Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate review: where the wild things are

Game Info
Platform 3DS
Publisher Capcom
Developer Capcom
Release Date Feb 13, 2015

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate does more than to simply carry on the tradition of deep, challenging gameplay that Capcom's series has become known for over the last 10 years.

When the Monster Hunter games reached best-seller status in Japan, the series settled into a pattern of iteration, the kind that kept die-hard fans happy while pushing away curious newcomers. Each new entry was praised by regulars and derided by outsiders for an unwillingness to adapt to modern standards — especially regarding camera controls and drawn-out, miserable tutorials.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate seems more willing to make those long-requested concessions. It adds new weapons, new monsters and new mechanics. There's a lot of stuff in it. And by its nature, it's still something that's not going to appeal to everyone. But more than ever before, I feel no hesitation in recommending that even people who were turned off by previous games give Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate a shot.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate has cut down on mundane tasks

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate's core formula is the same as it's always been: You play as a hunter who takes on villagers' quests, most of which involve adventures into nearby wilderness to track and kill or capture deadly creatures. But there's actually more of a narrative to pull you through compared to previous games. As you finish quests, you'll join a caravan and journey all over the world on a search for information on mysterious relics that are tied to the monsters.

Of course, plot isn't really the point. The point is, you know, monster hunting. The vast majority of your time will be taken up either by getting ready for hunts — by harvesting materials and using them to craft traps, potions and other preparatory items or playing through the protracted fights themselves.

While it still recognizes and emphasizes the importance of proper preparation for a big fight, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate has significantly cut down on most mundane tasks standing in the way of your next conquest.

Hunting partners

During my review time with Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, I had a few opportunities to test the game's online multiplayer functionality. The game's labyrinthine system of rooms and lobbies seems to more or less mirror that of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on the Wii U. While finding your party can be a pain, once I did so I had very few problems with the game, outside of a single disconnected session. However, I recommend having Skype or some other solution set up for chatting with your friends while you play.

This is especially apparent in the game's early hours. The extended tutorials of previous Monster Hunter games could occupy five to ten hours; in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, I blew through the tutorials and was onto my first real opponent in no more than an hour or two. Capcom has wisely spread out the game's many lessons, creating an end product that feels much more discerning with how and when it determines that a player needs to know certain information.

Since the caravan moves between multiple villages as the plot progresses, each new location carries its own unlocks for the game's many deep systems. I felt less overwhelmed in the early hours with each added sprinkle more judiciously spread out, and more prepared to handle the new challenges.

monster hunter 4 ultimate

Those unlocks also abate a lot of tedium. Capcom has made it easier than ever to get the materials you need for basics like mega potions, thanks to a special vendor that can multiply your herbs, mushrooms and other necessities. It's not as simple as just buying items; the vendor takes time to ship your items out and receive duplicates back, so it still requires thinking ahead and creating a long-term strategy for what you'll need. It's an elegant expansion of the concept of farms from previous Monster Hunter games, and it gets rid of some of the more mind-numbing tasks without lessening the game's focus on preparedness.

Once you've finished preparing and get into the fights themselves, things aren't nearly as different. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate carries forward the series' standard of slow, deliberate combat, of long, grueling battles without any sort of life bar on your opponent to signify how much progress you've made. As always, it takes time to get used to, but figuring it out is incredibly rewarding.

Part of the sense of development and exploration of systems is rooted in the huge variety in weapon types. Using a greatsword, a gunlance or a bow might as well be three separate games for the incredible differences in pacing and strategy necessary to master each. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate puts two new weapon types into the mix: the charge blade, which can morph between a faster sword-and-shield setup and a slower, more powerful giant axe form; and the insect glaive, which allows for greater mobility and swift, graceful attacks.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate review d 400

While both are very fun, the insect glaive deserves special attention. It's a powerful weapon that emphasizes dodging, which makes it a perfect starting point for beginners. For long-time fans, there's hidden depth via the "kinsect," a bug that is attached to the glaive which can steal a monster's essence to give hunters buffs.

a greatsword, a gunlance or a bow might as well be three separate games
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate review c 2000 2

Playing the right way

With Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, I greatly preferred the Wii U version to the 3DS version. With 4 Ultimate, the 3DS is the only option, but Capcom has by and large tightened the experience of playing on the handheld — as long as you have the latest model. The New 3DS XL's "c-stick" — a small nub that operates as a second analog stick — is a godsend for Monster Hunter, allowing you to control the game's camera without needing to move your hand down to the d-pad.

If you aren't planning on getting a New 3DS XL, the circle pad pro accessory adds similar functionality to older 3DS models. Playing without a second analog stick altogether is an option — and one long-time Monster Hunter veterans will likely be just fine with — but personally I couldn't stomach it.

On top of all of that, the glaive also plays into the one major new mechanic in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate's fights. If you jump onto a beast from above, your character will automatically latch on, launching you into a sort-of mini-game where you alternate between stabbing the creature and holding on for dear life. If you're successful, you'll briefly topple the monster, leaving it open to a bevy of follow-up attacks.

While you can perform mounts with any weapon equipped, it's especially common on the glaive, which allows you to launch yourself into the air like a pole vault. This is a big part of why the glaive feels so damn powerful. Any time you need a helping hand, you can get on top of the creature and take them down.

The mounting mechanic is further enabled by Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate's level design. Most areas feature multiple cliffsides for climbing, which give access to higher spots and also provide a vantage point for leaping onto the beasts below. Capcom has greatly increased the speed at which characters scale surfaces, making for less annoying verticality than previous games. Each returning weapon type has received new mid-air attacks, again adding to and improving on the strategies available.

Wrap Up:

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is far and away the best game in the series so far

For as much praise as I've shared here, I still feel like I'm barely scratching the surface. I could go on for pages about Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate's massive roster of opponents — more than any previous game! — its challenging set piece battles, its fantastic crafted weapons and armor sets, its seemingly unending post-game and multiplayer progression systems.

I'm not going to lie and say that Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is the fully modernized, next-gen experience I've always wanted from the series. But it is a much bigger and more self-aware step forward than I expected, and far and away the best Monster Hunter game so far.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate was reviewed using a pre-release final download code provided by Capcom. It was tested primarily on a New 3DS XL unit provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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