Where a monster can fart before killing you
Ah, Monster Hunter. A game that ends up being more of a culture than anything else. These have always been games about community and self-improvement. Getting better isn't measured in some arbitrary number, but how well you can execute your talents. It also helps that as you get better your gear becomes increasingly more badass.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate doesn't tamper with the classic formula too much, but the additions here are certainly nothing to ignore. New weapons, new mechanics, and an incredible amount of monsters makes Ultimate more than just the "same old thing."
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (Nintendo 3DS)
Released: February 13, 2015
The beauty of the storyline in Monster Hunter games is it constantly feeds directly into what players want to do: kill more monsters. It doesn't force players to do extraneous tasks that detract from the main point of the game. Even when tasked to collect little pieces of rock or plants, monsters inevitably get in the way and need a good slayin'.
This time, much of the plot's focus lays with Gore Magala, a giant black winged monster. This monster is not only tough, but brings with it a Frenzy virus. This blight has an interesting affect on the player; once infected, the virus starts to incubate within the player, represented by a purple bar next to the player's name. If it reaches its full potential, the player loses their regenerative health. If the player does a certain amount of damage to the monster before the virus manifests, they gain a temporary boost.
When a monster (not just the Gore) is infected with the Frenzy virus, however, it acts as if it is always in rage mode. Not only is the monster more powerful, but they are also quite wily. Dealing with these monster is no easy feat, even if players have slain the non-frenzied version many times prior. Now, the Gorestoryline will take up a couple dozen hours to get through, but as most Monster Hunter fans are aware, that's just the beginning.
Players will move from location to location rather quickly in Ultimate, as their caravan continues to grow alongside the player's reputation. The locations are all varied and will even be altered themselves after specific events, changing the way the player must approach them. It also helps keep things from getting too same-y, keeping monotony at bay. Monsters can still hide out in the transitional part of an area that forces a player into the adjacent area, which prevents the monster from being attacked, but it seems like the monsters move around much more frequently in MH4U to help prevent that. If it does occur, prepare to be frustrated until the monster decides to move out.
The "treadmill" in Ultimate is all about the equipment. Each monster provides materials after death, and those materials can then be forged into weapons and armor that reflect the properties of the monster. Big fiery rock monster? That will yield some high defense, high fire resistant armor! Once that set is complete, it's only a matter of time until the player decides to go for a bigger, better set from a stronger monster.
Quests do vary, but in general, players will be killing a monster and carving it up to reap the rewards. Sometimes players may have to capture the monster instead - wounding it until it is very low on HP and then luring it into a trap device. Other missions consist of bringing back delicate eggs, minerals, or fish in order to make the townspeople happy. Sometimes, a player might just want to head out into an area without any real objective, in order to explore or gather materials, which the game permits.
Also available are "expeditions,"which are a randomly-generated series of areas with a random collection of monsters strewn about. These seem to have been included as a way to keep things "fresh" by adding a layer of randomness to the layout, but in reality the expeditions are rather underwhelming as a whole. The pool of areas seems incredibly low and rather uninteresting.
There are no traditional "experience points" within the game, just the experience the player gets themselves as they see themselves get better and better at mastering the mechanics. Often, players may not even notice they are getting better until a boss that gave them so much trouble a few hours ago, is now a minor inconvenience in a fight with a much, much larger monster. With fifteen different weapon categories, players are bound to find one they enjoy using and slowly start to learn the nuances of it. There are two new weapon types in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate: the Charge Blade and the Insect Glaive.
The Charge Blade utilizes a sword and a shield. "But Patrick," you intrude, "there's already a 'Sword & Shield' option!" That's right! You sure do know your Monster Hunter! What makes the Charge Blade different is it's possible to switch out of sword and shield mode into Giant Axe mode. In Sword and Shield mode the player will build up charges for the Giant Axe mode. Once the charges are full, the sword becomes very ineffective, forcing the player into using the Giant Axe. Then, the player can use the charges to hit with extra power, adding even more damage on to the already powerful swing of a Giant Axe.
The versatility of the Charge Blade quickly made it one of my favorite weapon types in the game. Having the power of the Giant Axe with the utility of a shield makes it an ideal weapon, especially for any solo hunters. When forging a Charge Blade, however, it is unclear how much damage Sword will do versus how much damage the Axe will do, since there's only one damage number.
The Insect Glaive is also a very versatile addition. The weapon itself is a long glaive, as the name says. The real star here is the Kinsect, the insect companion. The player can send the Kinsect off in a direction and if it hits a monster, it can be recalled to give the player a bonus to an attribute. Bonuses can be combined and stacked to a point, and the attribute gained depends on where it strikes the monster. The player can also vault into the air, adding a ton of mobility to the weapon. This also helps the player mount the monster, which is another addition to Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. The Insect Glaive is quick and nimble; vaulting to avoid attacks or deliver big blows feels great and micromanaging the Kinsect's location keeps battles interesting.
Being able to mount monsters, riding on their backs and giving them a good stabbing, goes well with one of the game's biggest additions: vertical movement. There is a ton of verticality in this game and incredibly well-designed monsters to take advantage of it. Climbing onto a wall to knock a monster down, only to jump off and deliver a slam-dunk to its head feels absolutely incredible. On the flip side, having to worry about a giant ape butt-slamming its way onto your face is absolutely horrifying.
The camera, however, can have a hard time keeping up. I played this on a standard 3DS, without the analog nub of the "New 3DS," so most camera work was done by pressing the L trigger to focus on either the monster or straight ahead. Minor camera adjustments can be made if players choose to include the digital d-pad on the touch screen, or by using the actual d-pad to rotate the camera, but it is hardly ideal. With how large some of the monsters get, plus the quickness of Frenzied monsters, there will be more than a few times where the player must tame the camera before they can fell the beast.
Joining the player is their trusty cat-buddy, the Palico. The player's main Palico can have their appearance completely customized before starting the game. Later on, the Palico's helmet, armor, and weapon can be crafted just like the player's, albeit with different Palico-only materials. These materials are gathered once the player gains access to Sunsnug Isle, the island where Palicos hang out. There is a quick fishing and questing mini-game that can garner rewards used to make new gear for the Palico. They're enjoyable diversions and creating new Palico gear quickly became a priority, considering how much they help in battle. The player can eventually recruit more Palicos from the field to bring to the island, and can soon bring two out into the battles.
Of course, playing Monster Hunter online with three other humans is easily one of the best experiences available in videogames. Four people honing their skills with their respective instruments of destruction, united in their goal to take down a gigantic beast. Multiplayer can be done locally or online, and luckily the online experience is rather smooth. Playing with other people in the USA led to no noticeable lag, regardless of the number of players. Even when the host was an entire Atlantic Ocean away, the lag was rather insignificant, though it was noticeable. The lack of voice communication is certainly a bummer, but having full text chat is at least something.
All of this is wrapped in the classic Monster Hunter charm. Characters are eccentric, the music is epic, and the monster designs are as amazing as ever. One moment players will be laughing at a line of dialogue, only to have their heart pounding moments later as they narrowly escape a Frenzied monster's devastating blow. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is about mastering a craft and being proud of it. So go ahead, be proud!
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate reviewed by Patrick Hancock
A hallmark of excellence. It may have some flaws, but they are negligible to what is otherwise a supreme title.
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