Oh, Monster Hunter… the act of spending up to an hour attempting to kill big monsters in order to use their bodyparts to kill even bigger monsters is easily one of the best timesinks in all of gaming. Yes, the feeling of killing a monster that you’ve – quite literally – been trying to kill for hours never really gets old. Capcom’s flagship franchise has been with the west since it’s original release on the PS2 way back when, but it really has come a long way since then, as the gameplay has continued to be refined. And just flat-out improved… With some serious game-time from the demo under my belt, I think it’s safe to say that Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate continues this trend and looks poised to be the best Monster Hunter to release yet.
The previous title in the franchise to hit the west – Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate – came out nearly 2 years ago and was notable for a few things, chiefly that it was an enhanced version of the Wii’s Monster Hunter Tri and simply added onto the mechanics that the title included in its original 2010 release. Tri’s main focus – or spin on the franchise, if you will – had to do with Underwater combat, a mechanic that definitely worked well under the right circumstances, but also maintained its own set of detractors that pined on the overall sluggishness of the whole ordeal, exacerbated once players had submerged themselves into the salty deep.
Right off the bat, let it be said: underwater fights are completely and noticeably removed in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. Opting instead for three-dimensional gameplay of another sort by focusing on platforming – climbing, running, and jumping off various structures – to take down all the new and returning monsters for the series.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate’s demo does a wonderful job at showcasing this new focus, and a quick glance at the layout for each map on MH4U versus the previous games in the franchise, leaves the latter titles looking astonishingly flat in comparison. Although the current demo that has been sent out to select Club Nintendo members only contains one map, and 3 different monsters to fight, it seems Capcom has done a wonderful job choosing monsters for the demo that not only showcase the new mechanics in full, but also lend some insight into how some older monsters may be affected by new mechanics in the game.
New monsters like the Tetsucabra as well as the Gore Magala take prime advantage of the new vertical level design (the Tetsucabra is especially nimble, with a very large range for his mud boulders, while the Gore Magala can and will HEAVILY modify some of the areas in each level, if pushed too far.), and every single monster – including the returning Great Jaggi – showcases the various new ways that you can take advantage of openings during the battle.
The new rodeo mechanic – which plays out in a somewhat similar fashion to the minigame that got you out of certain monster’s grabs in the last few games – tasks you with jumping onto a monster when it has fallen to the ground. Succeeding to mount the enemy, and finishing the minigame without getting bucked off by the monster, or accidentally shot or knocked off by a friend, will award your hunting party with a massive chunk of damage done to the monsters health and will give an especially large opening for others to attack to make up for time lost for letting the rodeo succeed. Combined with the aforementioned vertical level design, and the improved AI that takes advantage of these levels, fights in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate’s demo, at least, end up being all the more dynamic.
The new weapon types added in this latest installment – the Insect Glaive and the Charge Blade – continue the trend of rather imaginative weapon classes. For anyone that has played the series in the past, the glaive can only be best described as a cross between the Longsword and the Hunting Horn, with extra range and mobility. Likewise, the Charge Blade is equal parts Switchaxe and Sword and Shield. As a veteran of the franchise, I especially enjoyed the Insect Glave, but even the Charge Blade is very complex, considering just how long you can combo your attacks if given the right opportunity!
As a giant plus to the demo, every weapon has an optional tutorial before you play the game – and with the two separate modes of play for both new players and experienced hunter alike, this latest demo breaks the trend of the Monster Hunter demos previously only being for fans of the franchise alone – as there is plenty here to help hook newcomers to the series. If the full game has a setup anything like this, not only could Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate be the best Monster Hunter yet, it could also be the easiest to get into, without sacrificing the hardcore gameplay or difficulty that the series is known for.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate releases February 13th of this year, and both a collectors edition of the game and a Monster Hunter themed New Nintendo 3DS bundle will be available on the same day as well.