Capcom’s Monster Hunter series has been doing exceptionally well for the publisher over in Japan. In fact, Monster Hunter 4 sold 1.8 million units in just the first two days of it being available for sale in Japan, which by the end of 2013, had more than doubled that amount with 3.9 million units sold. Monster Hunter 4 then received an enhanced version that was available during the New 3DS’ launch in Japan in October 2014, which as of November 2014, has sold 2.2 million units.
The Monster Hunter series has yet to make as big of an impact here in the US, but that hasn’t stopped Capcom from publishing the game on a semi-annual basis. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate released on both the Nintendo Wii U and 3DS back in March 2013. This year, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is being released on the Nintendo 3DS, and just like the enhanced version that was released in Japan, it takes advantage of Nintendo’s New 3DS XL. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to access a New 3DS XL for my review, so everything you read beyond this point will be from the perspective from playing it on my standard 3DS XL.
The thrill of the hunt
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate starts off with the player being tasked with creating their hunter and Palico companion, or Felyne for those who played previous Monster Hunter games. Once you're pleased with how your hunter and Palico look, you then make your way to Val Habar after surviving a run in with a large, mysterious monster. In Val Habar, you’ll take on small requests from local caravan residents and merchants that start with something simple, like gathering wild mushrooms, to missions that pit you up against extremely large and ferocious monsters. You’ll soon be moving on to additional towns and locations that will require your assistance.
As your hunter progresses through various missions, you’ll begin to earn resources that can be used to improve your hunter’s gear. You could very well purchase new gear for your hunter, but the more rewarding gear is only accessible through resources that are obtained from various monsters, wildlife, or additional items that can be found during hunts. I felt the pace at which MH4U allowed me to upgrade my hunter’s gear was spot on as I never felt too powerful, nor did I feel underpowered whenever I would hunt larger beasts. I always had to stay on my toes regardless of what kind of upgrades I had.
There are a total of fourteen different weapons available to wield in MH4U, each of which offer their own distinct look and feel. Many of the weapons you’ll arm yourself with will be large and, at first, will feel cumbersome, but after several hours of play, I learned MH4U isn’t supposed to feel like a hack-n-slash. Instead, hunters are supposed to employ strategy while hunting, rather than swinging wildly at monsters in hopes they’ll eventually go down. There are smaller weapons, like the Sword and Shield and Dual Blades, that offer a better response when attacking, but these don’t deliver as much raw damage as something like a Long Sword or Switch Axe.
The hunter becomes the hunted
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate has quite the selection of monsters to hunt. You’ll start off slaying herbivores that don’t put up much of a fight, to carnivores who may deal a bit of damage if you swing your weapon the wrong way, to large monsters that will completely wreck you if you don’t dodge their advances. There are even missions that pit you up against a large monster while smaller monsters are also in the immediate area ready to annoy your hunter into making the wrong move at the wrong time.
One aspect of the game I was disappointed in was its inability to help me track the game I was hunting. When I made my way through one of my first hunts, I had no idea where I could find the monster I was hunting nor did I even know what it looked like. I ended up randomly killing most of what I came across in hopes that I would have killed the right monster to complete my quest. After several hours of playing, I got the hang of how things worked in MH4U, but I could see how it would turn off new players.
What was also frustrating was the lack of any visible health bar for the monsters I was attacking, which made it difficult to know not only how much damage I was dealing, but how many more strikes I needed to finally kill it.
Built with the New 3DS in mind
As I said earlier, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate was created to take advantage of the New 3DS’ improved hardware, specifically its C-Stick. The C-Stick allows players to better control the game’s camera, which means I had to rely on either a virtual D-Pad or I had to remove my thumb from the analog nub to change the camera with the physical D-Pad. Either of these methods weren’t ideal when you’re trying to get the best view possible on your target, and as a result, I ended up mashing the L button which can be used to either center the camera behind my hunter or focus on a specific monster I’m hunting.
Loading times on the New 3DS are also significantly improved when playing Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. When playing on a standard 3DS XL, it takes a little over 40 seconds in order for the game just to get to its title screen. On the other hand, the New 3DS XL is able to boot the game up in just a little over 10 seconds. This isn’t exactly a deal breaker for me, although it’s something I thought I’d note in my review if you were considering picking up the New 3DS XL for MH4U.
Even though Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is available exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS, that doesn't mean it doesn't offer as expansive an experience as its previous console versions. Future New Nintendo 3DS XL owners will get the most out of this game thanks to its improved hardware and C-Stick, while current 3DS owners may want to consider an upgrade if they want to take their monster hunting serious.
As for the game itself, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is a great addition to the series thanks to its impressive combat mechanics, its highly-detailed and locales, and its ability to be challenging, but not impossible to beat. Even though it still has some aspects I thought could be improved, it's still a game that I ended up enjoying way more than I initially thought I would.