when to hold your hand and when to throw you hook, line and sinker into the open maws of a hungry Velocidrome. It’s also the perfect match for anyone buying a New 3DS XL, as its larger screens really open up the game world and make each hunt feel that much more immersive. A must-buy for all RPG fans.