Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate was my first experience with the Monster Hunter series, and I didnít take to it right away. Going into Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate would be different though. Firstly because Iíve spent over 200 hours playing MH3U on the Wii U in the two and a half years since then so Iíve got a much better handle on the series. And secondly because MH4U just does a much better job of hooking you in right from the start.
Thereís a much stronger opening for one thing. The intro cutscene leads you straight into a shipboard battle against one of the biggest monsters in the series. Itís heavily scripted so you wonít get instantly killed as you would normally going up against one of these beasties with such basic equipment, but running around firing cannons at a giant sand whale thing makes more a much more gripping opening than having to go on fetch quests to pick up mushrooms. And yes, after things settle down you are eased into the game proper with mushroom fetch quests just like in the last game, but at least this time theyíve already given you a taste of things to come.
As always, the gameís hook is really in the crafting system. Youíll keep going out to hunt monsters in order to harvest their parts and forge new stronger equipment so that you can go out and hunt even stronger monsters. Once that cycle has its claws in you then the game reaches the peak of its addictiveness. At the same time, however, the opposite is also true, having to hunt the same monster over and over again if youíre in need of specific parts is where the game can also be at its most repetitive. Sometimes you will be best off playing in small doses to avoid going mad.
A few things mitigate that problem. For one thing the number of monsters waiting to battle you is massive. With many of the most popular monsters from MH3U
being joined by both new creatures and returning foes from earlier games in the series, there are plenty of beastly things waiting to kill you or die trying. Itís not just the quantity of monsters thatís noteworthy either - this time round thereís plenty of variety to keep things fresh. As well as the usual vast array of dinosaurs and dragons MH4U
introduces a lot of super-sized insect-based critters into the mix. With the lineup also including monkeys, baboons and rabbits, thereís definitely something here for everyone.
Which leads very smoothly to my next point - that combat here is a lot of fun. While there are smaller monsters dotted throughout levels, their presence is usually more of an annoyance than a threat. The larger monsters are the entire focus of the game. Essentially this means the entire thing is made up of what other games would consider boss battles, and it usually feels like it. Unless your equipment is massively over-leveled for the quests youíre taking on, youíll never be able to take your foe lightly. Their massive blows can deal a lot of damage and usually the key to victory is as much based on proper preparation and watching for their attacks as it is in simply trying to hit them harder than they hit you.
I was more of a fan of the Wii U port of MH3U
than the 3DS version. In general I prefer playing games on a bigger screen rather than a handheld, but the problems were a little bigger than that. The controls worked much better on the console thanks primarily to the second thumbstick on the Wii U gamepad. The lack of this on the 3DS makes the camera controls a lot more awkward, though not unmanageably so. This was the biggest problem with the underwater combat of MH3U
in the 3DS version, though as that entire mechanic has been removed for MH4U
itís thankfully not as much of a problem here.
So now we canít dive into the sea and fight shark dragon hybrids anymore, which is a bit of a shame because aside from the dodgy controls they were different and added a little variety to the action. But that loss is totally worth it because instead we have a greater focus on elevation and aerial combat than ever before. Levels are more intricately designed as a result to implement height differences in the terrain. This doesnít just make the areas more challenging to explore (exits can be located on different levels and youíll have to explore more thoroughly to make your way around), it also affects combat by giving you the chance to attack or be attacked from above.
Mounting is a brand new feature to the series, where you land on a creature from above and grab onto its back. A quick mini-game ensues where you try to beat the monster to death while resisting its efforts to shake you off. This takes some getting the hang of, but once youíve nailed it itís a reliable way to get some heavy damage in on a monster and makes successfully landing a sneak attack from above very satisfying. The whole thing adds a needed dose of excitement to things. When things start to go wrong in battle you can now throw yourself over cliffs to get away from an enraged monster, or climb higher out of their reach. It literally adds a very welcome new dimension to the flat combat of MH3U
One of the bigger problems I had with MH3U
, and one that still exists to a lesser extent in MH4U
, is the heavy reliance on optional text instructions that cover many aspects of the game. MH4U
does do a much better job in this area Iíll admit, with key concepts such as combining items in the field to create more powerful medicines being covered more clearly in the opening missions. While both games provide you with all of the available weapon types right from the start so you can choose your favourite straight away, MH4U
also offers a full training mission with each one so that youíre properly introduced to each fighting styleís unique features and combo attacks.